Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Dilemma: how do you continue a series when both the villain and the ostensible hero have been totally incinerated in a building-levelling explosion? There are a lot of ways you can overcome that hurdle but the Halloween crew tried what is probably the most creative way: make a follow up that has nothing to do with the previous films. The result was Halloween III: Season of the Witch, what was to be the first in a series of standalone Halloween-themed films. Long considered the redheaded stepchild of the Halloween series, part III has seen a renaissance in the past few years as it’s been rediscovered and re-evaluated. Halloween III is unique in franchise horror in that it enjoys a cult status that exists almost entirely apart from the rest of the series.
It’s a week before Halloween, and a delusional man is brought into a Northern Californian hospital delirious and clutching a latex jack-o-lantern mask. He reacts with fear when he sees a commercial for Silver Shamrock, the novelty company that manufactures the masks. Later than night, he is murdered by a business attired assassin who then calmly walks out to the parking lot of the hospital, calmly douses himself with gasoline and calmly sets himself on fire. This doesn’t sit well with the doctor on call that night, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins). When the murdered man’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) arrives at the hospital the next morning to identify the body, Dan is moved by her sadness. The next day, she tracks him down at his usual watering hole, and intrigues him with her amateur sleuthing. It seems Ellie’s dad ran afoul somewhere in the town of Santa Mira, home of Silver Shamrock novelties. Dan shrugs off work, hangs up on his shrewish ex-wife as she’s berating him for shirking his parental responsibilities and, six-pack in hand, heads off with Ellie (a good 20 years his junior) for a wild weekend.
The town of Santa Mira is a strange burg and as they roll into town, the dynamic duo are immediately unnerved. The residents stare at them as they drive by. The streets seem desolate. The novelty factory looms over the town centre like a sentinel. And the proprietor of the motel seems just a tad too friendly. They check in to the motel as husband and wife and, as night falls, do a few other ill-fated guests: Marge Guttman (Garn Stephens), who comes to an abrupt and horrible end that very night, and the Kupfer family. Headed by Buddy (Ralph Strait),the Kupfers are in town for a tour of the Silver Shamrock factory, Buddy’s reward for being the number one Silver Shamrock mask salesman in the nation.
Dan and Ellie arrive at the factory around the same time the Kupfers are meeting Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), and are invited to accompany the family on the tour. The amateur sleuths see more than Cochran wanted them to and they are kidnapped as they try to leave town buy Cochran’s goons. Returned to the factory and imprisoned, Dan is forced to bear witness to Cochran’s plan to return Halloween to its true, Celtic roots; a plan that involves robots and Stonehenge and culminates with the gory deaths of millions of children on Halloween night.
I have to cop to taking a long while to come around to Halloween III. There are a lot of elements in this movie, specifically surface plot elements, that don’t make any sense. Most famously, there’s a late film reveal that a certain character is a robot that raises a lot of unanswerable questions about the chronology of the film. Halloween III doesn’t succeed on its plot, which is admittedly undercooked and threadbare. It succeeds due to its smart underpinnings and its luscious visual style. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that.
What we have is the most vicious lampooning of consumer culture in a horror film since Dawn of the Dead. We’re constantly bombarded by news media telling us about the danger lurking in children’s toys, whether it’s lead paint, breakable parts or unsafe construction. “What you don’t know might kill you!” the reports love to solemnly intone. Well, what you don’t know about Silver Shamrock masks will kill you, and everyone around you, until the hills run red with blood. Whereas these recalls are often the result of an accident or unforeseen defect, Cochran is intentionally shipping out his masks. The unspoken implication is that, although Silver Shamrock’s masks are high quality and well-priced, Cochran is still a wealthy industrialist… profit is as much his motive as is the deaths of children.
Halloween III’s anti-corporate agenda is so explicitly stated that it’s not even subtext anymore. What I’ve never seen pointed out, though, is its anti-religious viewpoint. Cochran’s whole plan stems from the anger he feels at the corruption of one of his traditional religious traditions. He’s essentially waging holy war on the consumer masses, willing to murder millions of children, to return Halloween to its orthodox pagan roots. It’s not a point hammered home quite as explicitly as the anti-capitalism stuff, but it’s there plain as day. I would think that, viewing everything through a post-terrorism lens, that this angle would come up more in discussions of the film, but it really hasn’t. Perhaps this undercurrent is part of the reason Halloween III has experienced its post-millennial resurgence in popularity. Audiences are starting to respond to these elements because their sensitivity to themes of terror is more acute these days.
Even ignoring the story points, Halloween III has more legit Halloween atmosphere than almost every other sequel in the series. It’s odd, considering that the first two films had California doubling as the Midwest while III actually takes place in California and is devoid of a lot of trappings we usually associate with fall, like leaves of yellow and orange. Trying to make southern California look like the Midwest in the fall is a pretty dicey proposition on a low budget and even if audiences aren’t consciously aware of it, the lush green vegetation in the background puts the lie to the setting. Credit, once again, Dean Cundey’s cinematography, again perfectly augmented by Alan Howarth’s minimalist score (freed from having to use the traditional Halloween theme, Howarth’s work really shines; Season of the Witch is probably the best, most original and moodiest score in the series after part one).
Halloween III’s initial failure can mainly be attributed to two things: firstly, making it a numerical sequel set up the expectations that it would be a direct follow-up to Halloween II and second, a lacklustre marketing campaign that failed to differentiate Season of the Witch from its predecessors. There’s the inscrutable teaser trailer centred on the image of one of the witch masks with a tarantula crawling out of the mouth – an image that only makes sense after you’ve seen the film. It’s too bad, because the idea of a video signal that melts kid’s brains would have been resonant in 1982, the year that Pac-man appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Season of the Witch was successful in the sense of a reasonable return on investment but the audience backlash ensured that the intriguing idea of a yearly, Halloween themed anthology series would never come to pass. I can’t help but feel we lost a lot of potentially intriguing films in the bargain.
When I criticize the video quality of a catalogue release I often get the knee-jerk response: “What did you expect?” I now have a new answer to that: “Halloween III.” This release not only gives Halloween III its best home video presentation, but it effectively raises the bar for all future catalogue releases. Halloween III looks absolutely stunning. The thing that struck me the most is the incredible three-dimensionality of the image. It’s rare to see a modern film look so alive, much less a film of this vintage. Black levels are exemplary; the film is moody and dark but even the smallest details in shadowy areas are still perfectly visible. Lush greens, bright oranges and reds, colors that can give even the best compression houses a tough time look positively, mind-bogglingly brilliant. There is the occasional source flaw in optical shots, which is totally expected and doesn’t detract from the overall visual presentation. I cannot possibly praise the work Shout! Factory has done on Halloween III enough; Season of the Witch is officially the standard bearer for all future catalogue reissues.
Unlike the 2-disc Halloween II release, there’s no 5.1 remix included on Halloween III, nor does there need to be. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio perfectly balances dialogue, music and sound effects. Scenes of dialogue that were muddled in previous releases now are perfectly intelligible and the high pitched stinger effects and synth score never experience clipping or distortion.
As with the Halloween II disc, there are no alternate language tracks or subtitles. I find this even a worse omission here because as many Halloween III fans as possible should be able to experience this disc, whether they’re hearing impaired or non-English speaking.
Though not quite as feature laden as their 2-disc Halloween II, Shout Factory has nevertheless given us a big trick-or-treat bag full of quality extras. They’re like the house that gives out theatre sized chocolate bars on Halloween.
Once again fans have the option of choosing between newly commissioned artwork (which is fantastic, by the way) or the original theatrical one-sheet, via a reversible insert. It’s a small touch, but one that speaks volumes about their commitment to fans.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace and star Tom Atkins are each given their own Audio Commentaries, and both are well worth listening to. Wallace is refreshingly frank and engaging and Atkins has a warmth and charm that makes listening to the commentary feel like sitting down with an old buddy for a beer and a chat. I think that listening to both of these commentaries will become as much a yearly ritual with Halloween III fans as watching the film is.
Director Michael Felsher returns with the Making of Documentary “Stand Alone” (33:10). This is one is just as well put together as “The Nightmare Isn’t Over,” but feels more complete despite being a bit shorter. Maybe that’s because since Season of the Witch isn’t a direct continuation of the Myers saga, Carpenter’s absence is felt less acutely. Plus, the documentary has a cheeky editing style that will keep you smiling throughout.
Sean Clark, too, returns with another Horror’s Hallowed Grounds featurette (19:45). This visit shares the same magic feel that the Halloween II one did, and even pays off a funny running gag with Robert Rusler from Nightmare 2.
The inscrutable Teaser that’s been floating around forever is included, but we’re finally treated to the full Theatrical Trailer (an aggregate 2:45) which includes more footage from the film proper, yet still doesn’t really sell the anthology concept.
The disc is capped off with more TV and Radio Spots (1:36) (again, my favourite was the bumper for the network TV premiere) and an Animated Stills Gallery (3:26) that’s a bit more entertaining than usual simply due to the dearth of Halloween III promo pics on previous releases.
I loved Shout! Factory’s 2-disc Collector’s Edition of Halloween II but I love this special edition of Halloween III: Season of the Witch even more. It’s not quite as feature packed, though all the features are top calibre. Maybe it’s just joy at seeing this largely unsung and unappreciated film finally get the recognition it deserves. If you only upgrade one title to Blu-ray this year, make it Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
Great review of a Blu I still need to pick up. It's a real treat to see someone give this movie an A! Thanks!
The only thing real problem with this movie is that it was produced as Halloween III: Season of the Witch. They should've dropped the numbering system after II and just gone with a subtitling system if they were going to go forward with a franchise of unrelated films. This film is more "Halloween" (the day, not the film series) than any of the Michael Myers films.
I finally went into this movie this year willing to give it a fair shake but I still didn't really care for it. I love the idea and the masks are cool but I just find the "Halloween" season atmosphere lacking.
There's a scene in the bar where the bartender mentions the Halloween season to Tom Adkins and yet the bar is devoid of any Halloween decorations. The masks are pretty much the only things on display when he is at the store. I think a little more effort in the production design and creating the spirit of Halloween would have vastly improved it.
I purchased Halloween 2 and Season of The Witch on the same day. I was very impressed, and I have since purchased from Scream Factory, Terror Train and The Funhouse. I saw all but Terror Train in the movie theater when they were originally released theatically. I will most certainly purchase more Blu-Rays from Scream Factory from Shout Factory in the future.
The review states there are no alternate language tracks or subtitles, but they're still listed at the end. I assume they're leftovers from a formatting template.
I'm very pleased with Shout! Factory's efforts on behalf of Halloween II and III. I will most definitely pick up more titles from their Scream Factory line. The work they're doing puts other distributors of licensed titles to shame (I'm looking at you, Twilight Time).
A? Try something in the C range.
And, don't get me wrong, I think that means the film has merit. But... a classic? Well, sorta. But, A grade quality? Far from it.
Its an opinion that differs from yours DVD-fanatic-9. Shut the hell up for Christ's sake.
Excellent review of an excellent product of an excellent A GRADE film.
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