If there’s one film that seriously needs your reevaluation this Halloween season, it’s Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. The title is a bit misleading as the knife-wielding Michael Myers does not appear in the film at all, but this horror film is John Carpenter’s brainchild all the way. It’s humorous and twisted and almost as every bit as scary as the original Halloween thanks to the magnificent camera work of Dean Cundey. The people have been replaced by robots and Halloween masks are killing kids.
Terrifying, right? Right. Then why did audiences not get or appreciate this gem as the stand alone film that is?
Carpenter’s idea was simple: Myers might be dead (after being laid to rest in the second film) but the Halloween namesake can and should carry on with a new horror story idea every year. For 1982, the idea for the film revolved around three Halloween masks that, when kids wear them and watch television, their faces melt into food for bugs. It was spit on at the time by critics and most of the fans expecting Myers to return were disappointed by its promised namesake. But now that we know Myers did return for a 4th, 5th, 6th, and on and on and on, fans of Carpenter’s work should revisit this one.
And Shout! Factory has made it all the more easier with a stellar release of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch on blu-ray this week.
Written and directed by the man who helmed 1990's first-rate Stephen King miniseries It, the movie spins Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like themes and couples them with some good old trick or treating nightmare scenarios all at the hands of an Irish mad scientist who wants to see the holiday return to its dark roots. Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), not wanting to see millions of kids’ brains turn to insects and snakes, travel to the Northern California town of Santa Mira, where these masks are made, to get to the bottom of factory owner Conal Cochran’s (Dan O'Herlihy) Halloween night plan.
The idea of a practical joke played on the children in cities across America is a rich one for the holiday to take on. Powered by an upbeat radio and television jingle that gets stuck in your head upon the first listen, the movies anti-capitalism and anti-television themes are handled well. Paranoia runs supreme as Mr. Cochran mounts his annihilation of the holiday through the television. Try not to tense up as the clock ticks down to Halloween night and Challis, after being brutally attacked by a robot, begs the television stations (there were only three, remember?) to stop playing the Silver Shamrock commercial.
Only he has seen it in action. Only he knows what triggers the masks to start melting.
In what goes down as one of the movie’s most terrifying set pieces, your typical annoying American family - Buddy Kupfer (Ralph Strait), Betty (Jadeen Barbor), and son Buddy Jr. (Bradley Schachter) – are invited to the mask making factory (as reward for selling the most masks) and, unsuspectingly, put in a testing room. The commercial kicks on and Buddy, wearing one of the Silver Shamrock masks, sits in front of the television set. Suddenly, he falls to the floor and collapses. All manner of insect and reptile crawl from his mask as he face melts away. Then, the bugs and insects go after the rest of the family. And Cundey’s striking cinematography mines it for every bit of terror.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace uses his locations well to create an atmosphere that is so alien to comfort that no one, not even the robots, feel safe. Only here have I seen a coastal farming town feel so eerie and weird that I actually believe that it could, in fact, have an announced curfew for all its citizens. The electronic score by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth is a hypnotic classic that is just as memorable as the original score to the first film in the series.
There’s little sense in carrying a grudge against this film any longer. We can argue to the death about the stupid idea to call it a Halloween film and not include Michael Myers. It was silly, yes, but Carpenter, Hill, and Wallace were trying to create an anthology. Think of it! We could have had years of anthology films had this sucker been successful. The film is a real and royal treat for fans of the horror genre. From beginning to its sudden cliffhanger ending, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch deserves the chance to live and die by its own merits and not by Michael Myers.
It’s time for you to discover the Season of the Witch.
MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 98 mins.
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writer: Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast: Tom Atkins; Stacey Nelkin; Dan O'Herlihy; Michael Currie; Ralph Strait
Tagline: ...and now the earth will run with blood again!
Memorable Movie Quote: "It will be morning soon. Halloween morning. A very busy day for me."
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Home Video Distributor: Shout Factory.
Official Site: halloweenmovies.com
Release Date: October 22, 1982
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September18, 2012
Synopsis: A large Halloween mask-making company has plans to kill millions of American children with something sinister hidden in Halloween masks.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - September 18, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Locked to Region A
Shout! Factory brings Halloween III: Season of the Witch to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition under the distributor's new Scream Factory line. The excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is amazingly crisp. Having only previously seen it on television, the clarity was a nice surprise. This hasn’t been restored but, damn, if this print doesn’t look it. There is a nice layer of texture in the Halloween masks and the clothing and facial features are riddled with details. The full-colored palette of the picture is populated with great contrast and sharp colors. Darks are deeply rich and lines are clear throughout. Pouncing out through mainly the center channels, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is a nice improvement. Never immersive but with Carpenter’s score supporting the rear channels, the film feels really fresh and alive.
- There are two wonderfully detailed commentaries. Director Tommy Lee Wallace, Robert V. Galluzzo from Icons of Fright, and Sean Clark of Horror Hound magazine supply one of the commentaries. Framed as a mostly Q&A commentary, Galluzzo and Clark grill Wallace on the cast, the origins of several ideas and the film’s locations. Documentary filmmaker Michael Felsher sits down with actor Tom Atkins for the second one. Both are enjoyable and will serve fans of the film well.
While the release, outside of newly designed cover art, looks unsuspecting enough, there’s actually quite a bit of really good supplemental material included for its blu-ray debut. A newly produced retrospective takes viewers on a relatively frank discussion of the film and its resulting flop at the box office. It includes cast and crew and features a lot of cool anecdotes that makes it worth watching. The locations of the film are highlighted in another newly made featurette. There’s a large collection of promotional pictures and production stills in another and two TV spots round out the collection.
- Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (33 min)
- Horror's Hallowed Grounds: The Locations of Halloween III (20 min)
- Still Gallery