Thursday, September 20, 2012


Halloween III: Season Of The Witch has always stuck out like a sore thumb from its brethren in the Halloween franchise. Original director and series producer John Carpenter and his producing partner Debra Hill had originally envisioned a sort of anthology series of films, each with a different horror story under the Halloween banner. An admittedly cool idea, but when the blockbuster success of the first Halloween film demanded the continuance of Michael Myers' story, the second installment picked up right where the first one left off. Then, with Myers seemingly dead for sure at the end of 1981's Halloween II, Carpenter and Hill went back to the original anthology idea for the third film. Audiences were confused and enraged by the Myers-free, unrelated plotline of 1982's Halloween III, and the film sank like a stone at the box office. But thanks to cable and home video, this unique and nasty flick found a rabid cult audience over the audience that is sure to be thrilled with Scream Factory's new extras-packed DVD/Blu-Ray release of Halloween III.
The slasher plotline of the original two films makes way for an oddball blend of science and sorcery in Season Of The Witch, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. Paving the way for supernatural tales that mingled with technology in later films like Ringu, Halloween III follows Doctor Daniel Challis (Carpenter vet and genre great Tom Atkins), investigating a grisly murder in his hospital. All the clues seem to lead to the weird little burg of Santa Mira (one of several shout-outs to the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), and the Silver Shamrock Mask Company, which is pumping out a series of Halloween masks for the kiddies just in time for the holiday. Actually, calling the masks a "series" is pretty generous, since there's only three varieties available, making it hard to imagine the popularity of a Halloween where everyone is dressed up like either a witch, a pumpkin, or a skeleton, but that's neither here nor there. Investigating the Silver Shamrock factory with the murdered man's daughter (Stacy Nelkin), Challis learns that the elderly proprietor of the mask company, played with a delightful scowl by Dan O'Herlihy, is in fact, an evil warlock who plans to sacrifice millions of children with his mixture of black magic and high technology--the combination of a spell involving a stolen piece of Stonehenge and microchip technology in the masks will make the kids' heads erupt with bugs and snakes when they watch a special broadcast at 9 PM on Halloween night. Honestly, the annoying Silver Shamrock jingle that accompanies the masks' TV ads is just as likely to kill you first. Picking up the unkillable, robotic murderous role where Michael Myers left off is the Silver Shamrock Company's army of "Suits", who manage to one-up Myers by actually being robots, ones with a penchant for crushing skulls and pulling off heads. Challis has to somehow stop the magic broadcast before children everywhere are barfing out pythons, including his own Silver Shamrock-obsessed moppets.
It's pretty easy to see why this movie wasn't too well received at the time of its release. Apart from the confusing lack of Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, or Dr. Loomis, this is one weird, vicious movie. An annoying little kid falls victim to a test of the bewitched masks, and it's as brutal and crazy a death as any child in any horror movie has ever been subjected to. There are a number of gooey deaths besides that too--one of the more memorable ones comes when a lady who tinkers with an enchanted microchip suffers a "misfire", with horrifying results. There are some pretty serious pacing problems as well. Even with a relatively brief running time of just over 90 minutes, the sluggish pace makes the movie feel much longer. Still, you have to admire the originality of Halloween III's concoction. Tom Atkins is a strange choice--the part feels like it should have been played by a much younger actor--but he injects the role with loads of grizzled, drunken personality. Original Halloween cinematograper Dean Cundey is on board once again to provide slick visuals, and the synth score by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth is of a fine vintage. The effects are great too, and look even better on the sharp new Blu-Ray transfer.
Scream Factory (a division of Shout! Factory, the fine folks who brought us the Corman Classics series over the last few years) has pulled out all the stops with this new special edition, and it's tough to imagine any fan of Halloween III being disappointed with the treasure trove of extras included. A new retrospective documentary, entitled Stand Alone, details the film's troubled history and eventual reclamation from oblivion by a rabid fan base, and included contributions from Tommy Lee Wallace, Tom Atkins, Stacy Nelkin, Dean Cundey, Alan Howarth, and more (John Carpenter is strangely absent). This warts-and-all doc is worth the price of admission alone. Series producer Irwin Yablans bluntly states that he felt abandoning the Myers storyline was a huge mistake. Wallace claims that his sole writing credit was a misnomer, adding that most of the original script was generated by British writer Nigel Kneale (creator of the Quatermass films, of which Carpenter was a huge fan). The disc also includes a tour of the film's locations, vintage TV spots (including one for the film's network TV debut!), and two commentary tracks--one with Wallace, the other with Atkins. Scream Factory has packaged Halloween III with a brand new cover illustration, but in a nifty concession to VHS-era fans, the DVD and Blu-Ray come with reversible packaging showcasing the iconic original artwork as well, so you can decide for yourself how best to display the movie on your shelf. Picture and sound quality are top notch all around as well. This release is a welcome addition to any '80s horror fan's collection, and bodes well for the rest of Shout Factory's upcoming titles (including The Funhouse, They Live, Terror Train, and, of course, Halloween II, with other movies to be announced). Good luck getting that damn Silver Shamrock jingle out of your head, though.

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