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Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Shout Factory // R // September 18, 2012
List Price: $29.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 4, 2012 | E-mail the Author
Sure, there was a time when Halloween III: Season of the Witch was the bastard stepchild of the Halloween franchise. 'Course, as the series slogged on and on, and you have a sequel where Busta Rhymes lets
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out a Bruce Lee yowl and spin-kicks Michael Myers in the kisser, all of a sudden there's a whole lot more competition in the bastard stepchild department. Back in 1982, Season of the Witch was reviled for tossing The Shape and the slashing aside in favor of an unrecognizably different story. Thirty years later, its disinterest in rehashing the same formula again makes it stand out as one of the most distinctive genre films of the 1980s.

Halloween was more or less just set dressing in the first two movies in the series; Season of the Witch, meanwhile, is about All Hallow's Eve. The week leading up to Halloween is all over the place for Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins). That shrill harpy of an ex-wife is on his ass again. Some sweat-drenched nutjob is dragged into the hospital, ranting and raving about how "they're all gonna kill us!" Later that night, a superhumanly strong psychopath snaps the man's jaw like so much dry tinder, coldly and calmly walks out to his car, douses himself in gasoline, and lights himself aflame. I can't say I blame the doc for hitting the bar bright and early the next morning, and it kind of works out for him too. After meeting that raving shopkeeper's gorgeous daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), Doc Challis decides to play detective. Their investigation brings 'em to the doorstep of Silver Shamrock Novelties, up there in the sleepy northern California town of Santa Mira. Sure, sure, Silver Shamrock CEO Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) is all smiles and Irish charm, but there's something not quite right in Santa Mira. The
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town's shuttered tight when the 6 PM curfew rolls around. Security cameras blanket the landscape. There's a small army of men in suits watching over everything. And then there's that damned jingle, encouraging kids from one end of the country to the other to put on their masks and gather 'round the television: "two more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween...two more days till Halloween...Silver Shamrock!"

I hated Halloween III: Season of the Witch growing up. I mean, I wanted to see a golem in a ghostly white mask stabbing a bunch of 17-year-old girls; this leisurely paced story about sinister guys in three-piece business suits and Stonehenge and a Halloween mask factory run by Irishmen in the middle of nowhere...? Totally didn't get it. As the years have gone on, though, I've come to appreciate Season of the Witch more and more, to the point that now, I kind of love it. Season of the Witch takes a classic and almost British approach to horror. It's far more interested in establishing a creepy, eerie atmosphere than it is in going for big scares. It's not a body count flick, although its handful of kills are more gruesome and more inspired than a lot of the standard issue stalk-and-slash from the class of 1982.

It's always a blast to see genre legend Tom Atkins in a lead role, playing against type as a doctor and playing with type as he beds every woman in sight. Dan O'Herlihy is a brilliant choice to play the film's villain, able to seamlessly weave back and forth between charm and
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malevolence. I'm not sure why Stacey Nelkin didn't go onto be a bigger name in the genre, but she has the makings of a hell of a scream queen and is more than a little bit gorgeous to boot. I can't say enough good things about Season of the Witch's tremendously effective score, which is where producer John Carpenter left his biggest mark on the film. Dean Cundey's cinematography is as breathtaking as ever, and his skillful eye sets Season of the Witch apart from most every other horror film of the era.

At the end of the day, one of my favorite things about Halloween III: Season of the Witch is that I genuinely have no idea what's going to happen. I mean, this was something like my fifth time having watched it, so I obviously remember many of the broad strokes, but still... The movie never telegraphs where it's going, nor does it stop dead in its tracks to carefully explain everything to the audience. It's a strange, spooky, wildly unpredictable, and borderline-insane story about witchcraft in an age of technology. Sure, sure, it's not perfect. Tom Atkins is awesome, but Tom Atkins tiptoeing through some science fiction command center or hiding behind a cart of moving masks like he's in some Scooby-Doo mystery...? Less awesome. The madman's endgame is kind of non-sensical, the movie climaxes with an embarrassingly amateurish optical effect, and some of the jump scares are ineffective. That's okay, though; I like Season of the Witch more than enough to take the bad with the good. If you can look past the fact that it shares a title with such a seminal slasher and take the film on its own merits, I think you'll find there's quite a lot to appreciate here. Perfect Halloween viewing and very Highly Recommended.


I don't know what I was expecting Halloween III: Season of the Witch to look like on Blu-ray, but I sure wasn't expecting this.

Seriously, this high-def remaster is gorgeous. The image is startlingly sharp and detailed throughout. Contrast is robust enough to lend the film a real sense of depth and dimensionality, and black levels are appropriately deep and inky. Its palette is brilliantly saturated, belying its age by many years. There's no wear or damage to get in the way, and at least from a normal viewing distance, this Blu-ray disc strikes me as being wonderfully filmic. Admittedly, once I started snapping screenshots and was perched a few inches away from my computer monitor, I found myself questioning the texture and spotted some high-contrast haloing that had previously eluded me, but...whatever. Sitting on my couch in the dead of night and staring at my HDTV, I was floored. No complaints or criticism whatsoever.

Since I still have the DVD that GoodTimes hammered out all the way back in 1998, I figured I might as well snap a few screenshot comparisons. It really ought to go without saying that the Blu-ray disc I've been fawning over easily eclipses that 14-year-old, non-anamorphic DVD.
GoodTimes DVDBlu-ray
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Halloween III arrives on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc and is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, just a bit more heavily letterboxed than the 2.35:1 GoodTimes DVD. It probably goes without saying that Halloween III has been encoded with AVC.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch's 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack faithfully preserves the film's original sound design in two-channel mono, and...well, I'm not left with a lot to complain about here either. The score in particular sounds wonderful, boasting clear, distinct instrumentation and bolstered by some throbbing synth-bass. Dialogue and sound effects are consistently rendered cleanly and clearly as well, balanced very nicely in the mix. There's some high-frequency background noise, but it's easily shrugged off. A terrific effort all around.

No dubs, remixes, or subtitles have been included.

  • Stand Alone - The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (33 min.; HD): Even if you are still holding onto a grudge about Season of the Witch, it's well-worth setting aside a half-hour to give this retrospective documentary a look anyway. Pretty much everyone you'd ever want to hear from is interviewed: writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace, actors
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    Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Brad Schacter, and Dick Warlock, cinematographer Dean Cundey, co-composer Alan Howarth, costume designer Jane Ruhm, and even executive producer Irwin Yablans, who can't stomach the movie and freely admits that his involvement was limited to cashing a really nice check. This retrospective doesn't shy away from the controversial decision to pair the Halloween title with an entirely different premise, and it also addresses the uncredited involvement of Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale. As is the case with all of Red Shirt Pictures' docs, "Stand Alone" is teeming with personality, juggles a large cast of interviewees perfectly, and covers pretty much everything imaginable. Among the many highlights here are what a crappy doctor Challis wound up being, how "Santa Mira" was as creepy a town in real life as it was on the screen, costume design, crafting the score and that earworm of a jingle, its underwhelming reception of the box office, and the legacy of Season of the Witch in the decades since.

  • Horror's Hallowed Grounds (20 min.; HD): I've gotten to be a huge fan of this series of Sean Clark's which revisits the locations where horror films from the '70s and '80s were originally shot. As ever, the episode for Halloween III is startlingly thorough, a hell of a lot of fun, and features its share of celebrity appearances. Tommy Lee Wallace rides shotgun for most of it too. Required viewing for sure.

  • Audio Commentaries: The downside of that nearly hour's worth of documentaries and retrospectives is that...well, I've already heard all the best stuff that writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace has to say about the film. Even with Icons of Fright's Rob G. and HorrorHound's Sean Clark along for the ride as moderators, the disc's first commentary just feels...muted. There are some interesting notes -- the MPAA not giving Season of the Witch much of a hard time, a comment that there really aren't any significant deleted scenes, and that even Wallace himself doesn't know when one character in this Invasion of the Body Snatchers-inspired film was switched -- but anyone devouring all of the disc's extras has heard most of this already.

    Turns out that's not a problem for the second commentary since Michael Felsher keeps this conversation with Tom Atkins more about his life and career than about Halloween III in particular. It's an infectiously fun listen and propelled by a hell of a lot of energy. It's an hour and a half straight of phenomenal stories, such as Atkins sharing the set on his first film with Frank Sinatra, how he wound up meeting John Carpenter and Shane Black who helped Atkins land some of his most memorable roles, the unmitigated disaster of The Ninth Configuration, and how he almost appeared in another movie by the title of Halloween III. If you're a fan of Atkins' -- and let's face it, you really oughtta be -- then you desperately need to give this commentary a spin.

  • Still Gallery (3 min.; HD): Rather than require a bunch of clicking, this automated photo gallery cycles through a slew of high-res production stills as well as some
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    promotional artwork.

  • Trailers and TV Spots (4 min.; SD): A teaser, a full-length trailer, and a handful of TV spots round out the extras. Though they're all presented at 1080p, they've been sourced from standard definition sources of greatly varying quality. Nice as a historical artifact, but don't expect to be dazzled by the quality or anything.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch arrives in a slipcover with some fantastic original artwork, capturing the feel of the movie while also staying true to the era. If you're a purist, the original theatrical poster art is available on the flipside of the reversible cover.

The Final Word
From their terrific high-def presentations to the hours of newly-produced extras, Scream Factory has made a hell of a first impression with their pair of Halloween releases on Blu-ray. It took me a while to get here, but I can honestly say that Season of the Witch is my favorite of these two sequels as well. If you're queueing up some horror for the holiday, this strange, creepy, atmospheric story much more effectively captures the spirit of Halloween than a guy running around with a knife too. Thanks to its title, Halloween III: Season of the Witch has been underappreciated for decades, and a first-rate Blu-ray release like this is the perfect excuse to give the film the fair shot it deserves. Highly Recommended.
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