When a terrified toy salesman is mysteriously attacked and brought to the hospital, babbling and clutching the year’s most popular Halloween costume — an eerie pumpkin mask — Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins, The Fog, Night Of The Creeps) is thrust into a terrifying Halloween nightmare. Working with the salesman’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), Daniel traces the mask to the Silver Shamrock Novelties company and its founder, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy, RoboCop).
Ellie and Daniel uncover Cochran’s shocking Halloween plan and must stop him before trick-or-treaters across the country are kept from ever coming home in this terrifying thriller from writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace (Stephen King’s It).
Asked to do a second follow-up after the success of 'Halloween II,' original creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill returned with the condition of trying something different. The idea was for something that deviated from audience expectations and would hopefully give the franchise a distinct flavor from the wave of slasher flicks flooding theaters at the time — a popular subgenre with holiday motifs that was coincidentally prompted by the original film. Partly out of the dread of being pigeonholed as filmmakers of only one genre, Carpenter and Hill desired to see their creation become an anthology series, similar to 'The Outer Limits' and 'Tales of the Crypt.' ('Creepshow' didn't release until the following month attempting to do the same.) Basically, they wanted a new story every October with a Halloween-related theme so that it was in line with the season.
In 'Halloween III: Season of the Witch,' the unstoppably evil Michael Myers, the big bulking mass hiding in the shadows who has become the iconic figure of the franchise, takes a short vacation for this totally out of place but still charming low-budget feature. For a small part of the time, his presence is sorely felt, but once the plot kicks into gear with a doctor (terrifically enjoyable genre favorite Tom Atkins) investigating the mysterious murder of a patient, The Shape isn't quite as missed and it's clear this has little relation to the previous two movies except by name only. With the help of the patient's daughter (the very cute Stacey Nelkin in all gloriously '80s manner), the clues take him to the Silver Shamrock factory where he meets the sinisterly weird owner, Conal Cochran (the wonderfully creepy Dan O'Herlihy).
Originally conceived by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, the story is a strange blend of science fiction, fantasy, horror and Druid black magic, allegedly in a darker, atmospheric psychological-thriller tone. Director Tommy Lee Wallace, making his directorial debut but no stranger to the franchise originally asked to helm the first sequel, made several alterations to the screenplay at the request of producers. This possibly clarifies much of the narrative's oddball impression and certain inexplicable actions, like an explanation of why disgusting critters practically bulge from the faces of those wearing the mask. Or perhaps, the logical reasons behind Cochran's dastardly master plan. And what the thinking behind Nelkin's sudden attraction for Atkins, which feels like the hilarious start to a porno sequence. I half expected the horrible bass-guitar music to suddenly start playing in the background:
"Where do you want to sleep, Dr. Challis?"
"That's a dumb question, Miss Grimbridge."
Nevertheless, these quirky peculiarities in the movie are frankly what make 'Halloween III' such an amusingly fun watch. Granted, there is finer low-rent B-movie fodder wildly available, but none carry the sort of oddity and eccentricity that this one has while associating it to a specific seasonal theme. The plot also comes with an intriguing anti-consumerism undertone, giving it another aspect of enjoyment. Explored extensively by many others, the story of a large corporation with a mechanical, unpaid labor force is like a nightmare ripped practically from the right-wing conservative agenda for the future. But in spite of this sardonic hesitancy towards corporate business being a fascinating point of study, the practical logistics of Cochran's scheme is ultimately bonkers and completely wacky. Then again, it's another added layer to the film's unintentional silliness.
Carpenter and Hill's original plan for an anthology series obviously did not pan out as expected. The second sequel was a massive disappointment at the box office (the second weakest of the series, but in terms of revenue only) and severely blasted by critics during its initial theatrical run. Over time, the movie found its rightful place in the home video market, growing into a cult favorite and somewhat appreciated for the plot's interesting notions of 20th-Century society. 'Halloween III: Season of the Witch' (the subtitle is in reference to a George A. Romero movie) proudly sits as the curious black sheep of the franchise, yet it's more entertaining than some of the other sequels and miles better than 'Resurrection' or Zombie's stupid remakes. Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, the quirky sci-fi horror feature is a great way to spend a cheesy Halloween night.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
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 Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with the memorable music and full-motion clips. Also, if you buy direct from the Shout! Factory website, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase while supplies last!
The black sheep of the entire 'Halloween' franchise makes its way to Blu-ray with a mostly excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. After years of watching it on TV, VHS, Laserdisc and DVD, this is by far the finest the movie has ever looked and could possibly ever look without the benefit of a proper restoration.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture is highly-detailed with outstanding, revealing textures around facial complexions and clothing. You can make every out fine line and feature on the three Silver Shamrock masks. Of course, not every scene is sharp as tack, which has largely to do with the age of the print used for this release as well as the interesting look of the film. Nevertheless, Dean Cundey's cinematography still comes through very nicely, with a full-bodied color palette and lots of vibrant primaries throughout. Black levels are particularly rich and penetrating, providing some appreciable dimensionality. Shadow details are superb, but the ultra-fine grain structure is bit more pronounced during several nighttime exteriors, which is also normal.
The only real issue of concern is contrast running a tad too hot, creating some very negligible posterization in the highlights, which goes largely unnoticed unless you look for it, and some extremely light ringing around the edges of darker objects against white backgrounds. Thankfully, it's none too damaging or distracting as the high-def transfer remains crisp and punchy from beginning to end.
Not quite as impressive as the video, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is still a major improvement over previous releases by a long a shot.
Contained in the center of the screen for most the time, imaging still feels wide and welcoming, with terrific fidelity and warmth. Vocals are clean and intelligible at all times. Bass is healthy and appropriate, putting some nice weight behind Alan Howarth's interesting synthesizer score and explosions. Off-screen effects are far and few, but several atmospherics bleed into the two channels seamlessly and persuasively. Much of the lossless mix appears empty and inactive, but that's really due to the original design, not a fault of the codec. In fact, dynamic range is remarkably sharp and detailed, which is apparent when listening to the music and the many loud jump scares. It decently pulls viewers into the action and generates a nice air of suspense, making this lossless mix the best the movie has ever sounded.
Although the package doesn't appear extensive, this is the first time the movie has been released with some exciting special features, which mirror its DVD counterpart.
Going in a completely different direction than its predecessors, the third installment in the 'Halloween' franchise is a bizarre but still entertainingly intriguing blend of science fiction, fantasy, horror and Druid black magic. It may be the black sheep of the family with strange logic and continuity oddities, but 'Season of the Witch' remains a fun watch precisely because it doesn't fall in line with expectations and features a great performance from Tom Atkins. This Collector's Edition Blu-ray comes from the Scream Factory with an excellent high-def transfer and a great audio presentation. Bonus features are not very extensive but are new and very much appreciated over past bare-bones releases, making this another recommended collector's item for cult enthusiasts.