Halloween III: Season of the Witch Blu-ray Review
Halloween III is a favourite film of mine, and I have long been anticipating its arrival on Blu-ray. Carpenter’s films always have a distinctive look and aesthetic ambience – the amazing property of that awesome anamorphic cinematography from Dean Cundey and the strong visual sense of the maker, himself. Although Tommy Lee Wallace was the man who called, let’s say, a lot of the shots on this, there is absolutely no mistaking that it is Carpenter’s eye that has captured the story and splashed it wide and detailed across the screen.
There is little to no damage on show in this 2.35:1, AVC-encoded image, barring one noticeable frame jump or wobble during the scene when Ellie comes to talk to Dan at the bar – which is also present on previous versions. Grain is there and I wouldn’t say that DNR has robbed any of the picture’s texture. The image is sharper than we’ve seen it before, though it still contains the anamorphic softness to certain peripheral details. Foreground information presents no errors and close-ups can be reasonably revealing. Rear-ground details are the best I have ever seen them, with the distant sea out beyond Santa Mira now gleaming a little more clearly, the rolling fields and meadows appearing crisper and better defined, and the clarity on the picket-fences, the brickwork in the walls of the factory and upon the masks and toys in Ellie’s father’s shop and in the mould-shop in Cochran’s plant rewardingly improved. The view down the frontage of the motel rooms is now far better resolved. The flowers were blurry on previous editions, and the doors a little shimmery. They are much tighter now. I will say that the earlier scenes set in the gas station, the hospital and the bar can look a touch softer, overall, than the majority of the rest of the movie, which takes place in the rural town. But then, they look this way on the various DVDs that I have of the movie too, so this is nothing to do with the transfer.
There are no problems with the level and consistency of the blacks, and this is a movie that really indulges in them. We can enjoy deep and evocative shadow-play. Those thinking that there might be some crushing of details within them – especially during the moments when Dan Challis is sneaking about the town and trying to avoid the android hunters – have nothing to fear. The blacks simply are that deep. This is the Stygian depth that Carpenter and Cundey went for in The Fog and Escape From New York, and it looks fine here. In fact, there are plenty of occasions when the image is much better lit than ever before on home video. The scene in the Grimbridge toyshop is very dark on SD, but much more revealing in this hi-def image. There are also lots of midnight blues to en-drape the visuals. Before Michael Mann took the eerie glare of neon-noir to his heart, Carpenter and Cundey were regularly indulging in it, and Tommy Lee Wallace certainly adheres to their distinctive visual style. The murder of the rebellious hobo boasts such sublime blues. Contrast is very good, though of course this is a film that prides itself on intense shadows and fuzzy, welcoming pockets of light. Thus, there can be neon touches that appear slightly warped. Again, this is how it was shot. It’s a great and very signature look, too. Challis, wearing the grey-white skull-mask, is marvellously picked out amongst the shadows on his cell.
Colours are warm and well-saturated. Even if skin-tones (Nelkin looks powder-puffed to the nth degree) don’t seem all that natural, perhaps a little ruddy, but the palette is strong and eye-catching. The primaries are bright and solid, and certain elements, such as neon, flames, the woozy colour scheme of the tavern that Ellie finds Dan sitting in, and, most obviously of all, the blazing hues of the three main masks, really stand out well. Greenery in the surrounding countryside is nice and inviting, without looking fuzzy and boosted. Whites are fine. There are times when the sunlight can make white walls bloom, but this is inherent to the source. Interior lighting – the bar, the motel rooms – have an authentically warm and cosy glow. The explosion of the assassin’s car outside the hospital is bright and thick with full-bore orange. Once again, there is a trademark appearance to such fireballs in a Carpenter/Cundey movie … and this one fits the bill. The satanic red sunset that fills the sky behind the returning kids on potentially their last ever Halloween looks burned and grubby. It always has. The matte shot of the flames beyond the factory has never been convincing, and the hi-def transfer can do nothing to remedy this.
We have no edge enhancement – the little haloes seen occasionally are part and parcel of the source photography – and I saw no aliasing, smearing or banding sullying the image.
I, for one, am very happy with this transfer. It has made a great transition to Blu.
We don’t need a full 5.1 mix to get the shivers from the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that accompanies Scream’s Halloween III disc. This delivers that iconic soundtrack with a satisfying level of clarity and depth, and a smooth, reasonably detailed spread that may fail to immerse the listener all that much but still provides a solid and enjoyable presentation of the film’s original mono track.
Dialogue is okay. You won’t miss any of it, but it does sound quite mushy and subdued, almost as flat as a TV movie. The rain that pelts down during part of the opening sequence does not threaten, even for one second, to envelope you. But then, nor should it? The DVD had a surround mix, but that really wasn’t very effective, so we should be thankful that Scream haven’t mucked-about with the source. It certainly sounds clean and clear and free from hiss, but it has that early 80’s fuzziness to it that, if you are as nostalgic as me, feels just right.
There’s no sub action to speak of, but the score gets some decent bass boostage with those heavy, dread-filled synth beats thudding out. There are plenty of dynamics punctuating the sound design, such as the explosion of the car (which could have done with a bit more weight behind it), the zapping of robots with occult-fused microchips, the horrible whining of a weaponised power-drill and the clattering of medical trays, but there is attention paid to the more personal and squelchy stuff too. Things like the mangling of a pair of eyes, the sucky-sounding wrenching away of an entire head, and the cable/gyro disembowelling of an android’s belly. Stingers are awarded some stark and searing impact – and there are quite a few of these to enjoy. The Silver Shamrock jingle is also keenly experienced with a carnival-like energy that just doesn’t let up ... even if you want it to.
Lots of little things come across well, like the clicking of buttons, the chipping-away at the block from Stonehenge with hammers, the sifting-about in the charred metallic remains from the burned-out car, and even Marge Guttman’s foolhardy picking at the microchip. There is a nice rubbery flap to the moments when people are manipulating those masks. Listen for the Star Trek-style sssshhhupp sound as the elevator doors close in the factory.
So, overall, this audio track does all that we can legitimately expect of it. Nothing added, nothing taken away.
Scream Factory, once again prove that, alongside Synapse, they are the best at treating the fans of such cult-cherished genre gems with not only great hi-def transfers but awesome special features too. Anchor Bay and Twilight Time could do with taking a leaf out their book.
The release comes with a splendid slipcase and the packaging on the disc features reversible artwork. On one side we have the original poster-art, and on the other there is wonderful specially commissioned tableau.
There are two commentary tracks.
The first features Tommy Lee Wallace, with that spectacularly growly and mellifluous radio-voice of his, in the company of horror-fans Rob G. (from Icons of Fright) and Sean Clark (from Horror’s Hallowed Grounds), and despite some odd silences and some rather naff questions from the hosts, this is a good track that allows the director to frankly discuss the movie he had such high hopes for and has, only now, begun to discover that the wider world has any affection for. He’s a laidback guy and this is good chat.
The second track has the irreverent recollections and opinions of Tom Atkins, and this actually works out as being the best. Well, certainly the most fun to listen to. Bouncing memories off documentary filmmaker Michael Felsher (who heads up RedShirt Films), this is a spontaneous, witty and surprisingly detailed track. Atkins is on fine form, and very jovial, very funny. He sends up his character’s womanising ways and quite absurd position as a doctor, and offers lots of anecdote about the production and about his experiences working with John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Tommy Lee Wallace. And Stacy Nelkin. There’s a lot of talk about other films and shows that he has been in. A LOT. But this is another good track.
I wish the UK disc’s commentary from Kim Newman and Stephen Jones had been included as well, as this comes from an informed and highly opinionated fan’s point of view and, to be honest, actually tops them all. This is only a small caveat, but it does mean that you will have to hang on to that censored R2 disc.
Standalone: The Making of Halloween III Season of the Witch features Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin (who looks even more attractive now than she did back in 1983!), Tommy Lee Wallace, co-composer Alan Howarth, the guy that played the doomed little Buddy Kupfer, stuntman, former “Shape” and a robotic henchman Dick Warlock (great name for this movie) and Jane Ruhm, the girl who made the costumes. Oh, and Irwin Yablans – who makes a fool of himself by simply stating that the film should have had Michael Myers in it. Thankfully, RedShirt Films give him very little screentime, which was surely to leave the imagination-less penny-grabber looking stupid.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds is a funny, intriguing and off-the-wall visit to the locations that we see in the film in the madcap company of show-host Sean Clark, who has staged run-ins with other industry people (Elm Street 2’s Robert Rustler in this case), walk-with-me interviews with those involved with the makers of the movie he is rediscovering, and clearly impromptu run-ins with irate locals who just don’t seem to like him very much. I had a ball with this, folks. His style and irreverence may not be to everyone’s taste, but this is a guy who has the knowledge, the passion, the gasoline and the sheer film-geek credentials to take a fun and nostalgic look at such classic genre-fests and this from an altogether different perspective. We see freeway underpasses, gas stations, hospitals, motels and the eerie (and genuinely hostile) little town of Loleta, which stood in so atmospherically for Santa Mira. Tommy Lee Wallace even meets Clark in the town, revisiting the place for the first time since shooting on location there.
The disc is capped-off with a trio of TV Spots, the film’s Theatrical Trailer and a Stills Gallery.
Scream Factory give a neglected diamond a well-deserved bit of TLC.
There’s no Michael Myers … and thank God for that. His best days had already gone by the time that this inventive mystery-chiller came along.
Great ideas that combine horror with SF in precisely the sort of cocktail that the inspired Nigel Kneale thrived upon, startling imagery, a fabulously eerie mood aided by Dean Cundey’s hypnotic cinematography and that powerfully dense and doom-laden score from Carpenter and Howarth, mean that Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a tremendous and bravura occult offering that is so definitely in need of rediscovering and re-evaluation. The paying public back in 1983 can be forgiven for their animosity after being misled by a marketing fiasco, but the film is far stronger than some idiotic detractors would appear so determined to have you believe. Michael Myers was never supposed to be in this, and the simple fact is that he only appeared in one film that is actually superior to this clever and inventive chiller – 1978’s original Halloween.
Like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, or even Doctor Who, this tumbles over itself with ideas and eerie eccentricities. The gore can seem out of place, but at least it provides some genuinely skin-crawling jolts along the way, and in Conal Cochran, Dan O’ Herlihy creates an evil figure that you just wish we could spend more time with.
The transfer represents a solid and worthwhile upgrade over all home video incarnations that have gone before. The extras are tremendous fun. With lots of the franchise now available on Blu, it was high-time that the last good and original instalment made the leap to hi-def.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.87
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