In an alternate universe, there would never have been a "Halloween II" and the series would have adopted the anthology format that John Carpenter intended to "Season of the Witch" to kick off. Not to malign "II" any more than I already have, but as unnecessary as that movie was, I think an annualized (or semi-annual) series of "Halloween" films by different writers and directors going off on whatever tangent they wanted under the banner of something like "John Carpenter Presents" would have been just the right antidote to the "Halloween" also-rans that cluttered up the 80's.
But let's back up a little and talk about this one-off in the franchise which underperformed at the time of its release, shelved the series for another half a decade, and is an essential movie to add to your collection for the Halloween season.
After John Carpenter was dragged back into Haddonfield with "Halloween II" (at least for the script and some reshoots), he felt like he was done with Michael Meyers and wanted to do something interesting with the "Halloween" name. Eventually he struck on the idea of making it an anthology series with feature-length entries by new filmmakers, ultimately giving the first one to his friend and protege, later "Stephen King's It" and "Fright Night 2" director Tommy Lee Wallace. Wallace served as the editor on "Halloween," and he applies that deliberate sense of pacing and tension from Carpenter's brilliant slasher.
But instead of working from Hitchcock or Bava as influences for his film, Wallace used Don Siegel as a point of inspiration, making a horror-oriented take on "Invasion of the Body Snatches" (complete with star Tom Atkins reenacting something similar to the "They're already here" scene from that film). And besides the absence of the Shape making his way through the movie, cutting people to bits, the sci-fi edge to "Season of the Witch" is probably part of what may have turned off some viewers back in 1982.
That said, Wallace had two very capable actors as his hero and villain: the aforementioned Tom Atkins ("Night of the Creeps," "Lethal Weapon," "Maniac Cop") played the boozy, philandering Dr. Dan Challis while Dan O'Herlihy ("Robocop") was incredibly Irish toymaker-turned Halloween costume magnate Conal Cochran. Without veering into self-parody, "Season of the Witch" has a great sense of humor about itself, and part of that comes from Atkins' willingness to play Challis as a jerk who ends up out of his depth in the middle of a conspiracy to kill millions of kids on Halloween night. O'Herlihy had the trickier job of playing a nice old man who's also completely and totally insane. Both men wonderfully counterbalance each other here, and if you have to have one movie that's not "Night of the Creeps" to serve as your introduction to Tom Atkins, it should be "Halloween III."
Wallace, who also wrote the screenplay, also struck on the idea of making Cochran's henchmen not just robots, but the natural product of a toymaker's years of tinkering. They're essentially clockwork men and that plays out in the way that they kill some of the innocent witnesses unlucky enough to stumble on their Druid witch-magic powered plot. Consider the way the first of the droids completely annihilates the face of Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) in the early hospital scene, later walking out and calmly dousing itself with gasoline before blowing itself up in the hospital parking lot. That's a cold, harsh scene right there and the droids/clockwork men are so menacing that I wish they had their own movie.
And what about the most memorable scene in the film involving the complete ruin of the Kupfer family? It's such a dramatic turn in the movie from a mystery with horror and sci-fi elements to outright gruesome, gut-wrenching horror. These silly, good-hearted people suffer brutal deaths for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's a movie about the widespread death and destruction via techno-magic and it's just a huge disappointment that it took years after its initial release for "Halloween III" to find an audience. Well, thankfully we have Shout! Factory's wonderful disc to celebrate this film that was unloved for so long.
Presentation and Special Features
Like the "Halloween II" disc, Shout! Factory has put out another great-looking release with perhaps the sharpest presentation of the film that I've had the chance to see. The trailer below with its muted, almost yellowed coloring is in no way representative of the hot, nightmare colors on the disc. Skin tones are just a little warmer than realistic, but I think that might have been the intent of the original film.
Like the "Halloween II" disc, this one includes a host of features including the easy, enjoyable separate commentary tracks by Tommy Lee Wallace and Tom Atkins, each lacking the dead air of the Rick Rosenthal/Leo Rossi commentary from the other disc. There's also a 40 minute documentary, "Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch" which is another candid look at a troubled film. Atkins and Wallace in particular shine here, both still proud of the film without being defensive and still a little sad that it couldn't find an audience. The disc also includes a gallery of stills, another installment of "Horror's Hallowed Grounds," the theatrical trailer, and TV spots.
"Halloween III: Season of the Witch" is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Shout! Factory through their Scream Factory label.