‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ Shout Factory Blu-ray Review

Halloween III blu ray cover

It took several decades, but “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” did eventually get the special edition release it has long deserved. To date, it is the only movie in the “Halloween” franchise which does not feature Michael Myers, and it was lambasted by both critics and fans for the same reason upon its release in 1982. Over the years, however, this sequel has been re-evaluated by many and has since gained a strong cult following. This makes the special edition release of “Halloween III” all the more joyous as it comes with a plethora of extras which tell you everything you need to know about this movie’s making.

This special edition release of “Halloween III” came to us from the good folks at Shout Factory who are released it simultaneously with their equally special edition of “Halloween II.” To say this is the best digital edition ever of this particular film would be a severe understatement as “Halloween III” has never gotten much respect in any of its previous DVD incarnations. It is no surprise to say this movie has never looked and sounded this good since it first came out, and the colors look so vivid in this high definition release.

There are two audio commentaries on this disc, and the first one is with director Tommy Lee Wallace who is interviewed by “Icons of Fright’s” Rob G and “Horror Hound’s” Sean Clark. Wallace made it clear that his intention was not to make a slasher movie like the first two “Halloween” movies, but instead a “pod” movie in the vein of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” He also talked about how the assassins dressed in suits represented his fear of the corporate world, and the movie proved to be something of a commentary on American consumerism (a theme which was expanded on in “They Live“).

The other commentary track is with actor Tom Atkins who plays Dr. Dan Challis, and he is interviewed by Michael Felsher. This proves to be the most entertaining of the two tracks and this is even though Atkins goes off topic a number of times. The actor reflects on working with Frank Sinatra on “The Detective,” meeting with John Carpenter and Shane Black, and he also talks extensively about William Peter Blatty’s movie “The Ninth Configuration” which apparently was a disaster. Whether he is talking about “Halloween III” or not, Atkins sounds like he’s having a blast and is endlessly entertaining throughout.

The behind the scenes documentary “Stand Alone: The Making of ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch” does a great job of looking at the movie’s creation, its initial failure when it opened, and of how it has gained a second life on video and DVD. Carpenter and the late Debra Hill made it clear they were steering clear of the mask-wearing psychopath from the previous films with this entry as they wanted to turn the franchise into a series of anthology films which dealt with the holiday of Halloween. Universal Pictures, however, did not do nearly enough to prepare audiences for this shift in direction.

Executive Producer Irwin Yablans makes it no secret in the documentary of how he thought it was a huge mistake to make a “Halloween” movie without Michael Myers in it, and his only satisfaction from this sequel came in the form of a nice paycheck. Others like Atkins, Stacey Nelkin who played Ellie and stunt coordinator Dick Warlock state they always thought the movie was good despite its initial reception.

Other special features include an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” which has host Sean Clark touring the original shooting locations of “Halloween III” with Wallace, and it proves to be a lot of fun watching these two go down memory lane to see what these locations look like today. There’s also the movie’s teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, and there’s even a commercial for its debut on network television. The latter is proof of how the producers of this special edition left no stone unturned.

For years, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” has been treated as if it were the bastard stepchild of the “Halloween” movie franchise, but with the passing of time it has been reassessed as a clever horror movie which stands on its own merits. The Shout Factory Blu-ray release was done with a lot of love and care, and this especially shows in the brilliant artwork on the cover illustrated by Nathan Thomas Milliner. After all these years it is worth revisiting this sequel, and that is even if it you have to endure the “Silver Shamrock” commercial jingle just one more time.

John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ Covers the Coastal Towns Again in a Beautiful 4K Restoration

 

The Fog 4K Restoration posterThe Fog” remains one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Every time a fog bank appears in whatever town I happen to be in, I immediately put on his score to the film and start playing its theme song. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” “The Fog” is, for me, one of the most iconic Northern California horror movies ever made as it captures the beauty of coast near Bodega Bay and beyond while enthralling you with a number of terrifying images.

Rialto Pictures has now released a 4K restoration of “The Fog,” and seeing it again on the big screen proves to be a real treat. Granted, this Carpenter movie has been restored previously for the special edition MGM DVD and Shout Factory’s Blu-ray collector’s edition, and the results were truly astonishing. But just when I thought the image couldn’t be improved upon any further, along comes this restoration which looks truly pristine and clear to where the image, if you’ll excuse the expression, isn’t as foggy as it once was.

“The Fog” takes place in the coastal town of Antonio Bay which is about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its formation, but we soon discover it was actually built on blood and theft. Father Malone (the great Hal Holbrook) discovers a diary hidden in the walls of his church written by his grandfather, and it tells of how he and five of the town’s founders deliberately plundered and sunk a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane. The owner of the ship was Blake, a wealthy man looking to establish a leper colony, but he and his crew ended up being murdered, and the gold found on their ship was used to build the town and its church.

Now Blake and his crew are back to get their revenge against the offspring of the town’s founders and retrieve their gold. Once you are surrounded by the fog to where Blake and his crew have you in their sights, it is too late to escape. There is a Klingon proverb which tells of how revenge is a dish best served cold, and it is served here very coldly to where we are quickly reminded of the movie’s tagline:

“It won’t hurt you. IT’LL KILL YOU.”

Watching “The Fog” for the umpteenth time, I am reminded of what a brilliant cinematographer Dean Cundey is as his lighting helps to make the movie’s central nemesis all the more mysterious and devilishly suffocating. The dark of the night is made to look especially chilling as things constantly leap out of it, and Blake and his crew are largely kept in the shadows as neither Cundey or Carpenter want to reveal too much of the monster to the audience.

This was Carpenter’s and the late Debra Hill’s first movie after “Halloween,” and I can understand why audiences felt a little let down by “The Fog” when it arrived in theaters. The anticipation for something usually ends up being more exciting than the finished product as our minds are filled with the possibilities of what we think will end up on the silver screen, but not everything comes out the way we want it to. It’s an unfair obstacle that filmmakers often have to deal with when following up such a successful motion picture, and sometimes we need to revisit certain movies like these years later to give them a much-needed reassessment.

More than 30 years have passed since Carpenter’s “The Fog” was released, and I like to think it has gotten better over time. In terms of atmospheric horror movies, I see it as one of the best. Those low-flying clouds are always a fascinating sight as well as a scary one. When the visibility is practically zero, you cannot help but feel trapped in the fog as it makes you believe the world has cut you off. Carpenter captures this feeling here as the fog proves to be thick and infinitely suffocating. There’s no escaping it or what is inside of it as those not smart enough to run away from it are almost deserving of the fate about to greet them.

Carpenter assembled a terrific cast of actors for “The Fog,” many of whom became regulars in his later movies. John Houseman gets things off to a chilling start as he recounts the story of the Elizabeth Dane in a way which feels vivid and probably helped the producers save money to where an actual recreation of the event he talks about proved completely unnecessary. Houseman was a brilliant actor who somehow managed to walk the line of doing work for either the love of the theatre or instead a nice paycheck, and I like to believe he did “The Fog” for the former. Still, I am often reminded of what the late Robin Williams said about the advice Houseman gave him while he was a student at Julliard:

“The theatre needs you. I’m going off to sell Volvos.”

Tom Atkins co-stars as town resident Nick Castle (lol) who is quick to pick up hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) and later have sex with her before asking the question often heard in movies of the late 70’s and early 80’s, “What’s your name?” Atkins showed what a confident lady’s man he was here, and he later built on this confidence to terrific and hilarious effect in “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.”

“The Fog” also marked the film debut of Adrienne Barbeau, and the camera loves her here. As single mom and local radio disc jockey Stevie Wayne, Barbeau gives this Carpenter movie the strong female character it needs and deserves. Stevie is not a person to back down from danger and, like Laurie Strode, she is very observant of everything going on around her. When Barbeau’s voice is giving you more than enough of a reason to listen to jazz music on a regular basis, she keeps you on the edge of your seat as she fends off the bloodthirsty mariners hiding in the fog in ways her male counterparts fail to.

And, of course, I have to mention Carpenter’s score as I remain as big a fan of his music as I do of his movies. His main theme for “The Fog” is one of his most memorable as it has the same rapid pace of his “Halloween” theme. The musical stings pack a wallop in certain scenes where ghostly hands reach out of the fog to grab at unsuspecting victims who think this is the work of kids, and his other big theme in “The Fog” is “Reel 9” which brings the movie to its riveting climax in which the mariners close in on the townspeople who have no place to escape certain death.

Carpenter has described “The Fog” as being one of his least favorite movies as its initial cut proved to be very disappointing, and he had to reshoot and rescore much of it before its release. Whatever the case, it is a wonderfully atmospheric horror movie which stands among his finest works, and watching this 4K restoration of it reminds one of why certain movies play best on the silver screen.

It’s also fun to watch a movie made back in the pre-digital age when cell phones and GPS were not around to save our heroes. Instead, they had to deal with landlines, a desperate DJ and the limits of technology. After watching “The Fog” again in this day and age, I kept waiting for one of the characters to say the following:

“It’s just you, me, and my Thomas Guide.”

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Creepshow’ Remains a Benchmark in Horror Anthologies

Creepshow movie poster

Ah, “Creepshow!” One of the best horror anthologies to come out of the 1980’s, and it is immensely enjoyable if you’re into this sort of movie. It brings us the combined talents of Stephen King and George Romero as they give homage to the E.C. comics of the 1950’s with five different stories of terror. In some ways, this can be seen as more of a comedy than a horror movie. Granted, it does have its scary moments, and a hand coming out of a grave is always good for a jolt, but it is presented in such an over the top fashion to where you have to thank both King and Romero for not taking the things too seriously.

As I write this review, filmmaker Eli Roth is having a two-week festival of his favorite movies at New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. This film was playing on a double bill with “Mother’s Day” which I missed, unfortunately, but it was probably because I was more excited about seeing this one. I vividly remember seeing the trailer for it when I went to see, and cry again at, “E.T.” When the image of The Creep first appeared, my brother responded by saying, “Whoa!”

The trailer was amusing and funny, at least until those cockroaches came in during which I had to cover my eyes. Granted, it would years and years before I would have the stomach, let alone the time, to check this one out. Anthology movies and series like “Masters of Horrors” are always intrigued me because they were filled with so many possibilities. Going from one story to the next, you are eager to see where it takes you. The only downside with anthologies is there is usually a weak story among the whole bunch which can weigh down the whole enterprise, but “Creepshow” doesn’t have this problem and is endlessly enjoyable to sit through.

The movie opens with a prologue where a father (Tom Atkins) berates his young son (Joe King, Stephen King’s son) for reading these “crappy” horror comics. The kick of the scene comes from the son calling out his dad for the hypocrite he is when he points out it’s a lot better than the magazines he reads. I couldn’t help but think this kid’s dad has a wide variety of porno magazines hidden where his wife can’t find them. It’s funny how we see fathers not wanting their kids to read “crap,” and then they sit in a recliner with a can of beer boasting of how God made fathers. Poor schmuck.

“Creepshow” then goes straight into its first episode entitled “Father’s Day,” a story of revenge. The patriarch of a family was murdered for being an annoying prick as he furiously demanded his cake to be brought out to him, and now he’s come back from the dead to get that tasty cake he has long been denied. Of all the stories, I consider it the weakest because “Father’s Day” is very short and threatens to be pointless. It does, however, succeed in defining the look of the movie. The acting is over the top, and there is a fantastic use of colors which dominates the movie and gives it a wonderfully pulpy feel. If Dario Argento had ever created a comic book, I’m sure it would look like this.

The great about “Father’s Day” is it allows us to see Ed Harris in a role where he is loosened up. Harris is a great actor who plays mostly dramatic roles in movies, and one day he will win an Oscar. But here, we see him get his boogie on while dancing to some crappy disco music which somehow sneaked its way into a 1980’s movie. You listen to that music, and you’d figure it would have died a fiery death before the 70’s ended. No such luck.

The next story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” is both funny and sad. It features King in one of his few acting performances as the title character, a dimwit farmer who discovers a meteor which has crashed into his backyard. Jordy gets excited at the prospect of selling this meteor to the local college for a handsome profit, but when he tries to salvage it, it breaks into two and a liquid quickly seeps into the barren ground of the farm. Soon after, everything it touches starts growing green plant life which cannot be contained. It also grows on anything it touches, including Mr. Verrill himself. Seeing King turn into a bush is frightening and morbidly amusing. King may say he is a better writer than an actor, but you can also say he is a better actor than a director (“Maximum Overdrive” anyone?). In the end, he is perfectly cast as the seemingly brainless farmer, and his performance fits both the story and the film.

After that, we get “Something to Tide You Over,” and this one was my favorite of all the stories in the movie. It stars Leslie Nielsen, before his image was permanently altered by “The Naked Gun” movies, as a millionaire husband who takes his revenge on Harry (Ted Danson), the man having an affair with his wife. The way he lures Danson’s character out to the beach and gets him to bury himself in the sand up to his neck is priceless, and you can say there is a bit of “The Vanishing” here as we have a man willing to do anything to find out the fate of his loved one. Danson’s fate, being stuck in the sand as the tide rushes over him is frightening and unnerving to witness. You feel stuck in the sand with him, and it shows how fiendishly clever both King and Romero are at exploiting what we fear the most in life.

Watching this segment today may seem weird as Nielsen is forever known as Lt. Frank Drebin of “The Naked Gun” movies, and Danson is best known for playing Sam Malone on “Cheers.” Seeing them in a serious, albeit a highly exaggerated, story might be hard, but these actors have their serious chops as well as their comedic ones, and both talents serve them well here. Nielsen is a particular hoot as a man so confident of his deviant plan of revenge, yet quickly haunted by the possibility of his crimes coming back to do him in. Nothing can stay buried forever.

Next, we have “The Crate” which features Hal Holbrook as a Professor at a New England college who is saddled with an eternally inebriated wife (played by Adrienne Barbeau) who constantly embarrasses him and herself in front of anybody who happens to be watching. Holbrook’s character is a coward who doesn’t have the cojones to stand up to his wife, but then a colleague of his and a janitor discover a crate beneath the stairs which has not been opened for decades. It turns out to contain a monster who eats human beings whole. After Henry hears of this, he concocts a plan to lure his abusive wife over to the crate.

Holbrook is great at making you feel sorry for his character even while we berate him for being a wimp and not standing up to his wife. Barbeau gives a one-note performance as a humongous bitch with no real redeeming features whatsoever. In the end, this is not a big criticism because Barbeau is given a one-dimensional character to play. The characters are not meant to be complex in the way they handle themselves, and they are here to represent different types of people who meet their predestined fate.

Then comes the last story of the movie, appropriately titled “They’re Creeping Up on You.” This one I had the hardest time sitting through, and I doubt it will be easy for you either if you have an intense phobia of bugs. E.G. Marshall plays Upson Pratt, a thoughtless and hateful bigot who has no sympathy for anyone other than himself. He gleefully takes delight in the suffering of others and lives in a completely sterile apartment which makes him look like he’s a doctor. But his problem now is with the bugs in his apartment, specifically cockroaches. They keep popping up out of nowhere, and their numbers keep growing and growing…I found myself looking at my shoes a lot during this segment, and it reminded me I need to get a new pair soon.

I remember watching one of those “scariest moments in movies” episodes on the Bravo channel. They featured the cockroach segment from “Creepshow” in it, and it turned out the segment was more of a socially conscious piece than people realized. This is after all a Romero film whose “Dead” movies are loaded with social commentary, and the whole point of the “Creeping” segment was to look at bigotry how what we fear the most we end up empowering. We invite our fears to mess with us, and sometimes they eat us whole. Suffice to say, this is very much an anti-racism piece, and it’s the strongest episode in the movie. Marshall gives a brilliantly zany performance as a man who cannot control the world around him any longer, and who could never really control it in the first place.

Eli Roth had programs for his festival entitled “The Greats of Roth,” and in it he summed up this “criminally underrated” movie perfectly:

“It’s amazing to see how many comic book and graphic novel adaptations today are praised for getting the ‘look’ of the comic perfect, and nobody ever seems to mention this film. This was the first time that Romero was really surrounded with a star-studded cast, and you see Romero, King and Tom Savini all coming together to create one of the most visually spectacular and fun horror films of all time. They set out to recreate the look and feel of the old E.C. Comics and nailed it perfectly.”

“Creepshow” is indeed one of the most deliriously entertaining horror movies ever made, and it is a visually stunning achievement made on what must have been an especially low budget. There were many other movies to come out of this which tried for the same look, but none of them succeeded at it quite like this one did. This is just a fun, fun, fun movie for people who dig this sort of thing, and to see it on the big screen was a real treat. As the movie’s tagline says, it is the most fun you will ever have being scared.

* * * * out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was originally written in 2008.

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Tommy Lee Wallace Talks about ‘Halloween III’ at New Beverly Cinema

halloween-iii-poster

PLEASE NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT THE MOVIE.

Tommy Lee Wallace dropped by New Beverly Cinema on October 30, 2010 to talk about his directorial debut, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” This is the Michael Myers-less sequel of the long running franchise and it played as a double feature with “Trick ‘r Treat.” All the “Halloween” movie fans were in for a special treat as Wallace gave us more trivia about the making of it than we ever could have ever expected.

When Wallace was brought up after the movie ended, he admitted his reaction to watching it after so many years was that it resembled one of the strangest and most bizarre movies he had ever seen. The original plan for “Halloween III” was to work from an original screenplay by Nigel Kneale, best known for his work on the “Quatermass” series. What Kneale ended up writing was, as Wallace put it, “brilliant and deeply, darkly grim” and more of a cerebral, intellectual horror movie than your typical slasher fare. But it turned out everyone thought the overall story needed work, and Wallace said he and Carpenter wanted to make it more commercial and scarier for audiences. As a result, Kneale took his name off the movie as he felt the filmmakers would simply butcher all he came up with. Wallace did say that he really liked Kneale’s script and hopes to put it online someday in its entirety for all to see.

While making the movie, Wallace described himself and the crew as being under the gun as it was a low budget affair like most horror movies. Understanding how to do work on the cheap, he said all the “el cheapo” special effects taught him a lot about simplicity which turned out to be a great virtue.

As for Carpenter’s participation, Wallace said Carpenter gave him full autonomy as he himself always expected to have it on all his movies. Joe Dante, the director of “Gremlins” and “Innerspace,” was originally set to helm “Halloween III,” but he later turned it down when something else came up. Having worked on many of Carpenter’s movies, Wallace was originally offered the gig of directing “Halloween II,” but he turned it down as he saw no way to top the original. But upon being offered “Halloween III,” Carpenter and the late Debra Hill told him neither of them wanted to do a direct sequel as Carpenter hated “Halloween II.” With that in mind, Wallace jumped at the chance to direct it.

The only real barrier Wallace had to deal with before accepting the job was getting the blessing of Dino De Laurentis. Wallace had previously written the script for a movie De Laurentis produced called “Amityville II: The Possession,” and he said the one rule everyone needed to remember was “you do not fuck with Dino.” In response to Wallace’s request, De Laurentis begged him not do the film, but Wallace said he was determined to get De Laurentis’ blessing because he would have directed it anyway.

With “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” Carpenter and Hill wanted to turn the franchise into an anthology of movies about the occasion of Halloween. Looking back, the original was really not about Halloween at all (the original title was “The Babysitter Murders”). But when it came to releasing this particular “Halloween” movie, Wallace said Universal Pictures did not do enough to prepare audiences for it. Sadly, audiences did not want something new. They wanted Michael Myers back and breathing heavy while slashing over stimulated teenagers.

One of the biggest influences on “Halloween III” was the 1956 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” directed by Don Siegel. Like that one, this sequel was meant to be a pod movie and could not be mistaken as something nice. Wallace even wanted to shoot it in Sierra Madre where Siegel’s classic was filmed, but it didn’t look good enough. The production team had driven all over Northern California looking for the perfect small town to film in, and it took forever to find it. Wallace said they were never as lucky as they were with Carpenter’s The Fog.” Also, the town’s name, Santa Mira, is the same as the one used in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

But the big difference between “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Halloween III” is in the way each movie ended. Siegel wanted his film to close on a highway with star Kevin McCarthy screaming frantically, “THEY’RE ALREADY HERE! YOU’RE NEXT! YOU’RE NEXT!” Instead, “Invasion” ended the same way it began, in a police station. All this did was indicate to the audience everything was going to be alright. Wallace said the ending of “Halloween III” was dedicated to Siegel for what he tried to pull off, and it leaves the fate of the world up in the air which makes things far scarier as your mind was forced to imagine what could have happened. Universal Pictures, however, put pressure on Carpenter to change the ending to something more upbeat. When Carpenter asked Wallace if he wanted to change the film’s ambiguous climax, Wallace said he refused to do so and Carpenter defended Wallace’s decision to the studio.

Tom Atkins’ name in the credits as well as his first appearance onscreen generated a huge applause from the audience. When it came to casting “Halloween III,” Wallace said Atkins was already a part of Carpenter’s company of actors, and his performance in “The Fog” served as his audition for the role of Dr. Daniel Challis. Wallace then went on to explain how horror movies can easily be ruined by “pretty boy casting,” and he felt this didn’t need to be the case here. Atkins naturalistic performance is commendable considering much of what he has to deal with is utterly ridiculous. You also have to give him credit for wasting no time in bedding the main female character, Ellie Grimbridge, played by Stacey Nelkin.

Another actor who got a lot of applause was the late Dan O’Herlihy who portrayed the movie’s chief villain, Conal Cochran. Wallace described O’Herlihy as being perfect for the part, and he was always prepared and ready to go. He also said O’Herlihy was a man from the British Isle, Irish and was someone who was never afraid of getting sentimental. O’Herlihy’s performance was a fiendish mix of a friendly persona which is a cover for his grisly nature.

As for Nelkin, the first question from the audience was whether or not her character was a robot throughout the entire movie. Wallace said he honestly didn’t know and figured Cochran’s company was really good at making robots in the first place. Nelkin was a very appealing presence in “Halloween III,” and perhaps Roget Ebert put it best in his one-and-a-half-star review of the movie: “Too bad she plays her last scene without a head.”

Then there’s the movie’s commercial for the Silver Shamrock masks which features one of those annoying jingles which, like any other commercial, you cannot get out of your head. Alan Howarth, who composed the score along with Carpenter, was given credit for doing the jingle and putting it to the tune of “London Bridge” from “My Fair Lady,” but Wallace said it was his idea more than anyone else’s.

As for the voice on the jingle, it is Wallace’s. They were originally going to hire someone else, but when they found out the guy wanted $550, it was quickly determined they couldn’t afford him. Wallace got the job soon after and said he got into the mood by doing the smooth tone of a “stupid radio voice from the 50’s.”

Another audience member asked Wallace if there were any product placements in “Halloween III,” and he said there were not. Truth be told, this wasn’t really the kind of movie which would allow for that, and it was also clarified how no one was ever asked to move the can of Miller Lite closer to the camera.

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch” was designed to be a diatribe against consumerism, and it didn’t turn out to be a very elegant one. The movie cost $2.5 million to make and grossed about $14 million at the box office. While it did make a tiny profit, the sequel was considered a critical and commercial disappointment. Wallace said he fell into an abject depression for months afterwards as he felt he did a shitty job on the sequel and figured he would be consigned to movie hell.

Years later, however, Wallace discovered “Halloween III” had developed a cult following and a new generation of fans. He was stunned to hear a lot of people telling him they watch it every single year, and he said people continue to invite him to speak at annual horror conventions about it. Having been originally released in 1982, audiences have had plenty of time to reflect on the kind of movie it was and reevaluate it critically. While still not a great film by any stretch, it’s much better than its reputation suggests.

Certainly, there are other “Halloween” sequels that are far worse (“Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers” is the pits), and the moderator put it best when comparing the third movie to “Halloween: Resurrection:”

“Do you prefer this or Busta Rhymes?”

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