Saturday, 10 November 2012

Blu-ray Review: 'Halloween III: Season of the Witch'

I’m not quite out of the horror woods yet, it would seem, but a promise is a promise. You may remember my gooey enthusiasm for this underrated gem, so I’ll press on with reviewing the disc.

Trade Secrets

Shout! Factory present Halloween III: Season of the Witch uncut and in its correct aspect ratio on this Region A locked disc. I never saw the DVD Universal released Stateside, but given the praise that disc has received over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised if this hi-def transfer was struck from the same source.

With a thin-but-clear sheen of grain covering the image, Halloween III is rewarded with an increase in detail and clarity. As ever, close-ups provide the best cases for oohs and aahs, but what struck me especially were the little patterns and textures now clearly visible on clothing and other materials (most notably when ‘Little Buddy’ tries to rip through the degenerating pumpkin mask in his death throes). 

Digital noise reduction may have been applied, as there is a surprisingly slight amount of grain in evidence, but there’s no obvious detrimental knock-on effect, and that filmic quality is very much in evidence with little in the way of print damage.

Likewise, edge enhancement is never a problem, and black levels are rock solid. In fact, Dean Cundy’s darkly envisioned cinematography is given perhaps the most substantial upgrade, with strong colours that pop right off the screen and shadows which only ever swallow details they were always intended to.

The disc is supplied with a basic DTS HD Mono audio track that won’t exactly blow away seasoned audiophiles, but still does an efficient job of reproducing the film’s original sound design. A front-heavy affair, dialogue and music are well balanced, with John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s jump scare music cues receiving a notable boost. Of course, the Silver Shamrock jingle has never sounded better either (ohhono).    

Onto the extras, and Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch is exactly the kind of retrospective documentary fans of this once sadly doomed sequel have been waiting for. Members of the cast and crew reflect on the film’s development, its disappointing release and the slow-but-sure rise in its cult appeal.      

In Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: The Locations of Halloween III, hosted by enthusiastic mega fan Sean Clark, we’re taken on an eerily nostalgic trip through the present day locations used three decades earlier to shoot Season of the Witch. Most of the key haunts are covered, with Clark later joined by director Tommy Lee Wallace as they explore the small town that doubled for Santa Mira; and watch out for a fun cameo by an actor from another underappreciated 80s horror sequel.  

Two audio commentaries are also made available. The first features Tommy Lee Wallace, who’s joined/moderated by Rob G. (from ‘Icons of Fright’) and Sean Clark (once again). This is a most enjoyable listen that delves into virtually every aspect of Halloween III, whether on or off-screen. There’s never a dry moment, and its three contributors pull off the impressive balancing act of being both deeply informative and highly entertaining.   

The second track plonks star Tom Atkins in the spotlight alongside moderator Michael Phelps (who worked on the Night of the Creeps Blu-ray). Atkins exudes a huggable warmth as he fondly recalls his time playing Dr. Challis (with tongue wedged in cheek). At times, the discussion becomes more of a commentary on Akins’ career as a whole, with some surprising Lethal Weapon trivia and one particularly lengthy tangent focusing on his nightmarish experience behind the scenes of William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration. Lack of focus aside, Atkins makes for some brilliant disembodied company, and fans shouldn’t hesitate to sit through Halloween III with him.

And rest assured, both commentaries enjoy poking fun at Atkins’ character’s natural ability to hit on anything without a Y chromosome.

Additionally, a selection of trailers and a still gallery are included to round out a package that even incorporates reversible artwork. If there’s one problem worth noting, then it’s the lack of a scene selection option. I mean, c’mon, what gives?

Final Processing

This was the disc that finally convinced me to buy a region-free Blu-ray player (albeit a modestly priced one with all the durability of a Kinder Egg), and I’m glad I took the plunge. Shout! Factory have released what looks set to be the definitive edition of Halloween III: Season of the Witch for a while at the very least. Any fans on this side of the pond not held back by region coding shouldn't hesitate to mark it down on their import list.    

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