28th Jul2013

‘Halloween III’ Blu-ray Review [Scream Factory]

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy | Written by Tommy Lee Wallace, Nigel Kneale | Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

Halloween-3

I really hate the bad rap that Halloween III gets. I mean, it’s a stinker reputation. People are either supremely dismissive or they appreciate it for what it is – a completely underrated film with a downer of an ending and trying something new when it appears that it seemed to be heading the way of franchise, and as we undoubtedly know, it has.

The idea being that Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted something new, after all an unstoppable killer would become old hat after a while. And so, they decided to hand the reins over to the talented Tommy Lee Wallace and this is what he produced. And merciful me, it sunk and it sunk badly. Does this mean it’s a bad film? Not at all. It’s shot well and has a terrific score by Alan Howarth, going it alone on this voyage. The story is pretty crazed and yes, maybe a little implausible. I mean, Stonehenge? Still, that point is moot when you realize that it’s a great piece of nihilism that probably sent audiences ready to turn the theatre into one big disco inferno. Personally, if Universal had included this subtitle, maybe audiences would have been a little more receptive:

LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, MICHAEL MYERS DOES NOT APPEAR IN THIS FEATURE FILM.

There, that wasn’t so hard was it? But, box office soon tanked and people ushered this film away to become the cult hit that it was. Universal soon sold the rights to Trancas International who six year later, made the follow-up Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and audiences were back to the slasher fare they so loved.  I love the little references to other paranoid fare, like the town being named Santa Mira, which is the town in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or hearing Jamie Lee Curtis’ voice over the phone as a phone operator. See, the audiences missed on what could quite possibly be the best stand alone horror film out there. Alan Howarth’s score fits right in with the franchises best and yet, stands alone as it’s own. The camera continues it’s famous prowl and you feel lost in the frenzy. The film is so eerie and has a classic downbeat ending, that feels like John Carpenter inserted in, as he is the master of nihilism.

The film looks terrific even thirty years later. The Blu-Ray transfer is fantastic, and it’s spruced the old gal up in all the right ways. I found that the film is a little more gruesome than I remember, and you see everything splatter on screen in all it’s sanguinary glory. I still find myself disturbed by the scene where the average nuclear family are dispatched by Conal Cochran’s evil masks of death. Oh, man that scene gives me more willies than I can count. But, nevertheless, the transfer is exquisite. And did Dan O’Herlhy play an evil head of corporation in every film in the 80’s?

There’s great and refreshingly honest documentary that kicks off this loaded Blu-Ray package. The docu is called “Stand Alone”, and it’s chock full of tidbits and moves very fast. The warts and all approach is obvious straight from the get-go as Irwin Yablans practically denounces the film. He admits to have nothing to do with the feature proper only as paycheck. It’s a somber approach but sadly one that was taken a lot of the time back in the 80’s. Writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace shows a lot of hurt in admitting that the film was a failure and DOP Dean Cundey takes my similar tack that they should have changed the name of the film and just leave it as Season of the Witch. The origin of the story is discussed, the film was dreamt up as a mix of Celtic origin in the computer age. Tommy Lee Wallace admits that there were many spoons in the cauldron. Originally, the inception of the story was created by Nigel Kneale, famed British writer of Quatermass. He had been very wary of working with Hollywood and when there were problems with his draft , he walked away. John Carpenter wrote a draft and when his draft wasn’t up to snuff, Wallace stepped in and cleaned it up for the film.  The thing about the story is that Debra Hill and John Carpenter had designed the actual story outline. Then, the cast waxes nostalgic about the film. They had a blast making it and it shows. Tom Atkins is so very jovial and even posits that the film ends happily. (Full disclosure: He is a great guy and is exactly as awesome as you think he is.) They dig deep too and even interview the little boy in the film that becomes an unfortunate test subject for Conal Cochran’s mask of doom. Alan Howarth discussed the process of scoring the film and how electronics were much easier. He also admits that the score was written in a week (!) They show that the film has amassed a cult following and Wallace admits that the resurgence is a bit of a healing process. It’s such nice vindication after a dark period and the doc is very good and detailed, and really shows the thought that went into a not-so respected film.

Then, we dig into another feature about called “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds”, a feature where we visit the shooting locations of the film. Our host from the same feature on Halloween II, Sean Clark visits the junkyard and gas station from the opening and climax of the film. They visit the bar where Ellie chides Doctor Challis into going on her search for her father. The location where they set Santa Mira in the film is actually Lolita, California and that’s where we meet up with Tommy Lee Wallace. The town still remains eerie 30 years later. A lot of the town has changed, like the phone booth that Atkins ducks down in during his getaway in the film. They visit the general store where the masks were sold. The motel that our two leads stay in is desolate and rundown and chock full of Lynchian characters. They visit the location of the Silver Shamrock factory, which was formerly a powdered milk factory. They only used the exteriors for establishing shots. It’s a location that just kept on giving. Clark is friendly and knowledgeable and Wallace is just a fun, easygoing character. Very interesting, because the film moved from location to location, unlike the previous Halloween II. But, what’s with the Robert Rusler appearance? It’s funnier this time around, but a very bizarre shoe-in.

We begin the first of two commentaries with writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace and joined by Rob Galluzzo from Icons of Fright and HHG host Sean Clark. He admits that sixty percent of the story that unfolds was original writer Nigel Kneale’s screenplay. He also discusses that he was the original director for Halloween II for about all of five minutes before turning it down. He was really entranced by the idea of a yearly anthology that the Halloween franchise could afford the filmmakers. Some of Clark’s contribution involves a lot of the shooting location discussing from the previously discussed featurette. The film was shot pretty quickly, about eight weeks prep time. The film digs into Wallace’s primal fear of corporate suits. The robotic assassins were just cast through an extras casting company and originally they wanted redheads to convey the idea they were all Irish. Tom Atkins’ house in the film was located in Sierra Madre, and that his character’s son was actor Jason Miller’s son, Joshua Miller from the film, Near Dark. His wife in the film was portrayed by Nancy Kyes who appeared as Annie Brackett in the original Halloween. The second commentary is with Tom Atkins and moderated by Michael Felsher. Atkins is a completely jovial fellow and whip smart and sharp as a tack. He’s unashamed of the film and has clear memories of it as well. Even if he’s got the Silver Shamrock song stuck in his head. He met Carpenter back when Halloween premiered and created a nice working relationship with him. At least, they acknowledge that Tom Atkins is a professional lady killer. A lot of the time is taken up discussing his history as an actor. Frankly, if this commentary was five hours long, I could listen to the still funny, and sharp Atkins discussing his storied history.

Bottom line is, if you are a stone cold fan of Halloween III and want to see it treated as lavishly as it should be, then grab this up immediately. Especially on Blu-Ray because it has a stunning transfer. Besides, it isn’t the worst film in the franchise, that dubious honor goes to Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. I mean, it’s about time for an amazing film to get its due diligence and 30 years is better late than never.

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