A Joke On the Children: Halloween III

Update 9/3/16 - 4/6/19 - 10/31/21: How many times are they gonna get me?  At least one more.  See, Scream Factory started re-releasing a bunch of their best selling titles in new steelbooks.  And I'm really not enough of a packaging fanatic to repurchase a disc I already own just because it's in a fancier case, especially as long as they insist on using their typical comic book style illustrations instead of the original promotional artwork.  But for Halloween III in 2018, they'd given the film an updated 4k scan and additional special features, and I was on the hook.  And now, in 2021, they've released it again, this time on UHD (and BD), and surprisingly, it features another, even newer 4k scan.  How could I resist?  Although I still wish they'd use the original artwork.
Interestingly, this is one of Scream's very first releases, Halloween 3: Season Of the Witch. Literally, their first two releases, on the same day, were Halloween 2 and 3 special edition blu-rays, and then they were concurrent steelbook limited editions (to 10,000 copies each) with new 4k scans.  I keep making this 4k distinction, because not all of Scream's steelbooks feature updated transfers.  Humanoids From the Deep, Night Of the Demons and Piranha are getting new 4k scans, and I think the first was the August 2018 reissue of Lifeforce; but then concurrent titles like The Howling and Army of Darkness just included the exact same discs from their previous, non-steelbook releases.  And that continued with subsequent releases like The Fog, They Live, Escape From New York, Assault On Precinct 13, The Thing and Prince of Darkness - all the old transfers.  So the ones with new scans were noteworthy exceptions.  "Were" because in 2021, Halloween 2 & 3 (and 1, 4 and 5) have been released concurrently again, with even newer 4k scans, and now on UHD to boot.
Ironically, Halloween 2 is a movie I used to think was really good as a kid, but now feels really flat and uninteresting to me; and Halloween 3 is a movie I hated as a kid; but now I love it.  To be fair, though, I mostly just hated it because I, like most viewers, went in with the completely wrong set of expectations - where was Michael Myers?  They totally placated me with Halloween 4 at the time; but now that my tastes are a little more refined, I actually wish they'd gone with John Carpenter's original plan of making Halloween an anthology series, with each new film a different Halloween-themed story.  Oh well.  Anyway, now Halloween 3 is the only film after the original I have any time for.  It's great.  I can't believe I once believed the fact that it's not completely formulaic and pandering was a failing.  But hey, we were all kids once, right?
So if this is the Halloween without Michael Myers, what is it actually about?  How about a Nigel Kneale story where Tom Atkins is a surgeon who stumbles onto a conspiracy by an evil toy company to play the best joke on Halloween night, "a joke on the children" (man, I love that speech).  Through a twisted mix of mass marketing and ancient Celtic magic, the president of Silver Shamrock Novelties (Dan O'Herlihy) has a plan to kill all the children of the world as part of an epic blood sacrifice.  And he's got some evil masks, killer tricks, an army of automaton assassins and even a piece of Stonehenge to help him do it. Slick anamorphic photography by Dean Cundey, who made the original Halloween so stunning, and a great score (I mean, even besides the hauntingly kitschy "happy, happy, Halloween" theme song) really kick in a lot of atmosphere to a fun, wild and occasionally gruesome story.  And look for an early appearance by Joshua John Miller (that kid from River's Edge, Class of 1999 and Near Dark) as one of Tom Atkins' kids, and a cleverly hidden cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis.
Halloween 3 was one of those titles that frustrated me the most because there was never a special edition for it.  I mean, I'd love a special edition of The Willies, too; but I kinda understand why there will probably never be one.  But Halloween 3?  How did the heyday of DVD miss out on that one?  I mean, at least there were uncut, widescreen DVDs from GoodTimes and Universal (non-anamorphic and anamorphic, respectively), but they were barebones.  Not even a trailer.  So I was pretty excited when Sanctuary Visual Entertainment released it on the UK with an audio commentary, but uh, you'll see why I still hung onto my Universal DVD after picking that up.  No, it really wasn't until 2012 when Scream Factory finally gave us what we basically always should have had for years and years, a proper special edition with a solid transfer and loads of goodies - and in HD to boot!  And of course, in October of 2018, Scream brought it back for their fancy, new steelbook and again in 2021 for their fancy, new UHD.  But how fancy are these new transfers?
1) 2003 Universal DVD; 2) 2002 Sanctuary DVD; 3) 2012 SF BD;
4) 2018 SF BD; 5) 2021 SF BD; 6) 2021 SF UHD.

So you can see why I wasn't too thrilled by that Sanctuary import, huh? What did you notice first? That it's faded, fuzzy, soft, in the wrong aspect ratio? The other releases are all around 2.35:1, but Sanctuary is 1.78:1, which to be fair, I suppose is probably the ratio it would've screened at in the UK. But it's definitely not Cundey's ideal composition, and it's not even an open matte situation.  They just chopped off the sides, and look how much picture is lost.  Speaking of lost picture, here's another fun fact about the Sanctuary disc: it's cut. See that shot above the comparison shots, with the guys standing in the moonlit junkyard? That's just one of the moments you won't see on Sanctuary's DVD.

But ruling that hot mess out, how do the blus compare?  Well, clearly Scream Factory originally used the same master provided by Universal.  So colors, framing, etc. are all the same as the 2003 DVD, just with the boost to HD sharpening and clarifying things up.  But the 2018 new scan of the original negative looks noticeably different.  It pulls back a little, revealing more picture along all four sides.  And yes, grain is captured more naturally.  You got a decent look at grain on the old blu, too, but you can see where the new blu remains a little more smooth and natural where the old one's a bit chunkier and more pixelated when you zoom in close (i.e. around the kid's mouth).  It's not a massive difference, but it's a little more controlled and authentic.  And speaking of more authentic, Scream has clearly taken another pass at the color timing, making things a little less green.

I was honestly surprised the 2021 release didn't just use the 2018 master, with additional color correction of the UHD's HDR.  But no, they've made another all new 4k scan of the OCN, this time pulling back even further from 2.35:1 (or 2.36 in the case of the 2012 blu) to 2.39:1, slightly resizing the picture rather than revealing anything further.  They've taken another pass at the colors (that hospital room shot is much less blue), and apparently Cundy has personally approved this one.  It looks even more subtle and natural on the UHD, while still being a distinctly colorful film, and of course the increased resolution smooths away the pixelation when you see it up close.  Check out the "Silver Shamrock" lettering in the second set of shots, for example, to see how less digital comes across in full 4k.  So I'd say it's inarguably the best yet, whether it's a big enough improvement that you'll really care, or even notice, will come down to the viewer and their individual set-up.
Interestingly, the UK DVD features a stereo and 5.1 mix, while the US DVD and both older blus exclusively feature the original mono (the blus in DTS-HD).  Of course, the mono's the important one, but I'm a little surprised Scream didn't keep at least the 5.1 on as an extra option... I suppose because that 5.1 mix was only made for the shorter, cut version.  Anyway, one point where Scream's 2018 really improves upon the 2012 is their subtitles.  The new disc has them.  Before, across the three previous releases, only Universal's old DVD included subs.

And the new 2021 discs?  They still have the lossless mono and English subtitles, which is ultimately all that matters.  But they've also cooked up a new Dolby Atmos mix for these, which should more than satisfy anyone who'd been longing for that long lost 5.1.
For special features, like I said, the US DVD had bupkis, as had every preceding release. But Sanctuary's disc, for all its faults, has that exclusive audio commentary.  No, it's not either of the ones on Scream's blu.  It's an expert commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, two names that you've surely noticed recur with some frequency on this site.  Sure, a good ton of the information they provide is also disclosed across the various extras of Scream Factory's edition, but it's still a good commentary track.  And while I'd never recommend anyone make Sanctuary's DVD their go-to Halloween 3 disc, serious fans might want to pick it up in addition to Scream's blu, just as a neat little supplement.  It was selling for well under a £ on AmazonUK the last time I looked.
And for all the Universal discs giving us nothing, Scream Factory turned around and gave us everything!  I said "either of the" commentaries on Scream's blu because they have two: one by director Tommy Lee Wallace, and one by Tom Atkins.  The Atkins one is okay, but more of a dry career overview.  The Wallace one, moderated by the Horrors Hallowed Grounds guy, is definitely the better of the two.  And speaking of Horrors Hallowed Grounds, there's an episode of that on here as well, which is up to their usually high level of quality.  But best of all is the original 'making of' documentary, featuring Wallace, Atkins and his co-star Stacey Nelkin, plus Brad Schacter who played the bratty kid, Dean Cundey, Dick Warlock, composer Alan Howarth, producer Irwin Yablans and costume supervisor Jane Ruhm. There's also the trailer (finally!), a couple TV spots and a stills gallery. The case has reversible artwork and a slipcover (too bad you can't reverse slipcovers, as they use their usual and tacky comic book style art), and if you bought it direct from Scream's site when it was new, also came with a poster.
And for the steelbook?  Yes, there's even a bit more.  You may remember when Shout released their massive 15-disc boxed set of all the Halloween films.  Well, that came after their 2012 Halloween 3 Collector's Edition.  So when they conducted a new on-camera interview with special effects artist Tom Burman for that set, us Collector's Edition owners missed out.  It wasn't even in their subsequent 10-disc budget version.  But now it's on here!  It's short: only six minutes including about two minutes worth of logos, opening and closing credits and film clips.  But what little we get is good, including Burman's own idea for how the film should've ended.  We also get a couple radio spots and a poster & lobby cards stills gallery that weren't on the 2012 blu.  And there's the steelbook itself.  You forgo reversible art and a slipcover of course, but you do get an insert which just barely fits inside the case with the disc.

As for the new UHD set, no, no new extras.  But it does include everything from the steelbook, including that Burman interview.  And instead of a steelbook in comes in a black case with reversible artwork and a hard slipbox.  Plus, if you pre-ordered it direct from Shout, you got a rolled poster and a 7" of new John Carpenter music.  Furthermore, if you bought it as part of their Halloween 1-5 bundle, you also received an exclusive enamel pin set.
You can't help but wince each time a label sells us another version of one of their own titles, especially when so many films don't even have a single decent release yet.  And you'll all have to decide for yourselves just how necessary a double-, or triple-dip this one is.   They're not exactly night and day differences.  But I have to admit, Scream has done a nice job creating a superior product here: each version is better than the last.  When I first wrote this post in 2016, I concluded with, "fans might expect a fresh 2 or 4k scan for this title, and yeah I can definitely see how this could look even better."  So I can't begrudge them giving us what I, and I'm sure many of us, were asking for.  And seeing as how the 2012 blu was one of their very first, I could easily imagine them longing to take a second shot.  So I'll just shut up and be happy with my final(?!) UHD edition... plus my little Sanctuary DVD.

1 comment:

  1. You should do a Halloween II comparison, that movie has had so many different and releases and transfers like H3.