Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
Midnight: Friday (October 26) and Saturday (October 27)
The popular narrative around Halloween III: Season of the Witch isn’t exactly kind.
After the success of Halloween II, producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill (who wrote the first two films together) wished to move on to a production role for the next chapter of the franchise, and would only sign on for another if they could move on from the story of Michael Meyers. Their vision for Halloween III was to change the series into an anthology, one that concentrates on different aspects of the holiday every year.
Carpenter and Hill tapped Tommy Lee Wallace to write and direct this new sequel, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a horror sci-fi film that stars Tom Atkins as a mustachioed womanizer on the outs with his wife and with an affinity for the bottle. After a mysterious murder, Atkins begins investigating the seemingly omnipresent Silver Shamrock Novelties Company, who has been peddling Halloween masks throughout the country through jaunty television and radio commercials. At the head of Silver Shamrock is Conal Cochran (a fiendishly hammy Dan O’Herlihy), an old world witch who’s hatched a plot to sacrifice the nation’s children through subliminal messages that will kill anyone wearing his Halloween masks.
Reception to Carpenter and Hill’s new direction for the series was not favorable. Fans of the first two Halloween films were baffled by the change in tone and plot while critics largely wrote the sequel off as silly, pointless and insensitive towards the Irish population.
For a long time, I bought into the popular narrative that dismisses Halloween III as the bastard step brother to the franchise. Thinking on it now, though, Carpenter and Hill’s reluctance to write another story for The Shape makes sense. Meyers’ magic had already started to wear thin by Part II, when Michael’s back story got clouded with humanity and family issues.
Looking at the franchise as a whole, with seven sequels and two remakes, the sequels that center on Meyers come up thin on both substance and style, basically amounting to little more than Michael Meyers stab-a-thons. With its bonkers premise, android hit men and ornery Celtic witch, not only is Season of the Witch unique and under-rated, it’s easily the best sequel of the franchise.
Admittedly far from a perfect film — the android hit-men in 80’s power suits are a bit much — there’s a lot to like in Halloween III. Wallace gets a solid performance out of Atkins, whose surly, smart-ass Dad swagger carries the movie. It also features what might be Carpenter’s best score, which he composed with Alan Howarth. Though not as haunting or immediately recognizable as his original Halloween theme, Season of the Witch is all cold and sinister synth waves punctuated with blips and stabs of sound.
Halloween III also has one scene in particular that will forever be burned into my brain after an unfortunate viewing as a child: a young boy puts on a latex pumpkin mask and turns on the television. As he’s watching one of Silver Shamrock’s cheerful Halloween commercials, he starts to twitch and clutches at his head. The boy tears at his mask, revealing insects, snakes and other creepy crawlies pouring out of his eyes and mouth.
Kids are supposed to be safe in these movies, not brutally murdered by Irish witches. The way that the kid grabs at his crumbling skull, with all kinds of ugliness pouring out of the torn, rotten mask is a masterstroke of horror.
How many of the Halloween sequels can match a scene as memorable as the kid’s head crumbling off his shoulders, or Tom Atkins’ desperate screams in the film’s final scene? It’s a film that tries for something different and achieves it in many ways. Though different than the first two Halloween films, Wallace, Carpenter and Hill tap into the mood of the season with the same amount of energy as the original film.
In one scene, Cochran outlines his evil plan while Carpenter’s original film plays on a television in the background. Halloween is a horror film of a small and immediate scale, a large part of why it works so well, but the scope of Cochran’s plot is wide reaching and terrible, dwarfing the menace of Michael Meyers whose neighborhood-wide reign of terror is so small that it can be contained within the dwarfish television.
You can hear Carpenter’s pulsing piano from his Halloween score playing through the television’s speakers in this scene, and even though the music is different than the rest of Halloween III‘s all-synth score, it fits the scene like a glove.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch doesn’t scoff at Meyers or fans of the franchise, it’s a series trying to grow into something more but ultimately failing, left to die on the floor like a kid in a corrupted Halloween mask.