Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

by The Acolyte/Blaise Bienvenue

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is the only film in the Halloween series not to take place in the other films’ universe. A clip from the first film plays on a television somewhere in the middle, as unreal to the characters in Season Of The Witch as it is to the viewer. The masked killer known as “Michael Myers” (originally conceived as nameless and referred to only as “the shape” by series creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill) does not appear. If I cared more about fictional characters than I did about the entertainment value of a specific piece of fiction, maybe this would bother me. As it stands, it does not.

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My first exposure to the Halloween franchise was 1981’s Halloween II, written by Carpenter and Hill, but directed by Rick Rosenthal. I was a kid; it gave me nightmares. Staged, creepy death scenes, Donald Pleasance proclaiming, “It is time,” and flicking that lighter, and the song “Mr. Sandman” accompanying the image of a burning corpse all left a deep impression on my hyper-sensitive soul. I saw the first Halloween a few years later and its significance in my life was not nearly as great. Its director, John Carpenter, is more than worthy of the respect he gets, though for me The Fog is his creepiest film. It was the original intent of Carpenter and then-partner Debra Hill that the aforementioned killer, who dies at the end of Halloween II, would remain a corpse. Halloween would then continue on as an anthology series, each ensuing entry to contain different characters and a completely different storyline. The money people had other ideas and the rest is history, but history was given a brief reprieve in Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, which is a shocking, illogical, baffling, engaging, and highly entertaining piece of insanity containing elements of sci-fi and action, as well as of horror.

The opening credits roll over pixelated pumpkin graphics and are accompanied by an ominous electronic score by Alan Howarth and Carpenter himself. The quality of this score is maintained throughout the film. It is sleazy. It is creepy. It is 1982. The film was produced by Carpenter and Hill, but written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. It opens like a thriller on a nighttime chase scene, but we soon discover that the chasers are androids or zombies or mind slaves or something else equally unfazed by the weight of rolling vehicles and by self immolation, something capable of literally rearranging faces, as are the laser beams inside the Halloween masks that shoot bugs and snakes.

How do you do an autopsy on “just a bunch of car parts?”

Basically, a doctor in a town in California stumbles upon a plot to kill masses of children by selling them Halloween masks that will do nasty things to them on October 31st, when the most horrifically irritating television advertisement ever conceived of (horrifically irritating in the best possible way) somehow interacts with a gadget in the masks that was made using a stolen stone from Stonehenge. Dan O’Herlihy (Robocop) does a fun enough job as the pagan-worshipping toymaker whose company town has surveillance cameras on phone poles (long before they had those in every American city; here, they are creepy, heh) and whose evil scheme must have some purpose greater than personal gain, as he clearly doesn’t give a shit how it shakes out. We never do learn just what that purpose is.

It really doesn’t matter.

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is like an inordinately gory spy thriller with horrific overtones and a plot like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from hell. You’ll be lulled into a false sense of security by the first few scenes, then shocked by how far things eventually go. The script has elements of laudable cohesion alongside elements of sloppy, garbled nonsense; apparently, British writer Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass series) was commissioned to write the original screenplay, which was later rewritten by director Wallace, to the point where Kneale had his name taken out of the credits. This would explain inconsistencies of quality, though I would not change a thing about this film as it was made. It is original, unsettling, hilarious, and genuinely creepy. It has a Mobius-strip structure in that it ends in the same gas station where it begins with the same nails-on-a-chalkboard-but-in-a-good-way ad jingle. B-movie veteran Tom Atkins (Escape From New York, The Fog, Maniac Cop) is excellent as the booze-guzzling, nurse-goosing physician protagonist who manages to come off as heroic despite his flaws. A movie with Atkins in almost every scene would be worth the price of admission on that point alone, but Halloween III: Season Of The Witch has plenty more to offer. It is downright apocalyptic, but makes very little sense. Ultimately, it plays like a magnetic, atmospheric montage of sights and sounds from a very specific era and budget of horror film, sights and sounds that should be easy to come by in other such films, but really are not. This film gets a bad rep because it is disappointing to Halloween fans that want another slasher, but it stands on its own as a unique piece of cult lunacy that deserves its own following.

– The Acolyte