The witching hour (and 38 minutes)

Halloween 3In the annals of horror sequeldom, few sequels are as reviled as Halloween III: Season of the Witch. On the surface, it’s not hard to see why. The original Halloween hit the horror and independent film scene in 1978 with a chorus of critical praise and audience screams. The saga of Michael Myers continued a few years later in 1981 with Halloween II, which picks up at the exact second the original ended. That film was also a success commercially (though not so much critically) and Michael Myers looked poised to become the first major horror icon (Jason had just made his first solo appearance in Friday the 13th, Part 2 that same year). The brains behind Michael Myers, John Carpenter and Debra Hill, felt pressured by the studio to provide a third entry for October 1982 but they had a different idea. Halloween II ended with Michael Myers burnt to a crisp, after all, so why continue that storyline? Carpenter and Hill liked the idea of a horror film series centered on the idea of Halloween but having storylines independent of each other. Thus, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was born. Audiences must have felt perplexed and deceived by this in-name-only sequel and the result was an interesting, albeit brief, experiment in taking the series in a new direction. Michael Myers would return to the series 6 years later with the aptly titled, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers but the wounds from Season of the Witch still haven’t healed even though my opinion is that it’s a fun and unfairly maligned film.

Dr. DanSeason of the Witch introduces us to Dr. Dan Challis, a divorced father of two who is flirting with full-blown alcoholism. One quiet night, an old man rushes into the ER clutching a Halloween mask and raving, “They’ll kill us all!” Dr. Challis sedates him but in the middle of the night, our paranoid patient is brutally murdered. When Dr. Challis chases the assailant to the parking lot, he is shocked to find the assassin setting himself on fire. If that weren’t weird enough, an analysis of the assassin’s remains yields odd results, namely that he may have been more machine than human. Dr. Challis decides to investigate using the one piece of evidence he has: the Halloween mask. It’s made by Silver Shamrock Novelties, whose infectious commercial jingles (I already can’t get them out of my head) rally children in front of their TVs and urge them to be there on Halloween night for “The Big Giveaway.” The Silver Shamrock trail leads Dr. Challis to the sleepy town of Santa Mira. A picturesque burg out of a Northern California travelogue, Santa Mira is ruled by Silver Shamrock. A curfew beckons residents to their homes and cameras line the streets, detailing their every move while the massive manufacturing plant looms ominously in the hills. Eventually, Dr. Challis works his way into the Silver Shamrock plant and meets its enigmatic CEO, Conal Cochran. Cochran is a man with a plan and he seeks to change the face of Halloween forever. Through Silver Shamrock masks, each implanted with pieces of Stonehenge (just go with it), Cochran seeks to offer a mass sacrifice of all the children, whose masks will explode while worn during “The Big Giveaway.” If that weren’t enough for you, laser beams, robots, and hordes of insects and snakes all come into play as well.

Halloween 3This is a goofy film to be sure. It does not go for the visceral scares that the first two films. Season of the Witch has more of a sci-fi Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe to it and that’s part of what makes it so fun. Tom Atkins of The Fog and Night of the Creeps fame delivers a performance that walks the delicate balance of being serious and being in on the joke. He’s a reputable part of any B-Movie cast. Similarly, John Carpenter’s pulsing synth-driven score gives the film a classic 80’s Carpenter vibe not unlike The Fog or Escape From New York and the special FX sequences featuring broken jaws, crushed heads, and self-immolations are unique, fun, and well-executed.

For anyone looking for a new Halloween seasonal favorite, give Halloween III: Season of the Witch a chance, and for those of you who may have seen it years ago and still have a bad taste in your mouth, give it another shot. It won’t make any “Best Of” lists but I’m surprised at the hate that still exists for this film. Surely it’s better than Exorcist 2: The Heretic! Alas, that’s an entirely different column. Now if I could just get that damn jingle out of my head.

3 Responses to “The witching hour (and 38 minutes)”
  1. Jason McCaffrey says:

    I worked at Blockbuster when I was 17. I took full advantage of the free rent policy that October and had an audience of one Halloween marathon viewing in my bedroom. I had no idea what I was in for when I got to Halloween III. Now, for the last 13 years I have vehemently stated that it was the worst of the Halloween franchise. But your article and the link to the silver shamrock commercial reminds me that I didn’t hate it as I was watching it–I just had a really hard time getting over my confusion after the screening was over. I’ll give it another shot.

  2. Lindsey says:

    I’ve only seen the first two Halloween movies (I’m sure some part of me is ashamed) and I’m wondering, Adam: Do you think if they hadn’t put Michael Myers in the second movie and gone in a different direction with it that the idea of “sequel in name only” would have made for a franchise just as successful as what currently exists? Or would the exact same thing have happened and The Return of Michael Myers would have been a movie earlier?

    • Adam says:

      I definitely don’t think the franchise would’ve become what it is today. In-name-only sequels are perplexing to people and a bit of a cheat so I don’t think “Season of the Witch” would’ve done any better. Especially in the era of Jason, Freddy, and Pinhead, having Michael Myers to compete was a given. Another cool Halloween-themed movie is “Trick R Treat” which came out in 2006. I should’ve mentioned that one too.

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