Halloween Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Even those with only a passing knowledge of horror movies are familiar with the enigmatic slasher Michael Myers. Since debuting in 1978’s Halloween, the Boogeyman has become one of the most iconic characters in moviedom. Through director John Carpenter’s original masterpiece as well as the sequel Halloween II, audiences got used to seeing Myers square off against Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis. Many of these same audience members were also very vocal in their disappointment when 1982 rolled around and the latest installment in the franchise Halloween III: Season of the Witch was void of the knife-wielding mad man. Seeing this as a chance to take the franchise in a new and bold direction John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted to use Halloween III as a means to refocus the film series into an anthology franchise centered on the holiday. At the time it was seen as a box office failure, and the powers that be returned things back to form for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Over the years, something happened as this one-off in the series seemed to garner a bit of a following. Today Halloween III: Season of the Witch seems to enjoy a renewed reputation as a great film for the Halloween season that stands on its own apart from the rest of the franchise.

A patient enters the care of Dr. Daniel Challis and is killed by a mysterious man in a grey suit. This puts Challis on the trail of a conspiracy involving the Silver Shamrock company and their popular skeleton, witch, and jack-o-lantern masks (all designed by the legendary Don Post). He joins with Ellie, the daughter of the murdered man and heads to the town dominated by this toy company. They meet Conal Cochran the president of Silver Shamrock who is planning to pay tribute to his pagan Irish heritage by orchestrating a gruesome bloodbath this Halloween.

Though critics largely hated this film upon it’s release, many still applauded the fact that Halloween III travelled a new path rather than bringing back Michael. This is the overall strength of this scary flick. Following the success of Halloween, horror cinema exploded with masked men wielding blades chasing down young people. With Halloween III, John Carpenter and Debra Hill did something unexpected by tackling the ancient Celtic roots of the holiday through the lens of 1980’s capitalism. In 1988 Carpenter would REALLY let moviegoers know his thoughts on Reaganomic greed with They Live, but here he does give us a small taste of it.

To take the director’s chair Carpenter turned to Tommy Lee Wallace who worked as his production designer and editor in the past. For those wondering Wallace was responsible for the contribution of the scarily catchy Silver Shamrock commercial jingle. More than that he brought the tone of Halloween III. With the bulk of the film taking place in a Gilded Age-seque “company town” and said company is run by an evil warlock, there is a sense of paranoia and dread surrounding Dr. Challis and Ellie as they try to get to the bottom of what is going on. Around every corner a camera sits as an unblinking eye while ominous men in grey suits lurk around every corner hiding in every shadow. The gore fx are particularly memorable in this film emphasizing strangeness over standard blood and guts. Especially the key scene of this film which is engrained in the memory of everyone who saw Halloween III. In the early 80’s film censors were seemingly more chill about giving children gruesome onscreen deaths and this flick takes full advantage of it. The audiences can only watch in horror as a jack-o-lantern mask seals to the head of a fun-loving red-haired kid and melts his cranium away into a pile bugs and snakes.

While he may not be Michael, Conal Cochran is one of the coolest horror villains of the 80’s. Sure, he may come across like a fun and jovial CEO, but there is no denying something is off about him. Veteran Irish actor Dan O’Herilhy always said he had fun with this particular role and it comes across onscreen. Lead actor Tom Atkins is always a favorite among the horror crowd and his ability to come off as equal parts dashing hero and gruff everyman is on perfect display here. His costar Stacey Nelkin proved to be an absolute highlight of this film and in a more perfect world she would have had a vastly bigger part to play. Even Roger Ebert who hated this film thought she was its lone bright spot and lamented that she spent the climax of the film as a headless robot.

The supposed box office failure of Halloween III: Season of the Witch had ramifications for the franchise going forward. The main one being that series creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill sold their ownership of the franchise when it became clear their ideas were no longer wanted. From there on out the franchise would belong to Michael Myers. Luckily, future generations breathed new life into this standalone flick. While it is no masterpiece, there are gruesome gore fx, creepy black magic, and a shocking ending all set against a fun Halloween backdrop.