You can keep your Michael Myers, tense plotting, and minimal aesthetics. Give us melting heads, screaming men with mustaches, and evil Celtic maniacs!
No matter how undeniably great a film Halloween was, by the middle of Halloween II some of us – seven or eight of us anyway – were already pretty bored with the idea of watching Michael Myers carving up even more teens. That’s why for that small handful, 1982’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, no matter how different and unexpected and strange it was (and precisely for those reasons), came as a blessed relief.
The story behind the movie is fairly legendary at this point, but for the uninitiated: John Carpenter’s Halloween was a huge success and producer Irwin Yablans and executive producer Moustapha Akkad were eager to make a second one, which they did, continuing “The Night HE Came Home.”
While not as successful as its predecessor, and lacking a lot of Carpenter’s virtuosity (he wrote and produced and did a few reshoots himself, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a Carpenter movie), Halloween II was still enough of a success to warrant another one. But Carpenter had a different idea for the series. Instead of focusing on Michael Myers, who had indeed been blown up in the previous movie, every subsequent Halloween film would be a different, unrelated horror story taking place on October 31st. An anthology series. For the first of these, Carpenter’s friend and editor Tommy Lee Wallace acting as director.
The film’s poster featured not a hint of Myers — just a demonic face, a few shadowy trick-or-treaters, and an ominous tagline: “The night no one comes home.” And with that, no one showed up, and Halloween III quickly became a fan-derided, audience-ignored misfire.
But over the past three decades, Season Of The Witch has gone from near franchise-killer to beloved curiosity item — a goony, gloomy, endlessly enjoyable joy-buzzer of a movie, one that merely needed a good thirty years or so for viewers to catch up with.
Overacted and generic in some parts? Sure. But the first step in appreciating this film is to accept its inherent cheesiness and ignore the “Halloween III” part of its title altogether. The next step is to embrace its storyline, in all its anti-children, corporate America-hating, nihilistic glory.
It’s the week before Halloween in northern California and Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is feeling a bit spooked following a bizarre murder-suicide in his hospital. The homicide victim is an old shop owner named Harry (Al Berry), who arrived at the hospital in a frazzled state, clutching a mask from Silver Shamrock, a corporate mask-maker, and shouting that, “They are going to kill us!” Hours later, Harry is dead and his killer has committed suicide in the hospital parking lot.
When Harry’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) arrives on the scene, she’s just as suspicious about the events leading up to her father’s death and has already started nosing around. Dr. Challis’ curiosity is piqued (as is his libido, as Ellie’s pretty easy on the eyes). So the two set off for Santa Mira, home of the Silver Shamrock company, to find out exactly what her father was doing in the days before his passing. It’s here that they meet Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), the company’s owner and a fan of ritual sacrifice who has wielded a little bit of black magic to turn his popular Halloween masks into weapons of mass destruction.
With the help of a massive advertising campaign and the catchiest jingle this side of a Meow Mix commercial, Cochran has ensured that on Halloween night a large chunk of the country’s pre-pubescent population will be gathered around the family television set, masks in place, only to have them activated by a signal from the TV that will immediately incinerate these pint-sized spectators and unleash a swarm of creepy crawly things.
Now, the purpose of this article isn’t to assert the claim that this film makes any kind of logical sense, but it’s definitely atmospheric and creepy in its own way. The cinematography was done by the great Dean Cundey, who did the original Halloween as well as several other Carpenter films, and so it looks gorgeous.
In short, Season Of The Witch is a damn fun movie and one that should be the second half of a double feature with the original Halloween for you this year. It’s well acted, well shot, and weird as hell! What more could a horror fan ask for?
Let us know your thoughts on this underrated gem in the comment section below.