It’s that time of year once again, where the air turns cooler, the leaves change color, and all things dark and eerie begin to permeate the landscape. Unless you’re a hard-core horror fan like me, then it’s Halloween all year round, and you don’t need to assign just the month of October to your spooky and slasher movie watching needs. But to stick with tradition, and to prep you for the best holiday on the calendar, I’m here to talk to you about and recommend one of the best horror movies you’ve either never heard of, or have heard wrong about.
Ever have a good idea only to have it shit on?
John Carpenter and Debra Hill had that good idea with Halloween III: Season of the Witch only for the general public to shit on it upon release in 1982, because a bunch of namby pamby cry babies didn’t get more Michael Myers. If only moviegoers in 1982 could’ve looked into the future and realized what our friends Busta Rhymes and Rob Zombie would have in store for Michael.
By 1982 Carpenter and Hill’s low budget slasher classic Halloween had become a major success, so the studio; not ones to leave well enough alone and who were smelling money from a mile away, asked for a sequel which Carpenter and Hill were hesitant to make, but they went ahead with the idea anyway resulting in a fun but not as impactful Halloween 2. For Season of the Witch they wanted to explore their idea of the Halloween franchise being a yearly anthology series dealing with the season itself and Halloween as a theme rather than continuing the story about a hulking mass murderer in a Captain Kirk mask picking off teenagers like red shirts being sent on away missions on Star Trek.
One thing John Carpenter does and does well, is develop a sense of mood, ambience and atmosphere to his films. Much like an Ace Frehley solo is unmistakably Ace the moment you hear it, a John Carpenter film is unmistakably John Carpenter the moment you view it and Halloween III starts with a heavily layered and foreboding synth score running through the films opening credits.
We the audience are introduced to a man fleeing from mysterious men in suits, finding refuge in a gas station attendant who takes him to the local hospital and is attended to by Tom Atkins alcoholic Dr. Dan Challis who; with how much he hits the bottle, is one step above Jack Elam in The Cannonball Run as a competent doctor. One of the mystery men in suits appears at the hospital later, kills Dr. Challis’ patient and then himself, and we have ourselves a muder mystery. Days later we meet Ellie Grimbridge, who confronts Challis about her father’s murder and the two of them journey to the fictional town of Santa Mira, California to get to the bottom of things.
Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin work well together on screen and have good chemistry as Dan and Ellie trying to solve the mystery of her father’s death, while uncovering the dark secret of Santa Mira and the Silver Shamrock Novelties company run by Conal Cochran played by Dan O’Herlihy, who would find himself in another film dealing with witchcraft a few years later; RoboCop, when he and Alex Murphy teamed up to murder Dick Jones but not before turning him into Stretch Armstrong as he plummeted out of a high rise window.
One of the strengths of Halloween III is in the three main leads and their strong performances with and against each other, in addition to the sense of dread and mood Carpenter imbues throughout the film. Speaking of dread, Carpenter fans will recognize that The Thing, along with Prince of Darkness and At the Mouth of Madness are referred to as Carpenter’s “Apocalypse trilogy”. For me personally, Season of the Witch could have been included as part of an apocalypse quartet, or if you want to contain it to Carpenter’s 80’s fare, then add Halloween III to The Thing and Prince of Darkness as an apocalypse trilogy all its own.
Halloween III is one of my favorite horror movies ever, but that’s not to say it isn’t without its flaws. The plot doesn’t make complete sense, what with the whole Stonehenge element behind the Silver Shamrock masks being a little far fetched. Conal Cochran really took the time to collect fragments of Stonehenge and place them into these masks as part of his grand scheme to resurrect the age of witchcraft and take over humanity, crossing the line between villainy and cartoonish super villainy.
Also, the romance between Dan and Ellie comes out of thin air. They travel to Santa Mira to investigate the who, what, where and why of the death of Ellie’s father, rent a room at a nearby motel and begin dipping into each other’s treat bags before they even have a chance to see if HBO comes with the room, and with about as much setup and context as a porn or daytime soap opera.
But, I can forgive those aspects of the films story and some of the hokiness throughout because, what works for Halloween III, once again, is John Carpenter’s mastery of pacing, direction and tension along with solid acting, and generally likable characters. Nineteen eighty two would prove to be a rough year for Carpenter with The Thing being released that year as well and getting stomped by E.T., before gaining its cult following over the years.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is similar in that it has also gained a cult following since its release. Sure, there are still plenty of Halloween fans both hardcore and casual that will tell you this one is the worst of the series because, where’s our Michael Myers murder machine dammit! As if they either haven’t seen or conveniently blocked Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers from their memories, and rightfully so.
If you ask me, and you didn’t, but hear me out, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a tightly paced and fun movie that’s worth checking out not only for this Halloween, but every Halloween and deserves a lot more love, and a lot less scorn than it has received between 1982 and today.
I will apologize in advance though for the ear worm that is the Silver Shamrock jingle that will bore its way into your skull and drive you to Tom Atkins levels of insanity.
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