Random Review: Halloween III – Season of the Witch

(Originally published on The Sardonic Cinephile’s Guide to Everything)

Halloween III - Season of the Witch. 1982. USA. Dino De Laurentiis Company. Director: Tommy Lee Wallace. Producer: John Carpenter, Debra Hill. Writers: Tommy Lee Wallace. Nigel Kneale (uncredited). With Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy.

Sometimes an idea is better in concept than in actual execution.

Then there’s just ideas that are just bad period. The kind which should never have made it to the blackboard. The kind which make you wonder who in their right mind ever gave them the green light.

What if instead of Jaws 3 being about a killer shark, it had been about — I don’t know — a dentist? It’s called “Jaws,” right? How is that misleading?

In 1978, Director John Carpenter made a very successful slasher movie called Halloween. It was followed by another pretty good slasher movie in Halloween II.

Then came Halloween III – Season of the Witch. The film’s producers decided that the story of masked killed Michael Myers had ended after Halloween II. They envisioned future movies in the series to be standalone stories.

It made sense attaching the Halloween “brand” to a movie that could have just as easily be called Season of the Witch. Getting people to buy tickets to a movie about killer Halloween masks starring a bunch of no-name actors or actresses would probably be a hard sell. Attach the Halloween name to it — you might be able to pull in a decent box office.

Well, it bombed. Audiences went into it expecting a slasher film and, when they realized Michael Myers wasn’t showing up, threw a fit.

I started thinking about Halloween III the other day. Is it really deserving of some of the criticism its received for being the black sheep of the Halloween movie series, the only one of the films not to feature Michael Myers? Or is the consensus that Halloween III is crap just an accepted truth among film buffs despite the fact that the film rarely receives a critical analysis?

In my opinion, Halloween III – Season of the Witch is not a bad movie — not by any stretch of the imagination.

Let’s get a few things straight. I’m not going to deny that the plot is completely ridiculous.

You can’t make this stuff up.

An Irish toymaker steals a pillar from Stonehenge and has it brought to his factory in Santa Mira, California.

With androids serving as his workforce, the toymaker — Conal Cochran — uses fragments from the ancient relic to assemble microchips endowed with mystical powers.

The microchips, which have the power to melt skin and bones and cause worms and snakes to sprout from human flesh, have been designed to be activated through a television signal.

As part of a scheme to resurrect an ancient blood rite connected to the Celtic festival of Samhain, Cochran has the microchips installed in his popular line of Silver Shamrock Halloween masks. After getting the masks into the hands of millions of children across the nation, he plans to active the microchips on Halloween night and — with the help of a catchy jingle — bring about mass murder of never-before-seen magnitude.

Stealing Stonehenge? Puh-lease. As ridiculous as that concept is, even if someone were to pull it off, the idea that any sort of magical force being harnessed from that slab of rock period, let alone through a television signal, is preposterous. Don’t even get me started on the idea of putting microchips in children’s Halloween masks. I suppose it’s possible that part of the plan could be pulled off — stranger things have slipped by the watchful eyes of our federal government — but the bigger question is “Why?” Why is Cochran so interested in reviving some old Pagan tradition? Cochran explains that his scheme the “ultimate prank.” I suppose he’s doing it for the “lulz.”

So here’s the thing that I admire about this movie. In spite of a completely unbelievable — okay, borderline asinine — plot, Halloween 3 still manages to be a pretty entertaining and tense film.

A number of things contribute to this.

You’ve got a great score by Alan Horth, a frequent collaborator with John Carpenter — director of the original Halloween.

You’ve got a well-paced script by director Tommy Lee Wallace and BAFTA-award winning screenwriter Nigel Kniele.

Then you have great casting. Character actor Tom Atkins, a Carpenter regular, plays Dr. Daniel Challis, who at the start of the film suspects something is up after a man mysteriously dies clutching a Silver Shamrock mask and spends the rest of the film investigating and ultimately trying to dismantle Cochran’s scheme. Atkins is very likable and fits his part well. Plus, he’s got a bitchin’ mustache. However, the real heavy hitter in this film is the actor playing the part of Cochran — Dan O’Herlihy. Although not too well known to American audiences, least of all modern audiences, O’Herlihy is a well-respected Irish actor. He played the titular role in the 1954 film adaption of Robinson Crusoe, which got him nominated for a 1954 Best Actor Oscar — he lost the Oscar to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront. My favorite O’Herlihy role is in The Last Starfighter, where he played the reptilian alien Grig. In Halloween III as Cochran, O’Herlihy chews scenery like it was no one’s business.

Bottom line is Halloween III overcomes the handicap of a ludicrous plot and delivers the goods. It is absolutely deserving of a second look.

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2 responses to “Random Review: Halloween III – Season of the Witch

  1. I love that movie. The atmosphere created by a lot of 70’s & 80’s horror just can not be duplicated now. Now everything is intense digital programmed effects to me sometimes they look more ridiculous than latex & makeup. I think I just love the overall look of the actual film used to capture the actors. There’s just something about it. I also really like the 50’s & 60’s horror. It’s just a different look & atmosphere to the films. I know there is a generally small cult of us who have a love for this genre but I have seen recent directors such as Rob Zombie, Quentin Terentino, & Robert Rodriguez take advantage of this type of film look & feel. Awesome.

    Like

  2. I love it more and more as time goes on. It’s got a real Cronenberg-like feel, but has enough unique qualities to be more than just a copycat. Definitely one of a kind.

    I wonder if it’s ever gotten a proper DVD release. I’ll have to check that out.

    Thanks for the comment,

    Matt

    Like

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