Top Five Halloween Movies #5: HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

This series of reviews counts down some of the best Halloween films of all time – not just scary movies, but ones that feature Halloween as a central theme. The entries will be counted down each day, with the number one pick published on October 31st. No star ratings, just consider all these films highly recommended.

Michael Myers was dead. At least, that’s the way John Carpenter’s group saw it. In the years hence, we have grown accustomed to seeing our mad killers meet gruesome ends in the finale of one film, only to turn up stronger than ever in the sequel. But HALLOWEEN was different, and Carpenter figured that HALLOWEEN II finished off Myers for good.

So, when interest was high for a third HALLOWEEN movie, he had an idea. Why not have a new HALLOWEEN movie every year, but not one that continued the Myers legacy. Instead, each film would be a separate story set around Halloween. It would become a tradition of the holiday where fans would rush to the theatre to see the newest, completely original HALLOWEEN film.

It was a good idea, and one that fans angrily rebelled against. For many years, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH was treated as persona non grata in the horror community. People wanted to know where Michael Myers was and felt furious and cheated that he would not be in this film.

You can understand where they were coming from, but think about how crazy this is. Recently, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 was released and the major criticism was that it was the same thing as the previous films in the series. It’s not a new argument. Franchises such as SAW, SCREAM, FRIDAY THE 13TH, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and eventually even HALLOWEEN would be accused of repeating the same formula over and over again. In 2012, we complain when everything is the same. But thirty years before, audiences around the country complained that HALLOWEEN III was so different. Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.” In this capacity, I’m afraid my fellow horror fans were found lacking.

So, Carpenter and company put the series to bed for a while. In 1988, producer Moustapha Akkad would resurrect the Michael Myers formula with further films, the first couple of which were actually pretty fun. But HALLOWEEN III was still considered a black mark on the series. It is only in recent years that horror audiences, now not quite as stubborn and narrow-minded, began appreciating the film for its own merits.

Indeed, the only way HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH could be more different from the previous entries is if they set it on Mars. And even that wouldn’t be much of a stretch beyond what it already is.

The new film opens up with a man frantically running from a group of well-dressed assassins. He manages to get away, but is injured and seems to be delirious. He is rushed into a hospital (similarly quiet like the one in HALLOWEEN II), clutching a Halloween mask and raving. Later that night, one of the assassins enters his room and crushes his skull. Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins – THE FOG, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) chases the killer to the parking lot, only to see him immolate himself. When the victim’s daughter (Stacey Nelkin – GOING APE!) decides to investigate, Challis helps her out, finally ending up in the small company town of Santa Mira.

Santa Mira is the home of the Silver Shamrock toy company. They specialize in ingenious novelty gifts and have a hit seller in their new glow-in-the-dark Halloween masks. The masks are marketed on television and radio constantly, with an infectious jingle counting down the days to Halloween and urging kids to watch their televisions while they give away the secret prize on October 31st.

Unfortunately, there is something diabolical at work, something having to do with the masks. And behind it all seems to be the deceptively benevolent Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), creator of the Silver Shamrock empire. He has blended computer-age technology (still a novelty in 1982) with ancient forces in a plot to give the children of the world a Halloween they’ll never forget.

You have to give the filmmakers points for originality. In an age where slasher movies were king, the premier slasher franchise did a 180 and came up with something nobody had seen before. Of course, it’s silly. But that’s part of the beauty of this film. Director Tommy Lee Wallace (FRIGHT NIGHT PART II, IT) plays everything completely straight like the great B-movies of the 1950s. But at the same time, he inserts enough little touches designed to make us giggle that we are able to enjoy the film on two levels. We can be wrapped up in the very creepy atmosphere of the film and yet realize that the plot is so outrageously silly that we really shouldn’t be taking it so seriously.

Wallace does amp up the creep factor as well. He makes great use of slick, sparsely populated locales which denote a certain amount of futuristic shenanigans, even when set in rural areas. There is also something to be said for the Silver Shamrock plot itself. After all, the amusing secret weapon revealed late in the film is just the endgame. Their primary and most insidious weapon is the advertising blitz employed to mass market their products to children. This was a time when things were getting ridiculous in this regard. A year after HALLOWEEN III’s release, people would trample each other to buy their children Cabbage Patch Dolls because they just had to have it. Cochran is using advertising and marketing as the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

The cast is also top-notch. Tom Atkins is one of those people genre fans just love. The most unlikely of heroes, he’s a beefy, moustached, middle-aged man who looks like he never met a pot roast and whiskey sour he didn’t like. His turn in films such as this, THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, CREEPSHOW and especially NIGHT OF THE CREEPS are the stuff of legend. HALLOWEEN III features Atkins front and center in one of his most prominent roles.

This also may be my favorite role for the late Dan O’Herlihy. That’s saying quite a lot when you consider O’Herlihy not only acted in several older classics like FAIL-SAFE and Orson Welles’ MACBETH but also cult favorites like THE LAST STARFIGHTER and ROBOCOP. It’s just that his Conal Cochran is such an eerie presence. He is able to switch from a welcoming smile to demonic evil in an instant. Cochran is a man who surrounds himself with automatons from different centuries and you’re never sure if he isn’t one himself. This goes to O’Herlihy’s amazing performance. You just know you’re watching a complex and fully realized character and not your typical generic villain.

With the failure of HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, much of the John Carpenter stock company, both cast and crew, started to drift apart. It was a watershed moment, the end of an era. Thankfully, people have begun to rediscover the film. Publications such as RUE MORGUE and FANGORIA have printed lengthy defenses. Now it seems that only the most stubborn, unyielding and immature fanboys begrudge the film for not being yet another slasher. Instead it’s being seen for what it is – a goofy yet creepy film that blended the eerie hokum of the 1950s with the golden age of horror in the 1980s.

– Rated R for graphic violence, language, some sexuality and brief nudity.

– Running Time: 1hr 38mins.



Categories: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Scott W. Davis

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