Reviewing a Cult Franchise – Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Almost a year after release of ‘Halloween II’, ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ is released with one major difference that was not well received and I’m going to be honest, it’s the reason why I haven’t seen it until today. This is the only Halloween film that doesn’t include Michael Myers. It’s not even connected to the Halloween franchise so I have no idea why it bears the ‘Halloween’ name. I decided that I wasn’t going to judge it as part of the franchise but as a separate film of it’s own. And on it’s own, it’s alright.

Even though it’s written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill and the music is done by Alan Howarth and John Carpenter, the story is inspired by Nigel Kneale who wrote Quatermass. He did a lot of sci-fi/ fantasy/ horror stuff. One thing that does set ‘Halloween III apart from the rest, apart from the obvious, is that this film is not a horror film. It’s more of a psychological fantasy thriller. I’ve only seen it once so this is what I gathered from the plot.

After an unusual murder-suicide occurs at his hospital, Dr Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) becomes embroiled in a mad conspiracy involving a shady novelty company and the manufacturing of Halloween masks combined with a TV advert combined with an annoying jingle. With a sidekick Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), the two uncover a sinister plot with a guy who couldn’t look more evil if he tried and the ending is genuinely quite tense.

First off, lets address the ‘no Michael Myers’ thing. After the relative success of ‘Halloween II’, it was decided by ‘The Powers That Be’ that there should be another sequel. At the time, a second sequel to a successful movie was very rare and so the general consensus was that the core concept should be changed and a new story should be introduced to the series. That to me is a fatal error. Granted, we know now that Michael Myers is the franchise but at the time, there had only been two movies so it’s not completely outrageous to think that the writers might want to try something new. But on the other hand, the financial and critical success of both the Halloween films should have told them that this kind of horror is what the audience were looking for and bringing in new characters and a new story would just alienate a growing fan-base. In fact, the sheer amount of backlash that was thrown at the film was a massive indicator as to how much the audience love Michael Myers. The writers and the producers were smart because they listened to the audience and the fans and they brought Michael back in the very next film. But for now, this is what we have.

Not only is the story and core concept different, but the film is different stylistically also. The first two Halloween films were very dark in tone and in the visual aspect also. Especially in ‘Halloween II’, the whole film took place a dark hospital with lots of corners for Michael to hide in. The very fact that Michael could be anywhere (an aspect carried over from the first film) kept the audience on edge. Not so in this film. ‘Halloween III’ is not out to ‘scare’ the audience. It’s turned into more of a psychological thriller instead. Which is fine.

Scaring the audience is not the main objective here, what we’re here for is…. the masks I suppose.

On first glance, the main draw to the film is the fact that the masks are killing kids and in fact, we only get to see the full force of the mask once. It’s not actually the mask, it’s the trademark on the mask that has a computer chip of some description inside which draws evil energy from a stolen stone from Stonehenge. I have no idea what to make of that. It’s unique, that’s all I can say.

As for the characters, there’s not a lot going on and I can’t really say who is the more interesting one. Sadly, the main character, Dan, isn’t up to much. He’s a doctor and a divorced father of two. The kids live with their mum (Nancy Loomis, Annie Brackett from Halloween 1) hates Dan. He is immediately confused by the murder-suicide that happens under his watch and it’s only the appearance of Ellie that gets him interested in finding out what’s going on. You see, the man that was murdered was her father and she wants to know what has happened to Daddy. Of course she’s the boring love interest that’s catapulted face first into every movie plot since the dawn of film. And the film knows this also because the two have their first kiss thirty minutes in and they’re shagging by forty minutes.

The main bad guy is the head of Silver Shamrock, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) who I was certain was Dracula when I first saw him. He stole the rock from Stonehenge and authorised the manufacturing of the Halloween masks. His reason? It’s the dumbest I’ve ever heard. His reason for wanting to kill every kid in the world is because ‘He’s a prankster’. What the fuck? Hating all the kids in the world is a more rational reason than that. There is a real James Bond moment when Cochran has Dan tied to a chair and he is explaining his motives for being a dick. He then attaches a mask to Dan and waits for the commercial to start playing which is basically the same as attaching Bond to an elaborate death chair with a slow moving threat approaching.

Another plot point is that the bad guy, has an army of robots at his disposal. Exact human replicas which supplies the plot twist at the end which I’m just going to spoil. Dan and Ellie successfully kill Cochran and his army of robots and blow up the factory. Ellie ends up having been swapped for a robot and she attacks Dan but he manages to fend her off but the threat is not over. Even though the factory/HQ has been blown up, it won’t stop the commercial. Dan runs to a petrol station and phones the network, trying to get them to stop the commercial from airing. He succeeds on two channels but not on the third because these were the days before cable/satellite. Dan screams into the phone, begging them to make it stop. It’s left ambiguous as to whether or not he succeeded.

With a budget of $2.5 Million, ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ took in $14 Million which isn’t bad but it was mostly a critical failure.

In conclusion, I can understand why people got so angry at this film. It’s change and not the kind of change that the audience liked or asked for. To me, the film is OK on it’s own but as a part of the Halloween franchise, it’s awful. After this film, John Carpenter and Debra Hill ceased their involvement with the franchise.

Thankfully, after the negative response to this films existence, the people were listened to and a plan was put in place to give them what they wanted… they brought back Michael Myers.

2 responses to “Reviewing a Cult Franchise – Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

  1. I love Halloween III. It’s one of my all-time favorites and the music by Carpenter and Howarth is amazing. It may not be scarier than the first two films, but it has a different and grandeur approach to the terror behind it. The movie puts me in a state of open fear rather than the Myers claustrophobic fear. Think about how insane it is that in this film millions of children were killed! That’s so awesome and ballsy.
    Halloween III is what the entire series was meant to be, a seasonal anthology series. Primarily using a story-line focused around Halloween. It’s terrible that the Halloween franchise wandered from this idea and kept building on the Myers legacy. Michael Myers is a great slasher icon but only with the first two films. By making number 4, they turned him into a giant marketing campaign pumped with steroids. Like Freddy and Jason, Myers is another overused horror icon pandering to those that only pursue the genre in the month of October.
    It would be very interesting to see how the series would have taken off it had maintained it’s motive by making new films with new ideas each year. Halloween III is an underrated film and it’s a good thing it has met a cult following of true horror fanatics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Halloween III was good and I enjoyed it for what it was. I agree that it is a shame that the audience didn’t appreciate it. The mistake was attaching it to the growing ‘Halloween’ franchise. That instantly alienated people who had grown attached to the original concept. It’s great for a franchise to try new things but removing the core concept proved not to work. I still maintain that if they’d had just called it ‘Season of the Witch’ or maybe even kept the Halloween name but not put ‘III’ after, the film would have been better received. The good news is that now people are coming back and really liking this film but at the time, I can see why people would have been mad. Still a good movie though.

      Liked by 1 person

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