Halloween III: Season of the Witch, put very politely, is the product of a very misguided attempt to move away from the status quo – make a literal sequel – and attempt an offshoot of Halloween-themed thrillers. Exactly why John Carpenter and Debra figured this was a grand idea can only be traced to a possible rebellious streak – bucking the studio system and doing their own thing.
Carpenter would somewhat take a poke at the British thriller again in the form of Village of the Damned (1995), but Halloween III was, as he admits in Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary documentary on the first film, a desire to explore the supernatural weirdness of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series, one of the most popular (and strange) British series. Halloween III was supposed to be the start of a new franchise, and it was unveiled using a gorgeous poster that inferred dynamic terror, but when audiences discovered Michael Myers was nowhere in writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace’s film, it was avoided like sun-baked roadkill.
The story has medical Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) teaming with Ellie Grimbridge (starry-eyed Stacey Nelkin) to find out how Silver Shamrock Novelties is connected to the death of her father. Once they venture to the small town of Santa Mira and tag along with a salesman to the novelty factory, they discover owner Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy, deliciously playing slick evil) is has crafted masks that will turn the heads of wearers into fleshy goo, with snakes and bugs oozing from whatever’s left of the cadaver.
With Cochran being a classic ego-driven madman, Dan is shown how bits of a slab from Stonehenge are placed in a circuit board that’s hidden in the company logo on each mask; when a TV ad plays a strobing Jack o’lantern, people’s heads turn to muck.
Wallace’s script takes a bit of supernatural, adds graphic gore (shown in brief cuts), and integrates it into a looser Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) framework. The town is inhabited by pod-like people (emotionless, robotic), and the last scenes include a shocking revelation, as well as having the hero (also a doctor) becoming the screaming madman he treated at the beginning of the film.
There’s just too much silliness, and the Silver Shamrock advert is probably among the top three most annoying jingles ever written – which director Wallace repeats over and over whenever there’s a monitor or radio. The reason kids flock to the stores to buy the masks and run to the TV whenever the ad plays is never properly justified (apparently there’s a contest, but that’s dropped into the picture around the midsection), and it makes no sense that the bodies turn into masses of bugs (an idea oddly present in 1982’s The Sender) and snakes.
If viewed today as another Carpenter-styled B-movie, it kind of works, but every time a scene becomes interesting, things get foiled by terrible dialogue, annoying characters, and really dreadful performances (although we do get to see Dick Warlock, Halloween II’s The Shape, as a robotic henchman).
Halloween III is a slick film; Dean Cundey’s cinematography is crisp gorgeous, with beautiful Bava-like colour shades in the night shots, and there’s a good use of small town locales, including expansive fields and a dinky little Main Street.
Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score is also first-rate, but incredibly, whereas Halloween II was in Dolby 2.0 Surround, Halloween III is in mono. It’s a stunningly stupid decision that really hurts the film’s sound design, because Howarth and Carpenter always had a grasp of using sound as a potent ingredient in maintaining moods and setting up scares. Besides, the score is very bass-heavy, and it just doesn’t resonate in the film’s flat mono mix. Either De Laurentiis went cheap (he did release Conan the Barbarian in mono), or Universal figured they’d save some cash after reading the shooting script. The studio and producer did the same blunder with Firestarter (1984), another awful film that had a sonically rich synth score by Tangerine Dream.
Universal’s el cheapo bare bones DVD offers a pretty clean transfer and standard mono mix of the film, but as a Halloween movie, it’s a stinker.
Films in the Halloween franchise include Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween V (1989), Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), the seventh part, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), the eighth part, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan