Forgotten Films: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)

halloween-iii-season-of-the-witch-movie-poster12I know, YOU haven’t forgotten it, and neither have I, but I’m still mystified as to why this unique subversive attempt to introduce an annual scare film utilizing the banner of HALLOWEEN didn’t meet with the approval of American audiences — on the other hand, I’m not mystified at all. I didn’t know until recently that John Carpenter’s immortal 1978 classic was always intended to be an annual un-related scare fest, but you don’t mess with success in Hollywood. HALLOWEEN II (1981) was an undistinguished pastiche of unpleasant FRIDAY THE 13TH style gore with exactly three great moments:

1) The opening titles with Carpenter’s brilliant theme and that creepy pumpkin splitting open to reveal a creepier skull inside.

2) The ambulance driver slipping on a floor of blood.

3) The “Mr. Sandman” song that closes the film.

h3So I was thrilled that the next HALLOWEEN would try to re-boot the series away from Michael Myers and into another spooky realm. To my mind, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH delivers that in spades. Amazingly, Joe Dante was set to direct and he approached the esteemed British SF writer Nigel Kneale (QUATERMAS AND THE PIT) to pen the story. After Dante left for another project, Kneale took his name off the film due to alterations to the script, and new director Tommy Lee Wallace was given final credit (he complained in a FANGORIA interview that Kneale made the Irish look really bad). Having a subtle sci-fi horror writer like Nigel Kneale pen the screenplay was a masterstroke, and I’d love to read his favored draft. And there’s no doubt that sections of the script as filmed are rather wonky and sometimes nonsensical. If anything, this is a large scale story dealing with Celtic warlocks seeking a new era of child sacrifice to honor the spirit of Samhain and it required that type of scope and budget. For 2.5 million dollars, the results here are fairly adequate and clever. Wallace is clearly influenced by his producer John Carpenter, and the movie looks great with Dean Cundey’s usual excellent wide-screen vistas. Along with Tom Burman’s nifty make-up efx, Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s arcade-game era score is another electronic bonus.

4006981888_f5c2b60f3e_oI saw HALLOWEEN III opening weekend with a confused audience who kept wondering when The Shape was going to make his bloody entrance. Being a monster kid, I was already privy to the secrets of the horror-verse via the pages of FANGORIA, who advertised the cool Don Post “Silver Shamrock” masks for mass consumption. And you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the catchy, ingratiating Silver Shamrock ads that play as a ghoulish chorus throughout the film. There’s also a game cast in Carpenter regular Tom Atkins, whose tough-guy congeniality is welcome here and I’m particularly impressed by the way he plays his role as the events become more fantastic; he really seems knocked for a loop when he discovers the evil secrets behind the masks. Stacey Nelkins is sexy and smart but the stand-out actor here is Dan O’ Herlihy as Conal Cochran, the grand warlock behind the insidious plan to suffer the children. You get a sense of what the film could have been during his awesome monologue when he unveils the dark history of the season. With the original HALLOWEEN cleverly playing on the TV as Atkins sits bound with a Skull mask over his head and Herlihy waxing druid bloodletting, the story hits a creepy peak and remains the best scene in the film.

HALLOWEEN III was ravaged critically at the time, primarily by the same folks like Roger Ebert who were on a crusade against Slasher Films of the era. You would think they would have approved of a fun, clever, non-maniacal Saturday afternoon horror effort trying something new. At least Vincent Canby of the New York Times dug it though and appreciated the spirit of the thing. Audiences didn’t respond either and I’m sure the mysterious title didn’t help, which meant a stream of forgettable sequels years after. So it goes. Despite some flaws, I adore HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, and have long held it in genre esteem. How can any fan not at least be moved by little Buddy and his melting pumpkin mask?

And remember kids, it’s almost time: Four more days to Halloween, Halloween…Silver Shamrock…

halloween-iii-dan-oherlihy1

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24 Responses to “Forgotten Films: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)”

  1. So I can take this as your official un-endorsement of Halloween 2?

    Netflix has already shipped the DVD. Thanks for nothin’, pal!

  2. christian Says:

    It’s worth seeing once for the reasons above.

    Then follow up with HIII:SOTW…

  3. THE FUTURIST! wants to buy this movie. Now, should he buy it alone or should he buy the Universal two films on one two-sided disc? (HALLOWEEN II and HALLOWEEN III)? Opinions, please.

  4. Are you kidding? I saw it at a freakin’ DRIVE-IN in 1981! I was hoping my memory of it being sucky was faulty.

    And I saw H3 first-run, too. I went to everything in those days — I, Madman, anyone? (And like you, I read Fango, so I knew it wasn’t gonna be MM killing more kids.) It gets points for novelty, but I think it’s a weird, nonsensical mess. Maybe I’ll check it out again some day for laughs.

    I think Ebert disliked it for the particularly nasty gore. I could never figure out why the robot assassins murder people in such ostentatious ways. Doesn’t someone’s head get RIPPED off?

  5. christian Says:

    I figgered you had seen it. A drive-in is the perfect place. That sounds scary. I recall HALLOWEEN 2 so well since its theatrical release and subsequent HBO viewings. I know Harlan Ellison hated it for the kid with the razor in his mouth played as a laugh.

    Ebert’s so bizarro in his taste. The gore in HIII:SOTW is outre but too outlandish to be gross, like PHANTASM or CREEPSHOW (also from 1982 and a great Tom Atkins creature double feature with this). I too love that the robots are programmed to off people in the most outrageous manner. Especially the guy getting his head pulled off. It’s fun and goofy but there is a great, unsettling central idea and I’m a sucker for 60’s Brit SF Horror that Kneale represents here. It’s a must-watch during SHOCKTOBER.

    Futurist! I’m assuming the HALLOWEEN transfers are the same so you might as well have both….

  6. I love Creepshow. That’s an every-five-to-seven-year movie for me.

    FUTURIST! — why not get two-for-one? I assume you already have this: http://www.amazon.com/Halloween-Restored-Limited-Brian-Andrews/dp/6305546797/ref=sr_1_22?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1256712509&sr=1-22

    (Starring Brian Andrews! Thanks for the info, Amazon.)

    Yeah, Ebert is definitely inconsistent. Two movies he’s given the thumbs-up to: Last House on the Last and The Devil’s Rejects. Not just violence, but extreme, ugly sadism and sexual brutality. Which might be the point (there’s a legitimate theory that “fun” violence is worse), except he hated Wolf Creek. He calls ’em like he sees ’em, but his glasses get blurry.

  7. christian Says:

    It’s TOTALLY confusing how many HALLOWEEN DVD releases there are or which ones to get. I’d go for the Cundey approved transfer first though…

    Ebert looks for deeper meaning behind the violent movies he likes, but I still call bullshit when there is no deep meaning to the ugly violence in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Which I love. WOLF CREEK I won’t be sitting through.

  8. The 2 HALLOWEEN DVD releases that seem to me to be the best is the one that includes the uncut TV version with added scenes that bridge it with HALLOWEEN II, and the other release that has the Criterion commentary track with Carpenter and Hill. After that, the releases get a little redundant and milk the fanbase with additional extras that aren’t worth the additional cost.

  9. In case it isn’t clear, the one I linked to IS the Cundey-approved transfer, with the fabled blue filters for the night scenes. I think it looks great.

    J.D., gotta disagree. Those added TV scenes stand out like a sore thumb visually and don’t add much. I guess the whole “she’s his sister” business is considered part of the mythology by younger viewers who grew up with it, but I think it’s gimmicky revisionist bullshit and Carpenter has admitted as much.

    “What got me through the screenplay for “Halloween II” was a six pack of beer a night, and having realized there was no more story I decided that, oh I’ll make him…the brother.”

    But here’s the good news: the Restored Limited Edition has the best transfer AND the TV cut for those who want it. I think the ideal combo is this DVD for the film, and the 25th Anniversary Edition for the doc and commentary. Maybe some day they’ll come up with a super-ultimate ideal version that has all of the above in one 2-disc set.

  10. Here are some rare deleted scenes you may not have seen:

  11. christian Says:

    I always thought the “she’s his sister” was dumb and ignored it. So I’m fine without those scenes. I want my Cundey blue filters.

    And yes, I can see why Carpenter deleted those scenes. They’re too scary.

  12. those deleted scenes are HILARIOUS! that mike myers, what a kidder

    DVD smeeveedee, i have ‘the ween’ on VHS! old school (and about ready for the bin. i hope it lasts me thu this all hallows eve or i will cry and possibly even have a melodramatic tanty whereby i throw the tape across the room sobbing ‘NOOOOOOO’)

  13. oh, and while i vaguely tolerate the paint-by-numbers HII i outright pooh-pooh ‘HIIISOTW’, but that’s just me

  14. The twin billed H2 and HIII: SOTW DVD is not available anymore. Will have to see if the stand alone HIII: SOTW is available. And THE FUTURIST! owns the HALLOWEEN original film DVD with the cover that changes from the pumpkin to Myers’ face when you turn it to and fro.

    THE FUTURIST! ordered MESSIAH OF EVIL. Hope it comes by the 31st. SHOCKtober needs to end with a proper scare.

  15. Tonight in Lumberton…Them! are coming!

    Or something.

    (Beware the Them!?)

  16. christian Says:

    MESSIAH OF EVIL is a recent discovery thanks to a screening here at the Cinefamily this year. A new 70’s horror favorite with one of my favorite set pieces set in a theater.

  17. frank b:

    To be fair, it has been ages since I’ve seen the version with the TV scenes so you’re probably right but it is nice to have that version for comparison’s sake.

    “But here’s the good news: the Restored Limited Edition has the best transfer AND the TV cut for those who want it. I think the ideal combo is this DVD for the film, and the 25th Anniversary Edition for the doc and commentary. Maybe some day they’ll come up with a super-ultimate ideal version that has all of the above in one 2-disc set.”

    Heh! Agreed. Those are definitely the best versions to get. The doc on the 25th Anniversary Edition is quite good!

  18. Look at this news, monster lovers! http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118010524.html?categoryId=1009&cs=1&cache=false

    Isn’t MURDERS AT THE ZOO supposed to great pre-Code kinky horror fun?

  19. christian Says:

    Boy, those studio guys in the day really busted their heads for titles: “Say you mugs, how about if we call this one MURDERS AT THE ZOO! Whaddya think, huh?” It better be kinky…

    What the frack is THE HOUSE OF HORROR from 1946? We’ll see!

  20. THE HOUSE OF HORROR features Rondo Hatton.

  21. “The Strange Case of Dr. RX.” Yeah, they really had their thinking caps on.

    “Gotta be Dr. something…Dr. Pills? Dr. Doctor? Nah, it’s gotta have that special something. Keep at it, boys, we’ll know it when we hear it…”

    By the way, Them! holds up great. I bet Cameron saw this one, way back when.

  22. christian Says:

    THEM! is still way cool.

  23. Great review, I totally agree with all of it. It’s 100 times better than ALL the cash in ‘sequels’ that followed it and I consider this to be the final Halloween film, and I like to pretend the others don’t exist. It’s great to see there’s a cult audience that have sprung up and fan sites all over the internet, especially on facebook. They now way out number the haters of the past. Now if we could only get a decent 2 disc special edition my life would be complete!

  24. Thanks Alice. I’m glad to see there’s a whole coven of H3:SOTW fans out there, as is proper. A special edition would be bitchin’ and wonderful.

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