Forgotten Films: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)
I 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.
So 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.
I 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…