'Halloween III: Season of the Witch' Is An Over-The-Top Sci-Fi Horror Masterpiece
Criticized by fans at the time of its release for not being part of the overall franchise continuity and dismissed for years as "the one without Michael Myers," 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch is finally receiving its just due as one of the better movies in the Halloween franchise. After all, it's got druid plots, spooky towns with hidden secrets, robots, Halloween masks that fill people with crickets and snakes, the delightfully evil Conal Cochran (played by RoboCop's Dan O'Herlihy), and the most ear-worming commercial jingle of all time. What's not to love?
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (who had worked with John Carpenter on Halloween and The Fog, among other films) and scored by Carpenter himself, Halloween III is adapted from a script by legendary British sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale. It stars cult icon Tom Atkins, who had previously starred in The Fog, alongside a few familiar faces from the earlier Halloween flicks. When it came out, audiences expecting to see a return of Michael Myers were not prepared for the film's extremely weird sci-fi storyline, but over the years, it has become a cult classic, and is now one of the most beloved films in the franchise.
The 'Halloween' Series Was Originally Going To Be An Anthology
After the massive box-office success of the original Halloween necessitated a direct sequel, John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill didn't want to continue with the story of Michael Myers, which they saw as over and done. Instead, they originally envisioned a series of horror movies, all set on Halloween, but otherwise unrelated.
"It is our intention to create an anthology out of the series," Halloween III director Tommy Lee Wallace later quoted the pair as saying, "sort of along the lines of Night Gallery, or The Twilight Zone, only on a much larger scale, of course."
This was the only condition under which Carpenter and Hill would agree to return for another sequel after Halloween II. The result was a disappointment at the box office that also received a drubbing from critics, many of whom were confused by the absence of Michael Myers or turned off by the film's nihilistic ending. Roger Ebert dismissed it as a "low-rent thriller from the first frame."
Ironically, the very factors that made Halloween III a failure at the time - its deviation from the previous films in the franchise, its gruesome special effects, its ominous ending, and its over-the-top sci-fi plot - are the things that have made it a beloved cult movie today.
However, the low returns and poor reviews were the nail in the coffin of Carpenter and Hill's plans for an anthology series. The public had spoken, and Michael Myers would be back in Halloween 4 and all subsequent installments.
It's Easily A Better Movie Than Many Of The Other 'Halloween' Sequels
While Halloween III has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years, with some writers going so far as to say that it's the best sequel in the franchise, not everyone is entirely on board the Halloween III bandwagon, and for years it was considered the black sheep of the series.
We can split hairs about movies like Halloween II or H20, but it doesn't seem like it's a stretch at all to call Halloween III a better flick than, say, Halloween 5 or 2002's wretched Halloween: Resurrection, which casually offs Jamie Lee Curtis's character in the cold opening. Heck, it's probably even better than The Curse of Michael Myers, which at least has something of a cult following these days.
If nothing else, the presence of much of the crew from the original Halloween should be enough to give Halloween III a closer look. But what really makes it a great, underappreciated gem are all the things that also earned it so much disrespect over the years: the way it boldly deviates from formula, the bonkers plot, the gooey special effects, and, of course, that jingle.
The Masks Are Genuinely Horrific
The first time we are given a glimpse of what the masks can do in Halloween III, it is a "misfire" that destroys the face of Marge Guttman (Garn Stephens), who is in town to pick up an order of masks. The result is a grotesque prosthesis that is one of the film's grisliest images - and also a few crickets crawling out of her ruined mouth. But that was a misfire, so maybe the regular events won't be so bad?
No such luck. In one of the most genuinely chilling scenes in the picture, we see what Conal Cochran plans to do to all of the children who are wearing his masks when he gives a little "demonstration" to Buddy and Betty Kupfer, his best clients. Cochran gives their son "Little" Buddy one of the masks and locks them all in a room designed to resemble a suburban living room. Then he shows them the broadcast and Little Buddy dissolves horrifically, with venomous snakes, crickets, and other creepy-crawlies pouring out of his body.
The Song Is Still Stuck In Our Heads
When people remember Halloween III, the first thing that comes to mind - besides it being "the one without Michael Myers" - is the jingle that plays during the Silver Shamrock commercials. Set to the tune of "London Bridges," the song counts down the days to Halloween, providing a ticking clock for the film's action whenever characters are in front of a television set.
It's also catchy as hell, even though there's not much to it. Just try watching the movie and not having the singsong "happy happy Halloween, Sil-ver Shamrock" stuck in your head forever.
Conal Cochran May Shed Some Light On Michael Myers's Motives
Halloween III and the previous Halloween films don't take place in the same universe - a fact that is apparent when we see the previous films on TV in Halloween III. But that doesn't mean they don't share some thematic underpinnings.
The villain of Halloween III is the sinister Conal Cochran, played by Dan O'Herlihy, whom Debra Hill called "Mr. Halloween." In one of the film's most famous scenes, he describes his motivations to Tom Atkins's character:
It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we'd be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal, and the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf. Halloween... the festival of Samhain! The last great one took place three thousand years ago, when the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children.
It seems as if this doesn't have anything to do with Michael Myers or the previous films, but later films in the franchise would tie Michael's motivations and his apparent immortality to a druidic cult called the Cult of Thorn, specifically introduced in the sixth film in the series, The Curse of Michael Myers. And even as early as Halloween II, Michael breaks into a classroom and seemingly scrawls the word "Samhain," the Celtic name for the holiday, on a chalkboard. Conal Cochran would have been proud.
The Plot Is Delightfully Bananas - And Surprisingly Grim
Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) is an inventor who runs the Silver Shamrock novelty company, famous for its Halloween masks, which have become the most popular in the world. He's also a druid who plans a human sacrifice on a massive scale to celebrate Samhain. How's he going to do it? Well, with the help of the incredibly advanced humanoid robots that he has apparently also invented, he nabs a chunk of Stonehenge and smuggles it to a small Californian town. Bits of the rock are inserted into each mask and when the kids wear them while watching a special broadcast, the chips of stone will be activated and magically fill the kids with crickets and snakes.
Seriously, who wouldn't want to watch that movie?
As bonkers as the premise is, though, Halloween III plays it straight, suggesting a plot of apocalyptic proportions, all aimed at children. As critic Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times, "Halloween III manages the not easy feat of being anti-children, anti-capitalism, anti-television and anti-Irish all at the same time."
Michael Myers may have been scary, but his ambitions never seemed anywhere near this grandiose.