Reader’s Choice Halloween Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
by Steve Habrat
After striking box office gold with 1978’s slasher classic Halloween and finding more success with 1981’s follow-up, Halloween II, John Carpenter and Debra Hill thought there was potential to turn the Halloween series into an anthology. Acting as producers, Carpenter and Hill recruited Tommy Lee Wallace and Nigel Kneale to come up with a screenplay that didn’t contain Michael Myers or Laurie Strode. Leaning more towards science fiction than straight up horror, the result was 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, an imaginative but ultimately middling exercise in terror. Directed by Wallace, Halloween III: Season of the Witch’s biggest mistake was cutting the popular Michael Myers character out of the action and replacing it with a mad toymaker who uses Halloween masks to sacrifice children. Since it’s disappointing release, Halloween III: Season of the Witch has earned a cult following despite being considered the worst entry in the Halloween series by Halloween fans. Truth is, Halloween III has its heart in the right place, and the desire to break away from the stab-and-slash formula that the filmmakers applied the first time around is commendable, but the film seems slapped together and it’s poorly acted. To make matter worse, the film never even comes scaring the viewer the way the original Halloween did. Only once or twice does it actually get a little spooky, but the rest of the time it’s falling into unintentional comedy territory.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch begins with Harry Grimbridge (played by Al Berry) getting chased down by mysterious men is suits. He finds help from a kindly gas station attendant, who immediately takes him to the nearby hospital. As the doctors try to evaluate Harry’s condition, they discover that he is clutching a Halloween mask and that he keeps babbling about unnamed individuals who plan on killing everyone. The doctors leave Harry in a room to rest, but he is soon discovered by one of the suited men and brutally murdered. Just as the man is trying to escape, Dr. Dan Challis (played by Tom Atkins) encounters the individual and chases him down. Before Dan can stop him, the man gets into a car and kills himself through self-immolation. A few days later, Dan meets Harry’s daughter, Ellie (played by Stacey Nelkin), who tells Dan of her father’s store, which sold popular masks made by Silver Shamrock. Sensing that something isn’t right with the Silver Shamrock company, Dan and Ellie head to the Silver Shamrock factory in Santa Mira. Upon their arrival, they notice that town seems almost abandoned and those who remain seem strangely cheerful. Making things even more suspicious, the entire town is filled with surveillance cameras. It doesn’t take Dan and Ellie long to learn of Conal Cochran (played by Dan O’Herlihy), the suspicious head of the Silver Shamrock Corporation. After touring the Silver Shamrock factory, Dan and Ellie grow convinced that something strange is going on with the Halloween masks, and that the company may be plotting something sinister on Halloween night.
Attempting to draw its scares from the witchy side of the Gaelic holiday Samhain, Halloween III takes its terror to epic levels that weren’t even dreamed about in Halloween and Halloween II. What made the first two Halloween films such a hit was the idea that the horror could be taking place just up the road or a street over. It was striking in suburbia—the heart of America where kids scamper happily to school and Dad goes to work from 9 to 5. To make it even spookier, it appeared to be the boogeyman and he was reluctant to stay dead. Halloween III captures none of this and instead opts for blunt force violence, synthesized jump scares, and clashing science fiction to give us a few sleepless nights. There are suited androids that leap out from the shadows and there are more than a few gruesome deaths, but the problem is that it seems to be completely misunderstanding what made the original film scary. The original film didn’t need to rely on jump scares or graphic gore—it was scary because it seemed completely plausible. Computer-chipped Halloween masks, irritating jingles, and Stonehenge just don’t make the spine tingle like a white-masked maniac appearing out of nowhere and stabbing a screaming teen to death.
With Wallace flubbing a good majority of the scares, it’s up to stars Tom Atkins and Dan O’Herlihy to do the heavy lifting in Halloween III. Genre star Atkins is his usual heroic self as Dan, a doctor with a broken marriage, a drinking problem, and thing for flirting with nearly every single woman he meets. Naturally, Atkins is likable and we do root for him to stop Cochran from carrying out his evil plot, but he never gives a performance that matches his work in 1980’s The Fog. O’Herlihy is easily the best here as Cochran, the demented toymaker who is all smiles and warm promises when he meets with his fans, but is sinister and scowling when he is challenged by anyone attempting to stand in his way. As far as the rest of the cast goes, Nelkin gives a flat and unexciting performance as Ellie, Grimbridge’s daughter who strikes up a steamy relationship with Dan as they investigate Silver Shamrock. Ralph Strait stops by as Buddy Kupfer, a cheesy, roly-poly salesman who has been pushing large amounts of Cochran’s Halloween masks. His character would honestly disappear from your memory if it weren’t for the scene in which his family is treated to a sneak peek of what Cochran is planning on doing Halloween night.
While there is quite a bit to frustrate the viewer in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, there are a few parts that horror fans just won’t be able to resist. Much like the original Halloween, Halloween III features a synthesizer score from Carpenter that will surely send a few shivers. Then there is the gore, which is sure to satisfy the gore hounds that have come to see arteries spurt in creative ways. One character has their head ripped off their body, another has their skull crushed, and there are also the scenes in which we get to see just what Cochran masks can do to those who wear them. While the explanations are a bit hazy, the masks appear to melt the heads of those who are wearing them. As if a mushy melon wasn’t enough, we then get to see slimy snakes and bugs crawling out of the melted mess. These little demonstrations are probably the most horrific aspect of Halloween III! Overall, while you can’t blame Carpenter and Hill for wanting to take their series in a new direction, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is still an uneven departure from the original formula. The script features numerous plot holes, it’s not very scary, and a majority of the performances will roll off your memory. However, Wallace is game to spring some nasty visuals and the chilling final note of the film is sure to get to you. Oh, and good luck getting that Silver Shamrock theme out of your head. In the end, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is like digging through your pillowcase after a long night of trick or treating. It’s a mixed bag.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is available on Blu-ray and DVD.