October Horrorshow: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

This film gets a bad rap. Halloween and its sequel featured the silent killer Michael Myers and his constant would-be victim, Laurie Strode. By the time this third film was made, both had become horror icons, especially the masked murderer Myers. The brand association any potential viewers would have between a film with the title Halloween and Michael Myers was strong, so the decision to completely drop Myers, Strode, and the slasher concept for Halloween III was bound to create a backlash. It’s inexplicable, honestly, that producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill expected any other reaction. The two of them were worn out on Michael Myers after the first two films. There’s nothing wrong with that, and no one was putting a gun to their head and forcing them to make another Halloween film, but they were mistaken when they thought the name of their little franchise was more valuable than the characters in it.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch, has nothing to do with any story or characters from the previous two films. This is important to know for any potential viewers. The other important thing they need to know is that Halloween III is not a bad film. First time director Tommy Lee Wallace managed to crank out a creepy little flick for his producers. If it had been titled anything other than Halloween III, maybe it would have made a little bit more cash than it did. It certainly wouldn’t be dismissed so readily by so many horror fans.

The film follows Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, horror and John Carpenter veteran), a bit of a drunk and deadbeat dad, who begins investigating the murder of an emergency patient at his hospital after the patient warns upon admission that “They’re going to kill us all.” Who “they” are, Dr. Dan wants to find out. The murdered patient was one Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry), owner of a local shop. It’s October, and part of his store display consists of Halloween masks made by Silver Shamrock Novelties. The masks are a big hit this Halloween season. All the kids in California and across the country seem to have them. Every time the annoying Silver Shamrock commercial comes on the television (which is often), there seem to be some kids nearby, masks at the ready, plopped down in front of the tube.

After meeting with Grimbridge’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), the two of them connect a bunch of dots and figure out that Silver Shamrock has something to do with Grimbridge’s death. They travel to the rural town of Santa Mira, where the masks are made. It’s a stifled little company town. Every resident seems to be in fear of the factory and its owner, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). There are security cameras on every street corner (an odd thing in 1982), and a curfew is announced every evening over loud speakers throughout the town, warning all the residents off the streets. Hmm, something strange is afoot in Santa Mira.

It turns out that Cochran is a believer in the occult. The Halloween masks and the promotional campaign surrounding them are part of a nefarious plan to…well, it has something to do with Stonehenge and melting children’s faces. There may have been gateways to the other side, that kind of thing. By the point the viewer is let in on Cochran’s motives, they no longer matter. It’s Mad Libs plot resolution by then. But that’s okay. It only remains to be seen how Dr. Dan is going to save the day and HOLY SMOKES I did not see that ending coming.

The ending, which I won’t reveal here, has a gigantic plot hole regarding time zones, but is an excellent misdirect from what I was expecting. For a film that didn’t have much to work with, and had long stretches of barren screen time, Wallace managed to keep me interested. I wanted to see how this film ended. I wanted Cochran to get his comeuppance and the children of the world to be saved.

But lest I get too ahead of myself, there isn’t all that much that makes Halloween III stand out. It’s a relic that horror fans will find enjoyment in seeking out, but for the regular viewer, it’s okay to let this one remain obscure.

Worthy of final note, though, is John Carpenter’s score (since there’s no Michael Myers, the iconic piano theme of the original was replaced). He’s always made a habit of contributing to the score of his films in one way or another. Although he didn’t direct Halloween III, he still got a producer credit, and being a Halloween film, it’s got his fingerprints all over it.

The familiar synthesized Carpenter music starts immediately with the opening credits, and it is among his better efforts. It was also a collaborative effort with Alan Howarth, who Carpenter worked with in scoring a number of his films throughout the 1980s. This score, however, is a bit more familiar than the others.

Around the same time Halloween III was being made, Carpenter was also working on The Thing. The score for that film was composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone. The Thing’s score, in many ways, was an homage to Carpenter’s work as a musician, but it had more depth and complexity than anything Carpenter had done, owing to Morricone’s decades-long excellence scoring films. But listen to the score in Halloween III, and much of the chord progressions are lifted straight from The Thing. Either Carpenter was heavily influenced by Morricone at the time, or Carpenter did some uncredited work on The Thing. Either way, it’s a neat little film mystery.