John Ary here with a look back at an infamous chapter in one of American horror’s greatest film franchises.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch gets a raw deal from horror enthusiasts. It’s made by the same crew responsible for Halloween, The Fog, and Escape from New York. It has a strange story with an Invasion of the Body Snatchers feel. The performances are solid. John Carpenter gives us another creepy score. And the ending is uncharacteristically dark for a studio release. So why has history been so unkind to this film? Luckily it’s about to hit Blu-ray, complete with commentary from the film’s star Tom Atkins and director Tommy Lee Wallace, a making-of documentary and a look at the promotional material used by Universal Pictures. I thought I would take another glance at it, to see if this blacksheep in the Halloween film franchise deserves the crap that people have been piling onto it since its release back in 1982.
First off, lets talk about the elephant in the room. There is no Michael Myers in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. At this point in the character’s history, he’s presumed dead along with Dr. Loomis after a massive explosion. In Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, we discover both men survived with the psychotic slasher now in a coma. How could they make a Halloween movie without Michael Myers? According to the making-of documentary, John Carpenter wanted to transform the franchise into an anthology series, with an original story released every year just in time for Halloween. That seems like a decent plan to me and apparently producers didn’t feel like it was a terrible idea either.
Unfortunately no one told Halloween fans. Watching the TV ads for Season of the Witch, Myers is never brought up. We see lots of people wearing masks, but no mention of this being a completely new self-contained chapter in the series. I can’t imagine what that would have been like, showing up to the theater to watch Myers stab his way through a new set of victims, but instead getting an allegory on the dangers of corporate marketing. How do you not walk out of the theater completely disappointed? Whether it was or wasn’t intended by the studio, Halloween III is one of the biggest bait and switch fiascoes in movie history, so from the get-go, this film had a lot of ill-will to overcome.
The story revolves around a mysterious mask manufacturer. Every kid in America apparently wants be a witch, skeleton or pumpkin head for Halloween thanks to the Silver Shamrock toy company. When a doctor played by Tom Atkins stumbles upon a conspiracy by the mask makers that could potentially kill tens of thousands of children on All Hallows Eve, he teams up with a young woman to bring down the company.
The main character is a curious choice by the filmmakers. He’s an alcoholic doctor that chooses to hangout at the bar rather than going home to his wife and kids. When the opportunity to unravel a mystery presents itself, he runs away from everything including his job, his family, and his girlfriend in the morgue, with a six pack in hand and a hot young babe at his side. The young woman is the daughter of a toy store owner who was mysteriously murdered. She wants to know why her father was targeted and has a legitimate reason for pursuing the truth.
The doctor’s motivation is less apparent. I like to think that he’s just tired of his mundane life and excited when a new adventure arises. Also, he seems to show signs of depression with his drinking, compulsive work at the hospital, his philandering and guilt from ignoring his family. Despite all of his flaws, Tom Atkins makes the guy likeable. It would have been a safer bet casting a younger good looking hero to anchor the picture, but instead our lead is older, damaged, and atypical leading man material. He is practically the antithesis of Laurie Strode, the heroine from the first two films. Bold move Carpenter.
Dan O’Herlihy plays Conal Cochran, the evil head of the Silver Shamrock toy company. The Irish actor brings a bit of flair to the movie as the leader of an ancient cult that wants to kill the children of the United States. By stealing a bolder from Stonehenge, bringing it to his factory, implanting small fragments from the rock into the masks and then activating them using a TV commercial on Halloween night, he plans to turn the skulls of every child in America into a terrarium that spawns snakes and insects. We actually see this happen to one kid and it’s fairly disturbing. Even though the plot is fairly far-fetched, the stakes are high. Rarely do we see a kid killed on camera in a studio picture, let alone in such a grisly way. The fact that this could happen to every kid wearing a mask on Halloween night adds a lot of weight to the motivations of the characters. It makes Conal Cochran more than just a creepy old guy with lots of money. It transforms him into a cold-blooded pagan monster hiding behind the facade of a corporate entity, capable of just about anything. It also propels the doctor from an inquisitive amateur detective into a full-fledged crusader, willing to do anything to protect children from a factory of witches.
There are a few reasons the film stumbles along the way; the first being the use of androids. As a toy company, Silver Shamrock has the ability to create lifelike robots to carry out its dirty work. They assassinate dissidents, provide security at the factory and carry out the wishes of Cochran. While they provide a strong physical presence in the movie, they’re not really scary. They walk slowly, dress well and stand around a lot. I found the people who work for Cochran to be much more interesting. The scientists and secretaries who are actively working towards Silver Shamrock’s goal of mass murder, they make for better bad guys. It’s much more disturbing to me that an educated engineer would use his intellect to actively carry out the deadly plan of a corporation. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to know any of these individuals with the exception of the local motel owner who doesn’t question Cochran’s motivations or what really happens in the Silver Shamrock plant.
Also, the relationship between the doctor and his young nubile companion is problematic. Within a day of knowing each other, they’re already sleeping together. She’s half his age and ten times as attractive. Their sexual relationship doesn’t make sense within the story and becomes fairly distracting. Maybe she has daddy issues or perhaps she’s been an android this whole time working to gain intelligence for Silver Shamrock? Either way, the relationship doesn’t work. I would rather wear a rubber pumpkin head mask with the Silver Shamrock commercial playing on a loop than sit through another one of their awkward sex scenes.
That leads to another problem with the film... there are a lot of implausible plot points that simply don’t make sense. Why would the Silver Shamrock company allow the doctor and his cohort direct access to the production facilities where they make the masks? If you had the technology to make life-like robots, wouldn’t there be a better way to use them to carry out your plan of murdering thousands of people? Wouldn’t the different time zones across the United States interfere with Cochran’s plan of running the advertisement that sets off the masks at 9:00pm? It’s these and several other leaps in logic that keep Halloween III from living up to its potential.