An underrated sequel that rarely gets its due, and tackles some terrifying ideas with its story.
For all its faults, this adaptation of Stephen King does have teeth; sharp ones.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch. 1982. Directed & Written by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Starring Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Michael Currie, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, Brad Schacter, Garn Stephens, Nancy Kyes, Jonathan Terry, Al Berry, Wendy Wessberg, Essex Smith, Maidie Norman, John MacBride, and Loyd Catlett.
Dino De Laurentiis Company/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
The Halloween franchise is one of my favourites in horror. Not a big fan of the last couple. But seriously, from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece Halloween right up to Halloween V, I’m right in there with the biggest of fans. Each of them aren’t equally as amazing. They’ve each got their merits, though. I’ll say this: the first two are slasher horror masterpieces.
In the middle of all the regular Michael Myers pictures, there stands Halloween III: Season of the Witch. What ought to have been marketed as a spin-off from the franchise rather than actually being the permanent third installment has been banished to the world of cult classic verging on generally maligned. There are several camps of people who talk about this Halloween film – some say it’s terrible and has no merit, others (like me) think it’s real good and should’ve done better had the producers marketed it correctly, and then crazier people than I who say it’s the best of the series (sorry that honour belongs to the very first; no matter how much I enjoy some of the others).
What I know for sure is this is a good horror movie. It doesn’t deserve to be torn up, it also doesn’t need to be over praised. If you go into it knowing this is NOT a Michael Myers slasher, then there’s a chance you’ll come at it correctly and find the horror and quasi-science fiction elements enjoyable. Watch a trailer, any trailer for this film and you can understand it’s different from the others. But it isn’t bad different, it’s simply not a typical Halloween entry. Much as I love Michael, this movie has a creep factor wholly of its own and I firmly believe – without any hype – the only reason this movie isn’t more widely loved is solely due to how its been marketed. Take the Halloween title off this, keep Season of the Witch and maybe make a few more tenuous ties to Myers (like showing the original film on a television), you’ve got yourself a solid 1980s horror classic.
Small shop owner Harry Grimbridge ((Al Berry) is attacked by unknown men in the night. He flees and eventually ends up in the hospital. There, he’s later killed by one of these same men. Although, Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is witness to the man’s last words, and shows up just after his murder. Following the killer outside, he sees the man pour gas all over himself and strike a match, blowing his car sky high. This sets him off on a quest to figure out what happened – alongside him is Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin).
What they end up uncovering is a vast and horrific plot by businessman Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy); one involving Halloween, threatening every boy and girl looking to put on a mask so they can head out for candy.
The whole opening 20-minute sequence is extremely creepy and a whole lot of fun: from when Harry Grimbridge is attacked by the suit & glove wearing assailants to the moment Dr. Challis watches one of them light himself on fire and the car explodes. Can’t think of a better way this movie could’ve started out. The writing here from director-writer Tommy Lee Wallace is solid and makes the film’s energy pump hard immediately.
Bartender: “What’s the matter – don’t you have any Halloween spirit?”
Dr. Challis: “No”
An obvious viewing of this film holds themes involving big versus small business, consumerism, corporations feeding off the figurative soul of children via Halloween, and more. I’m not the first to try and draw any of that out, nor will I be the last.
I love the character of Harry Grimbridge to start. Right off the bat you’ve got this small business owner, running a hold-out shop against the big supermalls and chain stores, still getting much of his business from kids just out of school – and he’s being hunted down by the robot-like, suit & glove wearing henchmen, the identical looking murderers; they are legion. A little later there’s a homeless man Dr. Challis comes across. He gets his head pulled off by two of them because he’s out rallying against the man. The homeless man happens to tell Challis about how Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) won’t employ the good ole local boys, but rather imports his workers from elsewhere. Can this get any clearer really? It’s not quite on the nose, definitely in the vicinity. No matter, I think it works great because there’s metaphor yet it’s blatant and still that’s perfect. Makes for a bit of unsettling horror.
The effects aren’t all spot on, though, they are certainly effective. I love when one of the clone-like henchmen pulls Grimbridge’s skull apart by the eye sockets and nose. Incredibly vicious, both during and afterwards! When a woman dies at the motel, I thought the initial parts of the makeup effects looked great, but the the longer Wallace lingers on her the worse it looks. Still, there are other worthwhile effects. Particularly once the science fiction type elements find their way into the screenplay, the practical makeup effects are ghastly at times; in the appropriate sense. The orange juice-looking liquid used at one point is sickly and makes for an uneasy feeling in the guts. Great, great stuff.
A subtle scene involves a drill – we never get to see the brutish stuff, we’re left by Wallace to imagine it instead. Which I often find even more tough. Nice choice by him on this one. Could’ve easily been a gory kill and here it’s something that will probably make you cringe in different way.
Favourite effects scene has to be when the first young boy has his head destroyed by the pumpkin mask. The way the mask looks to start, breaking down and decaying like it’s burning up inside and out, then all the insects, the snake slithering through the boy’s dead mouth… it’s raw and disturbing. Some intense shots here, especially considering the whole family of three dies in the made-up living room set. It’s a shocker of a scene, super effective.
Taken on its own, as a sort of standalone spin-off, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. There are plenty of chilling moments, different in subject matter yet similar in tone to the rest of the franchise. As well as the fact you’ll see several wild kills, a few of those even further contain fun practical effects. It isn’t as great as Halloween or Halloween II, but it is damn good stuff. A little different spin on the franchise, and why not? The whole series wears out past the fifth entry, even earlier for some other viewers, so what’s the harm in one movie taking another path? I see no reason why this should be a widely panned film. It’s not perfect, but there is great horror and a dose of science fiction even. Check this one out if you’ve avoided it until now. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised; or horrified, possibly.