The Halloween franchise is near and dear to my heart as Part 4 was just coming out at a time when I was jumping into horror with both feet. Michael was on the cover of Fangoria and I read my friend’s copy with much excitement. I was least familiar with Halloween since I’d only seen Part 2 on TV in pieces, but still I felt that The Return Of Michael Myers was a pretty big deal and I’d need to rent it the moment it hit my local video store. In the meantime, I had three other films to catch up on.
I feel like Halloween is a story you almost know even if you don’t. Its reach and influence are so thorough throughout pop culture you’re already familiar with the mute, unstoppable killing machine and the pretty, vulnerable, but wholly capable babysitter. I’m not here to talk about that today. I’m here to talk about the third film, the one that defied expectations and bombed because of it.
Halloween III; Season Of The Witch takes place outside of the Myers reality. In fact, Halloween is just a film inside of Season Of The Witch and that’s just the start of how far removed III is from II. Series creators/producers/writers John Carpenter and Debra Hill didn’t want to do another Myers story. Carpenter thought Halloween would have been better served with a completely different story for each sequel, independent of what came before. I think he was both right and wrong.
I love Season Of The Witch and always have, and would love to know what could have followed if it had been a success. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up parts 4 through 6. Unfortunately, fans overwhelmingly disagreed. It’s not Halloween without Michael, they’d say for years, practically forcing Myers to return and become a slave to the tropes he’d once innovated.
Season Of The Witch‘s reputation has done a 180 in the last decade, with more and more people coming to its defense and praising not only the excellent performances of Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, and Dan O’Herlihy, but also the creepy and atmospheric direction by Tommy Lee Wallace. It’s a lean movie that covers a lot of ground across it’s 98-minute run time, but maintains a deliberate, slow-burn pace. It marries science fiction with pagan folk horror and seamlessly integrates creepy automatons, ancient rituals, and the threat of mass human sacrifice.
Tom Atkins plays Doctor Daniel Challis, a divorced, drunk doctor that stumbles into a weird conspiracy when a new patient is assassinated in his hospital and the killer then seemingly kills himself. The patient’s granddaughter, Ellie Grimbridge (Nelkin), comes to the hospital seeking answers and Challis can’t help but get involved; after all, the murder happened on his watch. Their investigation takes them to a small, creepy California town and toy factory that manufactures Halloween masks with a dark secret.
Season Of The Witch isn’t without its fair share of problems. There are plot holes and leaps of logic, to be sure, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it has a fairly high concept for a horror film. There are huge stakes if Challis fails to solve the mystery and stop what comes next. There are also great performances, pretty decent kills, and a scope that the other Halloween films (save for Part 6 The Producer’s Cut) lack.
If it had been released as simply Season Of The Witch with no ties to Halloween I believe the film would have fared much better. Even in 1982 when a lot of the slasher tropes were still being filled out, people were generally resistant to such a radical departure. At this point though, I think Carpenter, Wallace, the producers, cast, and crew have started to be vindicated while Season Of the Witch becomes more widely regarded as the holiday classic it always was.
25 more days till Halloween, Halloween, 25 more days till Halloween… Silver Shamrock!