31 Days of Horror: The Cheese Stands Alone in ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch”

Poor Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The bastard son of the franchise, it was a grand experiment that failed in its initial purpose. Really, it was a bad idea to begin with. Audiences already associated the Halloween movies with the iconic Michael Myers. Suddenly turning it into an anthology series with different standalone stories, all somehow based around Halloween, was bound to be confusing. It would be like taking the Friday the 13th franchise and turning it into separate spooky tales based in an antique shop.

But if I were to say to you, “Listen. This isn’t a sexual thing at all, but I want to show you a movie. It’s got an army of murderous robots that dress like Young Republicans. It’s about Halloween masks that can be activated by a television signal to kill anyone who wears one. Also, it stars the glorious Tom Atkins.” That would grab your interest, wouldn’t it? Would you care what the title was?

As it turns out, a lot of people are invested in what Halloween III is called. If only they had referred to it as something different. If only they had kept the revered name of Halloween away from it. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken so long for audiences to discover the unadulterated B-movie joy of Halloween III. But I’m not here to defend this movie, because I don’t think it needs defending. It may be a little cheesy, with its giant computer banks and bizarre concept, but Halloween III is one of the best second-bill drive-in sci-fi/horror movies ever made. It explains nothing. It apologizes for even less. And if you don’t like it, Halloween III has got two words for ya: Silver Shamrock.

That commercial for the Silver Shamrock mask company is the recurring theme for the entire film and, much like the original Halloween music, it has taken on a life of its own. Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween… that catchy little ditty is probably more famous than the film it comes from. It pops up in memes. Kids who have never seen the movie walk around humming it. It’s become a Halloween carol.

But that’s not the finest thing Halloween III has to offer. Look no further than Ed O’Herlihy’s fantastic portrayal of Conal Cochran, the mad maskmaker who has enacted a plan to kill as many children as he can. It’s all part of an ancient ritual for Samhain (a word O’Herlihy pronounces correctly, which Donald Pleasence does not in Halloween II). He’s talking about sacrifices, appeasing the gods, possibly even listening to XTC.

We can’t overlook the aforementioned Tom Atkins, one of the horror genres best tough guys. He’s a flannel-wearing, hard drinking, babe-shagging doctor, and he’s going to get the bottom of this whole mystery because that’s what he does. He plays the whole thing perfectly straight, even when the script itself can’t explain how things work.

Somehow, Cochran has stolen one of the standing stones from Stonehenge and placed a sliver of it into each of the masks. Those are what cause the masks to melt when exposed to the proper frequency. Whoever is wearing an activated mask gets their face torn apart by bugs and snakes that suddenly materialize inside their heads. It’s magic! Hell, that’s technomancy, and that is some next level operating. Cochran never reveals how they got the stone to the Silver Shamrock company, either. He doesn’t have to. “A good magician never explains,” Cochran says, and that’s all you get. You take that and you accept it.

It sounds ludicrous, but so did pod people or an amorphous hunk of aspic that could ooze its way into a movie theater. It may sound bold to compare Halloween III to such classics as Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Blob, but the movie deserves that place. What it doesn’t deserve is being hated for its title.

This is a movie about Halloween, but it isn’t a Halloween movie. Instead of a masked killer, the killers are the masks themselves. There are young people in peril and an unstoppable force, but that thing is television, not Michael. There are similarities then, between Halloween III and the rest of the series, but this film is the one thing that is not like the others.

Despite being marketed under a brand with expectations it couldn’t live up to, Halloween III has taken on a life of its own. It has transcended. This is a good thing; it deserves to be seen and appreciated for the wonderful blend of mad science and modern horror it is. Cheesy? Sure. But it’s the good cheese, the kind you get in little restaurants that doesn’t come in individually wrapped slices.

There may still be some Myers purists who reject the film for being Shape-less, but those folks are doing themselves a disservice. Halloween III is the right film with the wrong name, the square peg in the round hole. If you want Michael, you literally have ten other movies to choose from. Go on, then. Scurry off back to Haddonfield. The rest of us will be singing that damned Silver Shamrock song and grinning like fools.

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