Halloween Month: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Undeniably, John Carpenter’s Halloween is one of my favourite horror movies and undoubtedly a classic within the genre. The success of the film spurned a sequel in 1981 continuing the story of murderous maniac Michael Myers and was intended to be the final Halloween film. The creators of the original, John Carpenter and Debra Hill were less than enthused about continuing the series however agreed to a third instalment as long as it differed from the previous two and didn’t include any of the characters associated with its predecessors, meaning no Michael Myers, Laurie Strode or Dr. Loomis. The film could be considered experimental in terms of trying out a new concept in an already established film series. Season of the Witch was most definitely a risk but what makes it so interesting is despite the fact it didn’t succeed in a well-known franchise and failed to spawn a Halloween anthology, the film is still well appreciated as a stand alone addition and has gained somewhat of a cult following over the years.
Halloween III is certainly a film that really captures the essence of the Halloween season and puts its audience in the mood for the annual spooky festivities. Due to this, there really is something special about it. Its clearly an obvious choice to review considering the season but from the captivating setting and general iconography present in the film, it really encompasses the spirit of things. The film has one main connection with the original film, in a clever intertextual reference, the 1978 Carpenter film can be seen playing on the TV during a couple of scenes, which when you take Scream into consideration, it further supports the fictional world of Haddonfield and Myers and uses it in a film context within a film. To an extent, it could be argued that Halloween III was one of the earlier self-referential horror films, aware of its own tropes.
The main plot focuses on Silver Shamrock, a Halloween, mask-making corporation who have some sinister plans to kill a number of American children and their parents through the consumptions of the masks themselves, in an elaborate plan conceived by businessman Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), an on-call doctor stumbles upon a sinister murder/suicide of an unknown man clutching a Halloween mask who warns him with the impending message “they will kill us all”. He begins to investigate alongside the man’s grieving daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), the duo soon find themselves caught in the middle of the corporation’s malevolent ways and it really becomes a battle of man vs. consumption as Challis attempts to stop the television stations broadcasting Silver Shamrock’s infectious commercial before its too late.
Season of the Witch incorporates a spooky story that acts on a deeper level with its view on early 80’s American society. It is a critique of anti-capitalism, the rise of television and places children in peril demonstrating a kind of fear of future generations, all of course within a horror metaphor. The evil head of the corporation Conal Cochran secretly implants computer chips containing small bouldar fragments from Stonehenge into the masks in order to unleash an ancient, Celtic ritual on Halloween night. The struggle of old society against new is heavily present here, however Cochran must use the means of modern technology to suck in unsuspecting victims into his evil plans. Later research has shown that academics have taken an interest in the film, deciphering the critiques of American culture at the time. For example Martin Harris suggested that the film has “an ongoing, cynical commentary on American consumer culture.” While Nicholas Rogers described its portrayal of the successful, corporate businessman as “oddly irrational”, it therefore highlights an exaggerated, if not fantastical perspective on the fears present in late twentieth century America. Consumerism has always been a major factor within the US and the film clearly puts forward the idea of how its encouraged among the general public. With its memorable/irritating commercial jingle “Eight more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween” etc. it demonstrates how the repetitive and catchy nature of the images and audio provided feeds into their brains to ensure the products will appear attractive to them. It has to be argued that despite what is generally thought of the film, it has managed to intrigue the likes of academics and critics with its strong commentary and themes which have proven to be pretty interesting to observe and discuss. Another mystery that surrounds the film apart from the history of why it did not succeed as the beginning of an anthology is the ambiguous ending. Forever audiences will wonder if Challis managed to defeat Cochran’s evil plan or did he perish along with the rest of society? Audiences are free to choose which ending they prefer however leaving it so open ended leaves an empty feeling for the viewer, its never resolved therefore, it remains scarier not knowing for certain.
By all means, the film isn’t a masterpiece but for a genre fan like myself, it holds appeal as a charming horror sequel. It certainly isn’t the worst ever created or the worst entry from the Halloween franchise, that can be handed to Resurrection, which in my personal opinion ruined all that was set up about the franchise. As previously stated, it displays a lot of interesting themes and did make a statement on the period in time that it was made. In theory, it hasn’t differed from what most horror films attempt to do. It will always remain a curiosity as to whether Halloween could have ultimately worked as an anthology, however critics differed otherwise. The late Roger Ebert gave the film a thumbs down feeling it took too much from other movies he considered “better” and deemed it as a “low-rent thriller”, while others did not adjust to the absence of the Myers character. Arguments like those against the film are fair but its mainly down to personal taste. Season of the Witch tried to break itself away from its predecessors while including similar stylistic elements, for example the jack-o-lantern primarily associated with the credits of the previous two. Interestingly, it was the only film of the franchise that delved into notions of the sacrificial aspects of Halloween.
So, you ask, why is this early 1980’s, cult sequel one to watch this season? Well, Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without watching one of these movies. If you look at it on a deeper level its themes are truly thought-provoking. Plus, its a definite old school, seasonal piece and a crucial example of horror and cult cinema. Its also guaranteed that the Silver Shamrock theme will linger in the mind well after the film is over! mwhaha!
Sources: Halloween Movie Wikia.
Hayley Alice Roberts.