Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Halloween III: Season of the Witch was greeted by confusion and antipathy by audiences back in 1982. After the first two Halloween films provided relentless thrills and chills as Michael Meyers terrorized scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, the third installment in the franchise was not at all what fans were expecting. Halloween is a landmark film, both for the horror genre and more broadly for low-budget independent film. It ignited the slasher movie craze in earnest and remains one of a handful of horror movies that nearly everyone seems to regard as the best of the genre. Its sequel was an extension of the plot of the first film, and thus a neat bookend to the story line.
Needless to say, Halloween III is not a direct sequel to either of those films, and in fact was intended to be the first in a series of anthology films utilizing the Halloween name, to be released each year around Halloween. Like another film I've profiled here, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Halloween III was mostly considered a disappointment for years, decades in fact, and its poor box office receipts killed any chance for the proposed anthology series.
Then a funny thing happened: public opinion started to reverse itself over the last decade or so. The rise of geek culture has resulted in the reevaluation of a number of pop culture artifacts, including films like Halloween III. It's clear that Halloween III always had the potential for cult classic status—it just took audiences a few decades to catch up to it.
Halloween III brazenly combines elements of science fiction, witchcraft, and Celtic fairy tales. Okay, deep breath, here we go: a corrupt businessman has manufactured a line of children's Halloween masks that, when activated by a signal sent from a TV commercial to microchips in the masks, made out of pieces of Stonehenge (What??), will unleash demonic snakes and insects that will kill the wearer.
Phew, that's a mouthful.
The film begins with a shop owner yelling about the Silver Shamrock (seriously) jack o'lantern masks — "They're going to kill us!" before he becomes the patient of our main protagonist, Tom Atkins as Dr. Daniel Challis. The man is killed during the night by a mysterious stranger who then gets in his car and immolates himself. Clearly, the shop owner knew something he wasn't supposed to know, and Dr. Dan springs into action, teaming up with the deceased shop owner's daughter Ellie, played by Stacey Nelkin, to get to the bottom of things.
The decision to journey to the small California town that houses the Silver Shamrock factory (I never tire of writing that) is decided upon rather quickly by the two leads, and why not? Dr. Dan is looking for any excuse to ditch the wife and kids to hit the open road with comely young Ellie. Their pairing is awkward, for a number of reasons including the actors' disparity in both age and looks. This movie upholds Hollywood's requirement that only women need to be hot. Also, may I remind you that in the 1980s, beyond all logic and reason, not only did Tom Atkins hook up with Stacey Nelkin here but also with Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog. Even when presented with cinematic proof of this fact, it's still too mind boggling to believe. We live in a world where this is true. Maybe it's all due to Atkins pure animal magnetism and smooth pickup lines, like the ones on display during this cringe-worthy bit of verbal foreplay:
Dr. Dan: Maybe I ought to get another room.
Ellie: That would look sort of suspicious, wouldn't it?
Dr. Dan: What I mean is, if it'd make you more comfortable... I can sleep in the car - be a lot better than this floor, anyway.
Ellie: Where do you want to sleep, Dr. Challis?
Dr. Dan: [Staring at her] That's a dumb question, Miss Grimbridge.
In some ways, what follows is the movie's most horrific scene, when Ellie and Dr. Dan play a game of hide the silver shamrock, if you know what I mean. Let's put aside the fact that Ellie's just lost her dad and turns to the lecherous and arrogant Dr. Dan for comfort. That's horrific enough, but nothing prepares you for seeing Atkins groping Nelkin, who's also half his age. After that, killer Halloween masks lose some of their scare factor.
To reiterate, Halloween III features a mad Irish businessman, folklore and mythology, sorcery, a doctor doing his best imitation of a cop while also macking on a much younger woman whose father just died (!), microchips made of bits of Stonehenge that summon killer reptiles inside of jack o'lantern masks, a commercial jingle for said masks that lodges into your brain against your will, and, oh, did I mention the androids and the lasers? Yeah, it has those also. That's a strange brew, indeed, giving you the feeling that the filmmakers simply couldn't decide what kind of movie they were making. But it's this weird amalgam of concepts that's helped make it a cult classic. It especially rewards repeat viewing, which is aided by it airing every Halloween season on cable television somewhere. The fervent cult fan base that's cropped up around the film relishes each and every bizarre plot twist. The performances are also a hoot, especially Atkins and Dan O'Herlihy as the main baddie. Atkins alternates between two settings: obnoxious asshole and frantic asshole. Scenes where he screams into phones are particularly entertaining. O'Herlihy gleefully hams it up as the evil Irish businessman, in full-on crazy leprechaun caricature mode. I'm surprised they didn't film him chomping maniacally on Lucky Charms while reciting his dastardly plan.
Stay with me here, because this might seem far fetched, but part of why Halloween III resonates now more than ever is that it's basically a comment on monolithic evil corporations and rampant American consumerism. I actually felt that massive eye roll of yours through my computer screen. It's true, though. It's all right there in the plot and impossible to ignore: big business is killing us! The movie takes our latent fears about immoral companies and crass consumer culture and asks, what if they really did combine to do us in?
If you'd rather say that its critical reevaluation in recent years owns more to the absolutely bonkers plot elements, then I can't fault you. In fact, I'd wholeheartedly agree. I'd also add that the film's stunningly bleak cliffhanger ending has always been impossible to forget. So while the societal criticisms inherent in the movie might be a factor in its longevity, it has also seen a reversal in public opinion for the same reason other movies of its stature have in recent years: the Internet. Online, there are countless niche groups whose mission it is to excavate the pop culture detritus and find hidden gems. This website right here does that better than most. Nostalgia plays a huge factor in this. Most of us who grew to love Halloween III did so because it was a staple of our childhoods every October and remains one to this day. Once we grew past caring about fealty to the franchise and realized how much fun there was to be had taking this movie on its own terms, then we were hooked. So, this October I'll be flipping channels and come across a Halloween movie marathon. While Carpenter's first two in the series remain my favorites, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just as excited to tune in for the uniquely peculiar and highly entertaining Halloween III.