Two more days till Halloween! Halloween, Halloween! Two more days till Halloween, Sil-ver Shamrock! Halloween III: Season of the Witch is known for three things: That super catchy Old McDonald-like jingle, those three kinda cute yet creepy children’s masks, and the movie in the Halloween franchise that is colloquially known as “The one without Michael.” Over 40 years have passed since its release, so it is as good of a a time as any to discuss the black sheep flick of the longstanding franchise.
THE STORY: The year is 1982, roughly a week and a half before Halloween. The Silver Shamrock Halloween jingle commercial marketed to children won’t let anyone forget. In that commercial, three masks in a pumpkin, skull, and witch are displayed prominently, encouraging children to don them at a certain time for Halloween Night for a “big giveaway.” Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), father of two, is dealing with a recent divorce, one that hasn’t put too much of a damper on his life. Hell, it’s given him more time to flirt and act on advances with the staff he works with. Nevertheless, he’s great at what he does despite indulging in one too many drinks. One night, he gets pulled away from spending time with his kids and is needed ASAP in the emergency room.
A man, Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) has just been admitted and he sounds out of sorts. Probably on some substance. He gets calmed down and Dr. Challis goes to take a quick nap in the break room. He awakes to the aftermath of Harry being murdered by a shady figure who ends up offing himself before anyone can question him further. Shaken up by the ordeal, Daniel comes in contact with Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) a few days later. Ellie begins putting the mysterious pieces of information her father, a shop owner who sold seasonal costumes and masks, left behind. Their findings take them to Santa Mira, California, where the Silver Shamrock headquarters is, founded by Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). From the get-go, something seems amiss, and that is before Daniel and Ellie discover that Harry checked into the same hotel they just did mere days earlier…
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Or more accurately, what not to look for. As established, The Shape isn’t in this one and yeah, it is a slight bit jarring when watching a movie carrying the Halloween name in title. But that feeling goes away quickly if you watch it for what it is. Season of the Witch begins with an awesome opening scene that drops audiences right into a dimly lit chase, backed sonically by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. It is a different sound than the legendary theme Carpenter composed in 5/4 time signature, though it is as methodically menacing as the one we’ve all come to know and love. It is a great way to set the tone for the feature.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is fun and engaging because it isn’t predictable. The violence is sparse, yet it comes at unorthodox times. And the effects aren’t bad considering the time! Written by science fiction writer Nigel Kneale but then rewritten by Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace (the studio did not like the original script Kneale submitted and requested more blood and gore despite Carpenter and Wallace maintaining they didn’t change much), it’s a combination of a traditional horror staple in witchcraft being deployed in the dawn of the media/computer age.
The plotting isn’t perfect; the script leaves meat on the bone, and aspects of it are rushed/are clearly thrown in because horrors at the time needed some romance. Some of the performances are hit or miss. However, the core of Halloween III: Season of the Witch is quite creepy in leaning on the lore of Halloween, and its story parameters create a ticking time bomb element that does give the film a persistent, fated dread. It is easy to see how this would serve as the initial point for Carpenter and Debra Hill’s plans to turn the franchise into an anthology.
A GREAT MOMENT: Already talked about the opening. So let’s discuss the scene where the mystery of what Silver Shamrock is up to is revealed. Going to do my best to avoid spoiling. Yes, it is a 40+ year old movie, but one that still benefits from going in kind of blind. The scene in question finds Dr. Challis in Silver Shamrock headquarters, now on the morning of Halloween, and he’s just been told by Cochran what he and his company’s ultimate master plan is on this day. Challis is forced to watch an exhibit going down in real time in Test Room A.
There, a family of three enters a living room. The patriarch, a top salesman for Silver Shamrock, has been promised a great reward of some sorts. The matriarch is a bit creeped out, though laughs it all off. Their child just wants to go to the bathroom. Quickly, the Silver Shamrock commercial is played by people in the control room, and it encourages the youngster to put on his mask and stare at the pumpkin. Gradually, the commercial’s theme becomes presto in pace, and the lights begin to flash spastically and so does a chip behind the kid’s mask. In a snap of a finger, a parent’s worst nightmare becomes a reality and the test is successful.
In a movie that as mentioned doesn’t have the greatest of plot mechanics or performances, this 3-4 minute stretch is frightening on all fronts and in some ways, makes the movie. Whether it is the twisted joy O’Herlihy shows in his devilish grin as his plan is working, the fear and physical disgust Atkins displays as he realizes everyone is in danger, or the simple aftermath of it all, it is the scene that shows no one is imbued with plot armor in the story.
THE TALLY: The lack of Myers used to put Season of the Witch near the bottom of Halloween rankings, but over time (and partly due to the ineptitude of many Halloween movies in the franchise), it has become more appreciated for what it is more than what it doesn’t resemble. It’s What to Watch, and it is currently streaming (as of this writing) on Peacock.
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