As we approach Christmas, it seems only right that we look at Halloween III: Season of the Witch. When a big Halloween mask company appears to start killing people, it’s up to Doctor Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) to foil their evil plan.
Despite belonging to John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise, this film has nothing to do with those characters. There’s no Jamie Lee Curtis, no Donald Pleasence and no Michael Myers. Carpenter wanted to make the franchise into an anthology series, each film serving as a completely separate story, the only common feature being that they’re all set on Halloween. But when Halloween III disappointed both financially and critically, the idea was dropped and Michael was brought back. Ironically, Season of the Witch has since gained a cult following and is generally perceived as the only good Halloween sequel.
It’s easy to see why. Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1982 entry ditches the copycat slasher formula that made Halloween II such a let down, and opts for a decisively sci-fi/horror tone. The movie is driven by explicitly anti-consumerist ideas, which makes an interesting change of pace for the stalk ‘n’ slash franchise. The role of television and advertising are critiqued, interestingly in the same year as Poltergeist. The big toy corporation is depicted as evil, literally murdering any competitors and most importantly, children. Halloween III does for Halloween what Gremlins does for Christmas.
Carpenter is back on producer and music duty, lending this franchise departure a Carpenter-esque atmosphere. Again it’s interesting that this is the same year as his seminal The Thing. Part of the plot involves characters watching the original Halloween, as they do in Scream, giving Season of the Witch a post-modern angle which I love. It implies that the events of this movie aren’t taking place in the fantasy world of Michael Myers, hence his absence, but in our world, where people watch him on TV. Spooky.
The problem of showing us some of Carpenter’s original, however, is that it reminds us just how ingenious and scary the 1978 classic truly is. Halloween III is nowhere near as horrific or well made, but then comparing it to such a game-changer is probably unfair. What Season of the Witch lacks in frights, it more than makes up for in ideas. It’s also surprisingly brutal when required, and while Dan O’Herlihy’s villain lacks the iconic status of The Shape, he’s still sufficiently mean. Atkins is good as the boozing divorced doctor, making a compelling anti-hero.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is an interesting horror sequel, which combines exploitation fun with satirical elements like the best genre flicks. After the disappointment of Halloween II attempting to rehash the original, it’s nice to get a sequel that’s different and fun, from the hypnotic title sequence through to the brilliant ending. It’s just a shame that Carpenter didn’t stick to his guns and continue the franchise as an anthology series, instead reverting to the money-spinning body count trend that would quickly become so tired.