Although I’ve seen some of the “Halloween” films, I haven’t seen them recently enough to remember them. So this watch/rewatch of the saga marks my first time thinking about them as a movie reviewer. Armed with categories suggested by “Halloween” superfan Michael (Olinger, not Myers), here’s my review of the third entry, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982).
The “Halloween” saga is one of notorious fits and starts, but even by that standard, “Halloween III” is an odd duck. It’s a one-and-done attempt to make it into an anthology saga (like “The Twilight Zone,” except for movies), rather than a serial specifically about Michael Myers.
Writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace’s “Season of the Witch” puts a horror spin on the popular sci-fi theme of subliminal messaging: When kids watch the commercial for Silver Shamrock masks on Halloween while wearing said masks, their faces melt. It’s part of the corporation’s sacrifice to Samhain, the ancient king of the dead.
The film has excellent practical gore effects, and even the digital effects of lasers shooting out of the Shamrock pendants hold up. But it’s overlong, the creepy small-town idea isn’t leaned into, the theme is obvious, the details of how baddie Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) is pulling off this scheme are essentially “magic” and “advanced technology,” and it’s lacking in memorable characters.
By default, it has to be Daniel (Tom Atkins), a 40-something Everyman doctor who pursues this case in the week leading up to Halloween partly out of sympathy for nubile Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), whose father is murdered in his hospital, and partly because if he and Ellie don’t investigate, no one will. Daniel is a drunkard and a womanizer, and the script doesn’t challenge him on these traits (aside from giving him a nagging wife), but literally no one else in the film gets a full character arc.
In a well-staged shot (even though I guessed what was happening), we see Ellie’s hand in the corner of the screen after a car crash. Daniel walks around the car to check on her, and as soon as we see her arm is severed, the rest of Ellie’s android body attacks Daniel from behind.
An unfortunate kid is watching a Silver Shamrock commercial in a pumpkin mask. The mask and his head melt, and bugs and snakes crawl out from where his head used to be.
In the climactic battle, Daniel fights off the dismembered pieces of android Ellie and “Season of the Witch” flirts with being a techno-zombie comedy.
THAT SEEMS FAMILIAR
Stories about subliminal messaging through TV – often featuring shots of kids sitting a foot away from the screen in an otherwise dark room, mesmerized – are common in sci-fi shows; for example, “The X-Files” (“Wetwired”) and “Angel” (“Smile Time”). “Season of the Witch” also has a touch of the “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” episode “Autofac,” about a post-apocalyptic automated factory, and it calls to mind not-so-pleasant-small-town stories like “The Truman Show” with the company’s ubiquitous cameras.
THAT DOESN’T AGE WELL
Ellie fades from the narrative and is killed off screen. While this is for the sake of a twist where “Ellie” turns out to be an android, we’re left with low-grade a**h*** Daniel as the protagonist and Ellie never rising above the “girl who needs a man to help her” role. That’s a bad look for a franchise known for the resilient Laurie Strode.
MOST SURPRISING ELEMENT
I was pleasantly surprised to see that an ad for John Carpenter’s “Halloween” – and later the film itself – plays on TVs Daniel is watching. It makes “Season of the Witch” incrementally more ingrained in the saga.
HOW OVER-THE-TOP IS DONALD PLEASENCE?
There is no creepy, unfinished William Shatner mask in this film, which is a missed opportunity, since “Season of the Witch” is centered on masks that possess children, and the film acknowledges that the movie “Halloween” exists in its reality.
NEW REVELATIONS ABOUT MICHAEL
The producers’ goal was not to tie “Season of the Witch” into the Myers saga, but if it had been, they could have. Instead of having “Halloween” be a movie in this reality, they could’ve had the events in Haddonfield be real, with Michael Myers creepily becoming a popular Halloween mask for kids. Another potential link is that both Cochran and Myers worship Samhain.
But while the Michael Myers saga is purposely set aside in this entry …
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
… the upcoming titles make it clear he will return. After this not-quite-pleasant diversion, I’m glad for it.
More “Halloween” reviews: