Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy, Michael Currie
“You don’t really know much about Halloween. You’ve thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy. It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands and we’d be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The boundaries would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal. And the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires. Halloween. The festival of Samhain. The last great one took place three thousand years ago and the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children... It’s time again.
-Conal Cochran, Halloween III: Season of the Witch
A down on his luck doctor (played by the always amazing and offensive Tom Atkins) comes across a mysterious case. A local shop owner is dropped off at the hospital clutching a Halloween mask and ranting maniacally. He is soon murdered by a strange man who immediately kills himself by setting himself on fire. Dr. Dan takes it upon himself to investigate, charming his way through events and eventually into the pants of the shop owner's daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). She becomes his inept girl Friday and they set off for the small town of Santa Mira, California, headquarters of Silver Shamrock Novelties, the company who makes the mask that Ellie’s father died with. They soon figure out that Santa Mira is home to something terrible, centered around the Silver Shamrock factory and its owner, Conal Cochran, but can they stop it before it’s too late?
It’s really a shame that this was called Halloween III: Season of the Witch. John Carpenter was attempting to turn his growing Halloween franchise into a series of unrelated horror films all focused on the festival of Halloween. Season of the Witch is a fantastic film and probably would have been a lot more popular without “Halloween III” to weigh down its title. Audiences were enraged when they realized that this film did not feature Laurie Strode, Michael Myers, or Dr. Loomis. While masks play a major part in Season of the Witch, the film focuses on an entirely different evil than a deranged mad man stalking a woman and killing anyone who gets in his way.
In the last couple of years, Season of the Witch has had somewhat of a revival and critical and fan opinions have begun to come around. Personally, I think this is a much better film than either Halloween or Halloween II. While John Carpenter didn’t direct, he produced the film and created its annoying, but unforgettable score with his collaborator Alan Howarth (Escape from New York). His regular cinematographer, Dean Cundey, returned from Halloween and Halloween II and is responsible for some very nice scenes here. Carpenter also chose Halloween’s art director and jack of all trades, Tommy Lee Wallace, to direct. Wallace does a solid job and was also partially responsible for the great script, which has one of the best speeches about Halloween/the Celtic festival of Samhain in any film. The script was originally by British sci-fi/horror write Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass series), but when more gore and violence was demanded, Wallace did some re-writes and Kneale requested that his name be taken off the script. It is a bit of a mess, but still very fun. Wallace went on to direct Fright Night II and the It miniseries.
I don't feel bad giving away spoilers, because this movie is so ridiculous that even if you know it's coming, you still won't believe what happens. At its core, Season of the Witch is about Conal Cochran, an Irish business mogul, toy designer, and magician who decides it's time to thin the herd, beginning with the world’s children. He designs and mass produces a series of creepy Halloween masks that, with some magic and crazy space rocks, will activate a worldwide spell on Halloween and wipe out most of the Christian population on Halloween. If this sounds like it’s right out of the League of Assassins, I think he would make a great addition. Cochran is one of the best villains of ‘80s horror. He’s charming, charismatic, lovable, and even charitable, though all of these qualities shield his apocalyptic designs. Cochran was played with aplomb by the wonderful Dan O'Herlihy (Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, RoboCop).
Though the film isn't particularly violent or sexually graphic, it manages to be incredibly mean-spirited in ways the other Halloween films don't really approach. Such as killing vast amounts of children by crushing their brains and turning them into spiders, worms, and other creepy crawlies. This is actually more in vein with Carpenter’s apocalyptic films like the equally weird Prince of Darkness or the Lovecraftian In the Mouth of Madness. It’s a shame it bombed financially and Carpenter gave up his idea of having a whole series of Halloween-themed horror films.
One of the things that makes Season of the Witch great is the performance from ‘80s horror staple Tom Atkins, who appeared in The Fog, The Ninth Configuration, Escape from New York, Night of the Creeps, Lethal Weapon, and many more. As a romantic hero, he is totally improbably, but pulls the role off with charm and charisma despite some of his ridiculous dialogue. Stacey Nelkin (Bullets Over Broadway) is a nice foil for Atkins and plays her admittedly ridiculous role with a completely straight face. Nancy Kyes (Annie from Halloween) has a small role as Atkins’ long suffering ex-wife and Jamie Lee Curtis allegedly did some voice work.
Obviously Season of the Witch comes highly recommended. Aside from its elements of fun, practical jokes, gore, and very real scares, there is an anti-corporate and anti-capitalist strain that is unusual for American horror. (That sort of things abounds in Spanish horror from the ‘70s.) Add in the nihilistic ending and this is far more subversive than most of the other B-grade horror films coming out of the U.S. in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Halloween III finally made it to Blu-ray, which is well worth buying.