Synopsis: When someone is murdered in his hospital room after being pursued late at night, the doctor in charge of his care and the victims’ daughter decide to investigate. They’re search soon leads them to a corporation called Silver Shamrock Novelties, manufacturers of popular Halloween masks, and lead by the mysterious Irishman Conol Cochran. They must find a way to stop him, and his diabolical plans of murdering several children on Halloween night.
It’s that special time of year again. When the leaves start to change, decorations litter the stores, and everyone’s favorite season comes back in full swing. After eleven long months of waiting, Halloween is finally here! This holiday isn’t complete without some essential traditions, over indulgence with some teeth rotting candy, and bingeing on a few horror classics. (If you’re like me, you don’t need a holiday to watch a horror movie) With so many to choose from, it’s often difficult to find the right place where to start on your marathon of the macabre.
One can’t mention the name of this holiday without John Carpenter’s 1978 classic of the same name coming to mind. Justifiably so, for all intents and purposes, it injected a 10cc syringe of horror into suburbia, and started one of the most well known horror franchises of all time. Characters such as Laurie Strode, Doctor Loomis, and of course knife brandishing killer Michael Myers are instantly recognizable to any fan of the genre. The enormous tide of sequels that have followed since then have been a collection of hit or miss endeavors, with some being better than others.. For the most part, many of them simply the coat tails on the success of the original. After all, just how many times can Myers cheat death and return to Haddonfield? That question has yet to be solved, as there seems to be no end to these in sight.
However, it’s the third entry in the series that continues to be the most debated amongst the fan base. Public opinion is split down the middle regarding 1982’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Panned by audiences and critics upon release, its since gained a massive cult following, one that it more that deserves. While some chastise it for having absolutely nothing to do with the first two films, others praise it for being the best of the series, myself included. The biggest complaint from so many is the absence of Myers, (not counting a brief clip from the trailer of the original film found on a television set), and a complete departure from the storyline of the first two films. It’s understandable to see why this comes as a disappointment to some; change isn’t always met with appreciation and acceptance. It’s this same argument that also serves as the underlying reason why this film deserves reverence and admiration. Instead of merely hashing out the repetitive clichés from its predecessors, or dragging along a story that had already been concluded, it dared to take things in a new direction. In going this route, it transcended the confines of the slasher, and delivered a far superior product, and not just another sequel
The slasher craze of the 1980’s provided an enormous amount of scares, gallows humor, and ostentatious killings—all in the name of easily marketable entertainment. There’s also no denying that many titles fell into the trap of being ridiculously repetitive. While the Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street series started off strong, they eventually became tired and less interesting as they progressed. At times, several entries became more and more predictable, and stopped being cutting edge. (No pun intended) Finding an original idea in this genre was a challenge, and at times became the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.
Intending to break away from this trap of redundancy, Season Of The Witch was an attempt to turn Halloween into an anthology series. Carpenter stayed on to produce, as well as compose some of the soundtrack, handing direction over to newcomer Tommy Lee Wallace. Wallace would later go on to direct the adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, as well as Fright Night Part II. Season Of The Witch Introduces a bizarre Celtic-based mythology involving the holiday, infused with aspects of science fiction. One can’t deny ambition and originality with this entry. Because it doesn’t follow the rules of the slasher, it’s allowed to do so much more with its’ storytelling.
It’s impossible to go into further detail without taking a look at the films’ antagonist. To give a short description, he’s one of the best you’ll ever come across. The villain in question is novelty manufacturer Conol Cochran, portrayed by veteran Irish actor Dan O’Herlihy. He’s not the typical villain you’d expect to find, which makes him all the more memorable. With his soft-spoken delivery and charismatic on-screen persona, he’s more methodical and calculating, and not just some axe-wielding maniac out for blood. It’s one of the many things that make him such a great villain, he’s able to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and projects an aura of mystery throughout the duration of the entire film.
Villainous merchants from the old country aside, it’s our protagonist that provides the perfect contrast to Cochran’s meticulous scheming. Actor Tom Atkins portrays Doctor Daniel Challis, an ordinary person thrust into the investigation of Cochran’s enterprises. In his own way, Challis almost seems reminiscent of a private investigator from an old film noire. He’s not the typical dashing leading man, far from it. He’s a dysfunctional alcoholic, barely holding onto the ropes of his ever-unravelling social life. Atkins projects the appearance of the average Joe, so to speak, which makes his character all the more relatable, and one we can get behind.
Rather than hash out a large amount of indiscriminate murders or co-eds misbehaving, Season Of The Witch utilizes a suspense driven plot to deliver the goods. Like every film, it has its flaws, and yes EVERY film has its flaws. (I.E.—There’s no one in the bedroom when Charles Foster Kane says ‘Rosebud.’) Cochran doesn’t have a solid reason for taking a twisted revenge on the children; he’s doing it because he can, although he does give a lengthy exposition speech towards the end of the film. Sometimes, that’s the only reason you need for motivation. Several critics have gone so far as to link this film to commentary on consumerism and the ever-growing threat of large corporations. I’m not one to deny the possibility subtle commentary in a horror film; there have been plenty of examples of this n the past. However, thoughts such as those are best left to the viewer, and what they take away from the experience. You might draw completely different conclusions on this film than the person sitting next to you; it all depends on what you get out of it.
It’s the strong storyline that roots itself in mystery, and the open-ended conclusions that elevate this one among others form the time period. There are always two general types of conclusions when it comes to films such as these. Most of the time, the villain is vanquished, with our protagonist ruling they day. Other times, we have the villains coming out on top, leaving an absolute downer before the ends credits being to roll. There’s a third type that doesn’t get used quite that often, but when it’s done right, leaves quite the impression after 90 minutes of viewing—The ending for Season Of The Witch—is just shy of perfect.
If you still have a foul taste in your mouth with this one, maybe it’s time for a second helping. Perhaps after watching it again, you might join the massive following that continues to grow. No matter what your personal opinion might be, there’s no denying one simple fact—Halloween III has left an endearing legacy, and one that won’t be approaching extinction anytime soon.
Oh, and…Happy Halloween.