Let’s get this out of the way up front. Michael Myers isn’t in Season of the Witch. Neither are Laurie Strode or Dr. Loomis. Halloween III: Season of the Witch isn’t connected to the Myers story in any way, shape, or form. With the exception of one self-aware moment where Halloween is on a television in a bar, this film exists completely on its own. Yet the lack of Michael Myers is ultimately what did this film in at the box office and made it the black sheep of the entire series.
Spoilers for Halloween III: Season of the Witch Follow
Halloween II was never meant to be the direct sequel that it ended up being, but at the end of II, Michael Myers’ story was very deliberately finished. Debra Hill and John Carpenter wanted the Halloween name to become an annualized anthology series, not unlike the current way American Horror Story is going on a season-by-season basis. So they agreed to produce the film if it didn’t include Michael Myers and they hired Tommy Lee Wallace to direct it. Wallace was involved behind the scenes on Halloween and had declined to direct Halloween II but agreed for the third one, equally enticed by the idea of doing something new. However, there were deliberate attempts to tie the films together in subtle ways.
Season of the Witch begins a week before Halloween night. Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), a divorced doctor, finds himself on call when a Harry Grimbridge is brought into the hospital clutching a Halloween mask and chanting about how someone will kill them all. Later that night, Harry is murdered in his sleep by a mysterious henchman. After Harry is killed, the mysterious assassin commits suicide. Challis is understandably confused as to what is happening, and with Grimbridge’s daughter Ellie he goes out to investigate.
Their search brings them to Santa Mira, CA. Santa Mira is decidedly off the map and is a very small town with the exception of Silver Shamrock, a Halloween mask manufacturer. Challis and Ellie explore the town and find that something is very off. I’ll save you the details, but suffice to say Silver Shamrock is planning to use occult forces and their own Halloween masks in an attempt to kill all the children wearing them on Halloween night. Challis and Ellie race against the clock to stop Silver Shamrock, though of course they hit a few road bumps along the way.
There are two camps when it comes to Season of the Witch. Most, especially at the time of the release, hated the film and lamented the lack of Michael Myers. Even film producer Irwin Yablans who had been involved on the entire series up to that point openly admits that the decision to not include Michael was “really stupid.” But like any film that courted so much controversy at its release, it has developed a strong cult following over the years. Many feel if it simply was not bearing the Halloween name, it might have been remembered more favorably.
Those people might be right, but I highly doubt it. Season of the Witch is an uninspiring film for the most part. It’s not without things to like, but the movie never ascends past its B-movie roots the way Halloween did. There just isn’t anything particularly memorable about the film, aside from the Silver Shamrock theme which the movie can’t go five minutes without playing. That particular adaptation of London Bridge will get deep in your brain.
The film in a lot of ways feels like a Bond film to be perfectly honest. Our Bond analog, Dr. Challis is exposed to a mystery. Along the way he meets a beautiful girl, jumps into bed with her far too quickly (and the twist ending raises a lot of eyebrows). The two of them stumble upon a conspiracy, involving Halloween masks. Challis is captured and the villain, Silver Shamrock founder Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), spends far too much time elaborating on his evil plan. After telling Challis every detail, Cochran concocts an elaborate scheme to kill Challis as opposed to putting a bullet in him so he couldn’t possibly stop him. Challis escapes, realizes his new love interest is a robot created by Cochran (surprise). The film ends with Challis on the phone with the local television stations begging them to not show the Silver Shamrock commercial that will kill all the kids when it airs. In a scene that wouldn’t work today, Challis convinces the first two stations to stop it, but it is left a mystery whether he stops the third one.
One wonders if the cliffhanger ending would have been explored in Halloween 4, but to this day that mystery is up in the air. Though Dr. Challis himself, Tom Atkins, personally believes he saves the day. Though a sequel-hungry studio could easily churn out a follow-up film.
Season of the Witch isn’t a terrible movie, and it’s not the worst Halloween film, don’t worry we’ll get to that. It’s a perfectly effective B-movie. That being said, there are some good ideas here. And the filmmakers had an opportunity to mine some emotional drama. Challis is a divorced father of two. When Challis learns of Cochran’s plan to kill the children (just because) that should have awoken a fire in him that would keep him motivated to finish the job to the end. Other than a brief scene with his kids in the beginning of the film, they don’t factor in again. Horror films are most effective when audiences have a genuine emotional connection to the characters, and Season of the Witch missed the opportunity.
Others have also commented on the themes of corporate power in Season of the Witch which also are a missed opportunity. Silver Shamrock is a bit too comically evil, and Cochran himself spends more time chewing the scenery and being deliciously evil. And then there is the completely out of left field romantic subplot between Challis and Ellie. Nothing says romance like investigating the company that killed your father and is planning to kill every child on Halloween night. Their subplot is entirely too rushed, though it does get interesting at the very end when it is revealed that Ellie is a robot and has been all along. Or was she all along? It is one element left for the viewers to decide for themselves.
Personally the part of the film that I had the hardest time believing was that Silver Shamrock was such a far reaching company. Halloween III seems to exist in a world where no other company dares make Halloween costumes and there are only three masks in the entire world (and none of them are Shatner masks painted white!) Unlike Evil Corp in Mr. Robot, Silver Shamrock’s omnipresence feels more like plot and less genuine. But I’m nitpicking a film where masks will activate and turn the wearer’s head into a rotted mess of spiders, snakes, and other creepy crawlies. The Halloween films have always had elements in them that felt bigger than they would be in the real world, but I’m nitpicking. Notice how I barely complain about the masks and the physics they defy.
Which brings me to the gore in Halloween III. This isn’t is a slasher film. There is more gross-out gore due to the way the masks kill their victims, though here it’s more organic. There isn’t a killer hunting victims, as I said before, the heroes are the ones doing the hunting of their own. For that, I do have to give Halloween III credit. The rest of the series would ultimately fall back on what’s familiar and milk the cash cow that is Michael Myers dry, but back then it is admirable to see them try something different, even if what they did just failed. Though as a movie nerd I can see a version of Season of the Witch that does what Wallace tried to do but better. The film we got though is just a solid horror B-movie. There isn’t anything particularly memorable about Season of the Witch other than what it isn’t-another Michael Myers stabbing gallery.
Keep up with my entire Halloween Revisited series on Stereo Champions!Halloween (1978) Halloween II (1981)