Thursday, 27 October 2011

Celluloid Sounds - Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

The regeneration and resurrection of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) has been something of a personal crusade for me. It was the first Halloween franchise film I ever watched (yes, even before Carpenters 1978 original) and its impression on me has remained undiminished in the intervening twenty years. While I would by no means argue it is the best film in the franchise, that honour does comfortably belong to the first film, I’m firm in my conviction that it is the second best. Halloween III is possessed of an attitude that is deeply pessimistic and cynical. It is perhaps the most unremittingly grim and paranoid mainstream American horror film of the 1980’s. It highlights the ease with which a force of evil can gain purchase within America, if it manages to tick all the right capitalist boxes. It illustrates the manner in which the media can be used as a tool of propaganda, and indicates how malleable the adult population is when confronted with the demands of children. The film does have a number of serious shortcomings, not least of which is a rushed finale, and uninspired direction. Much of the tension and atmosphere instead is derived from a chilling electronic score courtesy of Alan Howarth and John Carpenter. I even find the much maligned advertising jingle for Silver Shamrock a great piece of music. Its repetition in the film an intended strategy to irritate both the characters and the audience. It does my heart good to have read a number of positive reviews for Halloween III over the last few weeks, and I feel that slowly but surely, its critical standing is on the ascent in the horror community. This edition of Celluloid Sounds is a celebration of what I consider to be one of the finest horror soundtracks of the 1980’s.


  1. Great post!! I love this soundtrack so much - but then you knew that. It is so ominous, moody and while the style is VERY 80s - it has retained its power to haunt and creep out. One of Carpenter's best - and probably underrated.

  2. I thought you'd get a kick out of this one James, in fact I had you in mind when I did it. Call it a thank you for pointing me in the right download direction.

  3. I just watched this on the 26th, Shaun. The first time I'd seen it in a long time. It's gotten a lot more positive attention over the years. It's overly ridiculous with its wacky plotline, but still a daring move on the part of the producers to try such an experiment.

  4. It still rates a 3.9 on the IMDB Brian, and in fairness it's a lot better than that. Out of curiosity I looked at all of the ratings for the Halloween films on IMDB and this came bottom. Would anyone seriously argue this film is inferior to HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION?

  5. I do not take IMDB seriously at all. I rarely pay attention to their ratings of anything aside from a cast list and that's if they even have them listed accurately.

    At a horror convention several years ago, the subject of HALLOWEEN 3 came up and the place erupted in thunderous applause. I believe this is on the HALLOWEEN 25 YEARS OF TERROR 2 disc set? I'd have to look at it again, but I think that's where I saw that. The film has had retrospectives on it in magazines recently and has gotten kinder reviews now than it did then so my consensus is that logically it is much more appreciated now than at the time.

    I do agree that it's better than a 3.9, but I gather that the bulk of the negativity stems from those who are pissed that Michael Myers is nowhere to be found and nothing at all to do with the films merits.

    Personally, I find it to be an outlandish movie with a mercilessly ridiculous plot. But they pull it off with such conviction and seriousness, it's easy to overlook just how outrageous the whole thing is. Also, the exploitation elements are staggeringly graphic for a major studio release of the time. I mean, laser beams blasting away faces by which interdimensional insects and reptiles erupt from mutilated orifices??? Simply amazing.

  6. On the IMDB I think it is very much dependant on how many votes the film has received. If a film gets 8/10 with 100 votes, I wouldn't give it much credence. But when you're heading into the thousands and the tens of thousands I think that becomes worthy of consideration.

    It is an absurd plot, even by the standards of the horror film. But in a way that is part of its charm. It was just so different, which is both why it didn't find an audience, and why now it is enjoying retrospective acclaim from the horror community. For me, it is the very fact that Myers isn't in it that makes it interesting.

  7. "It is an absurd plot, even by the standards of the horror film. But in a way that is part of its charm."

    Indeed, Shaun. It's rife with silliness and lapses of logic, but it damn well still works - and I'd agree that the score has a lot to do with that.

    I'm still amazed that Carpenter and Co. were willing to throw away their meal ticket and release an entirely different film as 'Halloween III'. I think part of the film's lack of respect, indeed, stems from the misleading title (even if it can be argued that it refers to the 'Halloween III' (3) Silver Shamrock masks). I wonder if that title was imposed by the studio, or...?

    If one dismisses the 'Halloween'/Michael Myers baggage, the film really does stand on its own - and is truly an underrated 'Midnight Movie' 80s horror gem.

  8. Ranks up there with some the best soundtracks out of the early 80’s, and is by far one of the best horror scores ever produced. And much like you (and I believe you know I feel this way, too), I’ve been on a personal crusade to change people’s minds about this underrated gem of a film, ever since I happened upon it on cable a few years back. If you’ll recall, HALLOWEEN III is the film that first brought me to The Highway, and the first (of many) of your reviews that I’ve comment on since, actually. There’s always something to relish about that first time…

    I won’t repeat what I said then, but the opening of this film is juts fantastic. And one of the things that makes it all work so well (i.e. what makes it so bone chilling), is the music, specifically “Chariot of Pumpkins.” It’s just too good for words.

    Anyhow, I bought the score the same night I saw the film, and you’ve inspired me to buy the DVD now, too. So thanks for that. And thanks for this nice installment to Celluloid Sounds!


    This one makes me wish Tom Atkins had gotten an opportunity to star in more mainstream films. He’s such a great character actor and he really caries this flick with total competence – more than just that, with ease even.

  9. Greg,

    If you do buy the DVD, be sure to buy the Region 1 Universal release - which is uncut, widescreen and anamorphic. Goes for cheap in a bundle with 'Halloween II' (1981) (which is also uncut, widescreen and anamorphic).

  10. @ Johnny - Yeah I think the score is the glue that holds it together, and also the unremittingly bleak, almost apocalyptic tone, that is maintained throughout. I don't think Carpenter and Co were throwing away their meal ticket as such, I think they genuinely felt that the Myers story had been told, and that his demise at the end of HALLOWEEN II was a final statement. Perhaps the need to tell different stories was more important to Carpenter at this point than flogging a predictable franchise? But you're quite right, the film does stand entirely on its own. This is something that resolute and die hard fans of the franchise have difficulty accepting.

    @ Greg - That HALLOWEEN III brought you to The Highway is another reason for me to like it. I always look forward to your comments buddy, and am glad it was this film that first inspired you to do so. I agree about 'Chariot of Pumpkins', it's the best track on the album. What I'm really hoping for is a blu-ray of this film. With both HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II now available on blu-ray (the originals, not the Zombie abortions) hopefully it will happen.

  11. Johnny - thanks for the DVD recommendation. I'll be sure to seek out the Region 1 Universal release - and with HALLOWEEN II as well! My, my, that can't be beat! There are some truly terrifying moments in II, especially the moments where you spy Myers hanging around in the background of a shot, while the unsuspecting side characters are positioned in the foreground.

    Good directors will give you reasons to pay close attention to the screen - there should be a fear that if you turn away, you'll miss something that's all important. A little unanticipated nudity is a great to achieve this - nothing exploitive mind you, just enough to titillate.

    Shawn - You'll probably laugh you ass off when I tell you I don't have a Blu-Ray player, yet. Without me really realizing it, they started releasing the kinds of films I'd like to watch. This Christmas perhaps...

  12. I only obtained a blu-ray player in January Greg. It wasn't so much the cost of the player that bothered me, but the cost of the discs. But they are very affordable now, and if you're on the button with it, you can get some very good deals.

  13. Just a note: 'Halloween III: Season of the Witch' is scheduled for a Blu-Ray release before the end of the year (following on from the recent BD release of 'Halloween II'). Likely to be region-free, so something to consider!

  14. You're absolutely spot-on, and it's great to see the film being re-evaluated. Its few shortcomings are more than made up for by the unrelentingly grim tone throughout. The start reminds me a little of Philip Kaufman's Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers opening. It's pity it made so little money because the concept of different stand-alone Halloween movies was a good one.

  15. Hi there Alan; Yes it does have a certain common ground with the paranoid thrillers of the 1970's, of which INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is assuredly one, despite its science-fiction trappings. Film scholars look back now and see the abscence of Michael Myers as being the defining reason for the films failure to find an audience. I think it has more to do with what you describe eloquently as "the unrelentingly grim tone throughout".


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