Monday, 7 June 2010

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Country: USA

The third entry in the Halloween franchise emerged just a year after Halloween II (1982) hit the screens and seemed to confirm to audiences that the masked psychopath Michael Myers had perished and would be heard of no more. This is the infamous one that didn’t feature the knife wielding maniac, or the dogged lunatic Dr. Loomis who is always one step behind. Although some fans of the Myers movies consider this entry to be an aberration, or even an error, it was in fact a daring and progressive move from producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill. The intention was to create a stand alone film every couple of years that made use of the Halloween period - an intriguing concept that deserves far greater respect and admiration than the pathetic Myers driven sequels that followed this daring film from 1988 onwards.

The reasons for its commercial failure are fairly obvious to anyone who has sat through this film. This is a deeply pessimistic, cynical, and bleak horror film -  unremittingly grim it features villains who triumph, a hero who ends the film emotionally broken, and the nations children convulsing and puking up snakes and insects on the living room carpets of suburban America. This deep cynicism is almost certainly a hangover from the uncredited work of British fantasy writer Nigel Kneale on the screenplay. Kneale regularly satirised authority and  ideological institutions that are sacred to the conservatives amongst us. This film goes one or two steps beyond Kneale in its attack on consumerism, advertising, and the media. This is a film that sees the ever growing affluence of a consumer driven generation as a mindless and pliable mass ripe for exploitation (or destruction) by any passing Irish druid cult.

These admirable qualities make Halloween III easily the most subversive, politically motivated, and challenging entry in what is primarily a very reactionary and conservative film franchise. The Irish toy company Silver Shamrock take full advantage of the capitalist system by purchasing advertising space to drum their message into the heads of gullible children with a very irritating and annoying jingle. This thinly veiled attack on the repetitive nature of advertising bleeds into the film itself when several characters moan about the advert. I don’t think its possible to watch the film without getting deeply annoyed by this, but this would seem to be the filmmakers intention. Silver Shamrock have done their market research and there is a certain clammy terror about the way in which they manipulate the tools of American capitalism to wheedle their way into a position to destroy America from the inside out.

The inherent darkness of the film is not alleviated one jot by a series of morose performances and a very murky mise-en-scene. Our nominal hero is Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), an alcoholic divorcee. In the shape of Atkins, he is far from the type of conventional hero one was accustomed too in 1980’s horror. The revelation that the cult of Silver Shamrock have harnessed the mythical powers of Stonehenge to exact their plan is one of the films weaker moments - and the manner in which their operation is taken apart happens rather too swiftly and unconvincingly. The film seems in a rush to end. The film does also suffer from leaden and uninspired direction by Tommy Lee Wallace, but he and his collaborators succeeded extremely well in creating a mood drenched with dread and despair. The film also has some fine set pieces - the first involving a couple of creepy androids is a highlight, and if you don’t like creepy crawlies this is one to avoid. These things tick the genre boxes nicely, but ultimately this is a film that has things to say beyond its generic niche. It is an attack on television and the media and its power to communicate (in this case through subliminal means) death and destruction. This message is resolute and nicely conveyed within the generic parameters of horror. It is very easy to dismiss this entry in the Halloween franchise, but it has always been a firm favourite of mine (second only to the original 1978 film that started it all). This is one of the most apocalyptic and nihilistic of 80’s horror films - and if you like your horror bleak and depressing, you’ll find something of value here.


  1. Great write up on a one of a kind film. I'll always wonder if H3:SOTW would have been better received if it was not attached to the franchise. -Unk

  2. It's well over a year ago since I saw this, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I recall rather enjoying this entry to the series. I liked that they had the balls to do something different, and some of the masks were genius. I found the advert jingle stupidly catchy too.

    Really need to get around to giving it a rewatch!

  3. One of my favorite of the Halloween's as well, while some hate this one for Michael Myers absence, this is precisely why a whole bunch of others love it.

    Agree on the films subversive angle. It actually criticizes many things. For example, as you mentioned, consumerism is the most obvious one. But it also hits on religion, because the villain of the film is actually a religious leader, looking to kill as many children as possible for his beliefs, showing once again how religion can drive people mad.

    The fact that the villains followers are killer androids who follow his orders blindly also speaks about religious followers and how they totally submit to their leaders.

    This films comment on consumerism is so effective that everyone who sees the film never forgets the freaking jingle from the tv commercial "10 more days to halloween, halloween, halloween. 10 more days to halloween Silver Shamrock!"

    Great review Shaun!

  4. And who can forget that insane scene where the little boy in the pumpkin mask degenerates into a swarming mass of bugs and snakes and other creepy crawlies in front of his parents!

  5. Thanks for the comments as always!

    I think the scene that always sticks in my mind is when that dozy woman is fiddling about with the Silver Shamrock pin badge and a lazer bolt hits her full in the face and the bug slowly crawls out of her ruptured face.

  6. I love this damn film to death for all of the reasons stated above, it is so dark and mean spirited, a definite yearly tradition for me!

  7. jervaise brooke hamster13 April 2011 at 23:01

    Shaun, do you know of any films from this period where Stacy Nelkin appeared naked ?, that bird was incredible.

  8. Greg Stuart Smith4 May 2011 at 09:12

    Wow. Just stumbled across this (while looking up one sheet art as a break from writing). Love what I've seen of the site so far, so count me in as a regular. Keep it up.

    First off, I caught this entire movie on cable late one night a year or two ago, and holy shit, did I love it! It's actually a night I'll never forget, because that happens so rarely: when you catch a movie just as it's starting, and you're enthralled from frame one. This happened to me when I caught Peckinpah's "The Getaway" years ago, which also has a great opening, but I digress...

    The opening shot of this film stands alone as one of the bests. It's dark, we're super WIDE, and then we see something, a man, running towards us from the outer darkness, then the first touches of synthesizers kick in, as the man widely runs toward us; he's out of breath, crazed, and is carrying a pumpkin mask of all things. As he reaches the foreground, off in the distance (from whence he just came) , the flash of pursuing headlights appear... the synth track builds and builds... ah, well, it's just great...

    The soundtrack is so good, one of my favorites. Carpenter cowrote the score with Alan Howarth. A very moody, tonal work that chills you.

    Oh, and Shaun, that scene with the lady getting her face fried, with the bug crawling out of her mouth, scared the shit out of me. I was alone on the couch with my shirt pulled over my nose -- my regular stance when freaked or grossed out. Anyhow, I have always told people this is a misunderstood, woefully under appreciated film.

    And Tom Atkins is great in the lead role, totally gut wrenching at the end when he realizes he can't save his kid's faces from being melted off...

    I love tis movie.

  9. How do I follow that Greg? - I really enjoyed reading your descrption of the opening moments of this film. The throbbing synthesisers work so well in the credits sequence, it gives me a chill just thinking about it. I think HALLOWEEN III is one of those films that when it works for someone, it works in a big way. Unfortunately it didn't work for enough people when it was released. But I've witnessed its steady rise from being the hated bastard offspring of the Myers films to semi-respectability. I predict a time when this film will be considered as second only to the first one. Thanks for the kind words btw, it is comments like yours that inspire me to continue.

  10. You: "This is one of the most apocalyptic and nihilistic of 80’s horror films - and if you like your horror bleak and depressing, you’ll find something of value here."

    Me: How right you are, Sir. Apocalyptic indeed!

  11. Great write up Shaun! Ironically as a child of the 80's I did find this to be the less interesting & scary of the Halloween series. Only later in my years have I been able to appreciate the film for its horrifying story and tone. Incidentally Halloween 3 also seemed to open the flood gates for the other Horror series's of the time to slot in an entry whereby the main protaganist is not even involved. Such as Friday the 13th pt 5 (Absence of Jason Vorhees) & Nightmare on Elm st, A new Nightmare (Absence of Freddy Kruger)


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