Shapeless Horror: ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’

Even though Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a deeply flawed horror movie, it remains fascinating because of its bizarre mixture of ancient esoteric ceremonies, insidious mass media, and ghastly bodily transformations. But then again, at times the narrative does not make any sense and some plot developments are nothing but implausible, even by fantasy film standards. By all means, Halloween III is a guilty pleasure that most probably will only be of interest to the judicious horror genre fan.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that hardcore fans of the Halloween franchise most often despise Halloween III and it ends up relegated as the worst entry in the successful horror series. Arguably, the reason for such a disdain is the fact that Michael Myers, the unstoppable killer commonly associated with the Halloween flicks, is conspicuously absent in Halloween III.

The story of the genesis of Halloween III is now sort of legendary. In spite of the fiery demise of the evil Michael Myers at the end of Halloween II (1981), series creator John Carpenter was already contemplating future sequels. However, instead of resurrecting the fiendish “Shape” once and again, Carpenter conceived of a series of horror films taking place during the Halloween season, with no narrative connection to the first two entries in the franchise. The plan was simple and straightforward, the only requirement for future films in the Halloween series was for them to have some relation to the pagan holiday.

The first and to date only attempt to carry out Carpenter’s plan was Halloween III, a rather cruel and wacky movie directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (and produced by Carpenter himself). In Halloween III, Dan O’Herlihy gives a sinister performance as the evil Irish entrepreneur Conal Cochrane, the owner of a factory that produces bestselling Halloween masks. Disgusted by the way the holiday has been transformed into a silly celebration where children get candy, Cochrane devices a master plan to go back to the old ways, when children were brutally sacrificed to pagan Gods.

On Halloween night a signal transmitted across several TV channels will make the masks he produces shoot a lethal beam into the user’s skull, transforming brain matter into poisonous snakes and creepy insects. By all means, it is really compelling the degree of violence that Cochrane envisions on young children across the nation. It is perhaps without precedent in the history of the horror genre, which characteristically punishes only a handful of promiscuous teenagers or some irresponsible adults. By the early ’80s, when Halloween III went into production, cruelty and sadism against young children was still considered a sacred taboo.

To guarantee maximum impact, Cochrane concocts an unrelenting advertising campaign, repeated ad nauseam, that prompts children across the nation to wear their mask in front of the TV at the “magic hour”. The insidious advertisement relies on a mesmerizing musical composition clearly derived by the nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down. I kid you not, it is virtually impossible to get the tune out of your head once you have watched this flick.

As such, it is fascinating the way in which Halloween III manages to criticize the unrestrained public advertisement campaigns specifically targeted to young children. In addition, the presentation of TV as an invasive medium able to distort the human body feels straight out of Canadian director David Cronenberg’s mind.

Halloween III’s bizarre plot was the brainchild of Nigel Kneale, the beloved British sci-fi author who created the intrepid Dr Quatermass of the classic TV miniseries and films The Quatermass Xperiment (1953, 1955), Quatermass II (1955, 1957), and Quatermass and the Pit (1958, 1967). However, because of disagreements between the writer and the filmmakers, Kneale retracted his name from the final credits (according to Carpenter, Kneale’s original screenplay was too bitter in its anti-Irish spirit, while Kneale was said to be repulsed by the movie’s graphic violence and gore).

In particular, Halloween III is extremely reminiscent of Quatermass and the Pit. Indeed, both films revolve around cryptic technologies and have a definitive Lovecraftian touch. For example, consider how the electronic device inside the masks uses some enigmatic “ancient technology” generated by the monoliths of Stonehenge. Thus, esoteric and paranormal phenomena are given a solid scientific ground based on incomprehensible advanced technology created by superior extraterrestrial beings or elder creatures that take the form of Gods in the human consciousness.

Needless to say, because most fans of the Halloween franchise were expecting another by-the-rules slasher flick with the unstoppable Michael Myers at the forefront, Halloween III failed miserably at the box office and quickly became the subject of rather unjustified criticisms. But truth be told, Halloween III is a superb and imaginative horror film with an unusually macabre story, outstanding cinematography (by Dean Cundey, the DP of the first two Halloween flicks), one of the best scores ever composed by Carpenter, and some truly gory special effects. Personally, I find this flick so good that I often wonder what would have happened if it had been released under a different title, with a name that did not raise any type of audience expectations.

Thanks to Shout! Factory, the recent release of Halloween III in the blu-ray disc format is a reason to celebrate the pagan holiday a few days ahead of time. Indeed, as it is typical of this high definition format, the image and audio are of top-notch quality. And equally important, there are many interesting and insightful bonus features including two audio commentaries, a documentary on the making of the movie, and a short visit to the original shooting locations of the film.

It’s impossible to deny that Halloween III is a personal favorite, and as a consequence, my review may be seriously biased. But then again, one cannot ignore the cruel and wacky plot, the outstanding soundtrack, the subtle lovecraftian touches, the marvelous night cinematography, the gory transformations, and that unforgettable TV advertisement. If you ask me, I would rather watch Halloween III one more time than any of the brainless sequels and pointless remakes.

RATING 7 / 10