To say that the Halloween film franchise has been a very mixed bag with very debatable highs and lows would be putting it mildly. Probably the blackest sheep of the family is Halloween III: Season of the Witch. After burning Michael Myers alive in the second film, John Carpenter decided to take the franchise into an anthology format. Each new entry would be generally unrelated to one another except for sharing a Halloween theme. It failed, dismally. Does that mean the film is particularly bad? Well, that’s complicated. The non-sequel was panned by critics and fans alike, and there is true reason to that. In recent times, it has gained more respect apart from its franchise ties. However, before I go further, let’s layout the plot first.
Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is a physician at a northern California hospital. One October night, a man named Harry Cambridge is carted into the emergency room in hysterics. Grasping a Silver Shamrock Halloween mask and screaming “They’re going to kill us all”. Naturally, he seems to have lost his sanity, but when Harry is murdered in his hospital bed later that night by a mysterious man (Dick Warlock) who shortly thereafter enters into a car & blows himself sky high, Dr. Challis becomes very curious as to Harry’s claims. His interest is furthered when Harry’s daughter, Ellie, tells Challis what drove her father into hysterics. Harry Cambridge was investigating the origins of the Silver Shamrock masks, and to why no orders were being taken for the following year. Daniel & Ellie trek to Santa Mira (the home of the Silver Shamrock Company) to find the answers they seek. They are horrified when they discover that the company owner, Conal Cochrane (Dan O’Herlihy), has implanted microchips, partially made from mysterious Stonehenge rocks, into the masks, and when the Silver Shamrock commercial plays with its special jingle, it will kill countless numbers of children across the country in a horrific manner. As the night goes on, time draws short, and Daniel Challis must attempt to thwart Cochrane’s evil, sinister, dreadful plan. Through relentless android assassins (who all look like Dick Warlock), a treacherous factory, and more, Dr. Challis desperately races against time to stop this living nightmare from happening.
This film is good, but not great. It has a tense and suspenseful story that plays out with some shocking visuals and lots of android gore (they ooze yellow fluid). It’s sort of clever that the film still maintains the opening shot of the jack-o-lantern, but as a video graphic, thus, supporting the film’s technology motif. The film starts off with a suspenseful and mysterious chase sequence which sets up an eerie tone for the film. However, while there are several strong moments of horror and unsettling atmosphere, they feel very far between with little going on in the meantime to maintain a driving plot.
While the score is very identifiable as a John Carpenter / Alan Howarth creation, I think its main shortcoming is a lack of an iconic theme. The music is either a pulsating, rhythmic vibe or just eerie underscore to enhance the danger and creep factor. When the original Halloween is playing late in the film on a television set, the music from that film more than overshadows the original music for this film. Still, this is certainly far from being a bad score. It’s perfectly creepy and ominous from two master composers, but knowing the other work they have done, it seems a little lacking in creativity. The incessant repeat usage of the Silver Shamrock jingle surely becomes irritating very quickly, adding another negative mark against the film.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace doesn’t have the artist strength of John Carpenter, and while the cinematography of Dean Cundey goes a long way to boosting the visual quality of the film, there’s still a definite fall-off in suspenseful innovation. Furthermore, several of the sets and props seem budget-starved. and the $2.5 million budget re-inforces that statement. The lesser grade production values really damage the film’s potential for being taken seriously. If the film had double that budget, perhaps such things would’ve looked better, but it wouldn’t have saved the film. There are simply far more fundamental problems with Halloween III that could’ve been salvaged with the right person at the helm. Thankfully, the special make-up effects are of an excellent gory quality.
Now, Tom Atkins puts in a strong, well-rounded performance here. He shows the desperation of Challis well, and even more so, the intense fear at the film’s finale. It’s a good performance as this womanizing doctor, but at times, you may feel as if he is is out-of-place. Atkins is a big, tall guy, and having him play a less than physically capable man comes off as awkward on screen. He easily does well with what he’s given, but there’s not much of a character on the page for him to appear unique or compelling. Challis doesn’t have a particularly distinctive personality to really distinguish him strongly enough in the story. This is pretty common with every character.
For instance, Dan O’Herlihy does a decent job as the insidious and sadistic Cochrane, but it’s not a great performance. Granted, he’s convincingly evil, but barely more than that. We are given a preview of Cochrane’s intended fate for the youth of the country, and it is truly shocking and horrifying. Unfortunately, that alone doesn’t amplify the character of Cochrane. I feel he needed to be more devilish, more demonic, more purely evil, but O’Herlihy’s performance does not reflect that. His motives are horrific, but the man himself acts exceptionally casual. He exudes very little emotion beyond a slight foreboding tone when he explains his motives and intention to Dr. Challis. Cochrane shows no anger, no contempt, no vindictiveness. Considering his motives, one would expect a more driven, more passionately evil character to come through on screen. A casual evil can entirely work, but it needs more under the surface to make it truly disturbing. One part of it is the script, but the other is the direction. O’Herlihy might’ve been capable of more, but Wallace does nothing to motivate a stronger performance. Basically, there’s no true depth to the performances. You can look back at the wonderfully subtle work of Donald Pleasance in John Carpenter’s 1978 film to see what dramatic depth truly is, and how a great actor can inhabit a role well with the aid of a talented director.
I personally feel that this movie had potential, and if someone were to be bold enough to revamp it into a modern day production, I think it could meet that potential. These days, one never knows what Hollywood will want to pillage next. The premise of mixing mystical forces with a science fiction tinge sounds great to me, but it wouldn’t be an entirely new. I simply believe that, with a proper budget in the hands of a talented director and an updated script, Season of the Witch could be an exponentially better film. As it is, we’ve got a low budget B grade horror film with a fading stain of spite.
So, in the end, we are left with an intensely fearful cliffhanger as Challis screams at the television station over the phone to shut off the final commercial. It’s a thrilling and suspenseful finale, and it should stick with you for sometime. As I said at the start, we have a mixed bag. The story worked, and the film had it’s frightening and thrilling moments. However, the production faltered. Tommy Lee Wallace isn’t a real visionary director, and the score was truly sub par for both Carpenter & Howarth (latter of which would do great scores for the next three Halloween films). There are a couple of films I like just based on their potential despite the film not realizing that potential. I believe this is one of them. I can enjoy certain elements of it, but Halloween III: Season of the Witch just doesn’t captivate me all the way. In the least, I suggest checking it out just so you can make your opinion of it instead of blindly buying into the scorn of decades past.