HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (REVIEW)
Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace
Reviewer. Dan Cook
“7 days ‘til Halloween, Halloween. 7 days to Halloween, Silver Shamrock”
With franchise antagonist Michael Myers having been burnt to a crisp at the end of HALLOWEEN 2, producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted to turn the slasher series into an anthology one, with each new movie telling a different story that centred around the 31st October. A bold idea indeed but as expected, fans of the first two films were disappointed with the following entry which featured none of the familiar elements of the previous pictures; no Jamie Lee Curtis, no Donald Pleasance and most damningly, no Michael Myers. These changes to the HALLOWEEN formula were just too big for many slasher fans and as a result, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH failed both with critics and at the box office, forcing the series to completely abandon the anthology idea and miraculously resurrect Myers to continue the generic slasher cycle once again.
However, while I understand the confusion that horror aficionados may have had with the movie back upon its 1983 release, I personally think that HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, written and directed by IT helmsman Tommy Lee Wallace, is one of the most underrated and sorely underappreciated sci-fi horror films of all time that deserves far more attention and respect than many of its more conventional genre contemporaries.
Unlike the 1978 movie and, in particular, its sequel which followed the standard slasher tropes of the time, HALLOWEEN III instead tells the very strange but unique and entertaining story of a small town doctor (Tom Atkins) who tries to uncover the dark secrets of a mysterious mask manufacturer and its charming but elusive owner (Dan ‘O Herlihy) - secrets which may end up causing the deaths of millions of young Americans on Halloween night.
From a purely technical standpoint, SEASON OF THE WITCH is a very impressive movie indeed.
With its suitably seasonal colour palette of orange skies and blue/black shadows as well as its excellent production design which lavishly drenches the screen in Halloween décor and imagery, the film is a visual extravaganza with each new scene providing audiences with instantly iconic sequences and horrifically memorable murders. Underscoring all of this is John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s very effective synth work which ranges from threatening and pulsating electronic drones to the insanely catchy Silver Shamrock television jingle that relentlessly plays on every TV and radio set.
From its eerie opening credits to its unforgettable cliff-hanger ending, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH looks and sounds terrific. But it is really the performances that make it so relentlessly watchable. Genre legend Tom Atkins (and his magnificent moustache) is great as always here as the aforementioned doctor while Stacey Nelkin is also really good as the daughter of one of those unlucky few who discovers a bit too much about the shady goings on over at Silver Shamrock Novelties and ends up paying the ultimate gruesome price. The rest of the supporting cast which includes Ralph Strait, Garn Stephens, Michael Currie, Carpenter regular Nancy Kyess and renowned stuntman and former Michael Myers Dick Warlock also all fit in well with director Wallace’s stylised and nightmarish world and as an ensemble, it’s one of my personal favourite casts of any 80’s horror movie.
However, it is Irish screen stalwart Dan ‘O Herlihy who really steals the show here, starring as the quietly maniacal toy impresario and Samhain fan Conal Cochran who easily stands out as one of the best unsung villains in horror history. Impeccably well spoken and immaculately dressed, Cochran is outwardly a very smart and highly personable character but as the film progresses, we discover more and more about his wicked intent and it is here that ‘O Herlihy really leaves his legacy on the genre. Without ever raising his voice, the great ‘O Herlihy manages to switch from charming and suave businessman to understated psychopath with the slight raise of an eyebrow or a small, almost imperceptible smirk. It’s a terrific performance and ‘O Herlihy’s work here stands out as a highlight in a movie full of extravagant, spectacular and downright horrifying highlights.
To say more would really spoil the fun and with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of a pitiful 39%, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH deserves all of the watches and reappraisal it can get. It’s nice to see that as every October comes around that more and more people begin to recognise the unsung value of the movie but among HALLOWEEN fans, it is still regarded the black sheep of the franchise. This is a shame because when compared to the later movies, SEASON OF THE WITCH is a refreshingly different beast that has far more to offer than the increasingly tedious and ridiculous Myers-centric slashers that followed in its disappointing wake. With some of the most memorably hideous death scenes in 80’s horror, a terrific soundtrack, lots of wonderful Autumn scenery and one of the best antagonists in the genres history, HALLOWEEN III is an unforgettably weird experience that should be watched by all skeletons, pumpkins and witches as the end of the month of approaches. The clock is ticking, it’s almost time....