Every horror fan has their own little Halloween rituals, especially when it comes to movies. For me, every year without fail, much to the lament of my family and friends I have to dig up this little diamond in the rough Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). The film, which is reported as the lowest profiting entry into the franchise, a film slammed by Michael Myers die-hards because he’s not in it and one that holds a pitiful score of 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, is my go-to Halloween feel good favourite- and has been for years and years. I say this without even a slither of shame. So what better way to celebrate the spookiest day of the year while tying into our Witchy Wonder and Demonic Delight Season than by visiting one the most, in my opinion, underrated seasonal flicks of the genre- complete with mad Irish pagans, killer robots, and a slick Tom Atkins on top form. The film delivers its seasonal slab of horror all while giving corporate middle America a sly satirical kick to the ghoulies, what more can you ask for?
Silver Shamrock are producing the must have Halloween masks of the season; all the kids want a shiny new witch, ghoul or pumpkin mask made by the Santa Mira based company. The constant Halloween countdown company adverts- complete with infectious theme song- are there to cajole the youngsters into pestering their parents to cough up. It’s all part of the fun and with a Silver Shamrock Television event unravelling on October 31st, this year’s Halloween is proving to be extremely exciting.
But, as they say, it’s all good fun until someone gets hurt, and it appears this is one toy company that does not have child safety at the heart of its company profile. Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is one of the first to discover there is something slightly sinister about the product. After joining forces with Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin)- whose father has just become a Silver Shamrock causality- the two head off to Santa Mira to try and unravel the mystery. What they find there is so shocking and horrific their only option is to warn people. But with Silver Shamrock boss, the evil Corey Cochran, on to our two hapless heroes and a story so wild that it’s unlikely no one will believe them, the duo find themselves in between a (magical) rock and a hard place with time running out.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace directed this little number after turning down the opportunity to direct the second instalment. Wallace makes the best of what he has to summon a strange atmosphere and sense of dread from a background that is reasonably mundane and lacking in character- as is the deliberate setting for the piece. This does not feel a directorial debut in the least, the film demonstrating strong production values when you consider its associated budget. Wallace makes the most of the keen eye that he honed from working in the Art Department for director John Carpenter on the original Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980).
Heading up the cast is Tom Atkins, as Dr. Challis, boasting a magnificent moustache, and his usual skill of being able to sway the ladies into his bed within five minutes of meeting them- or his car in the case of The Fog (1980). Atkins is one of those actors who could only really boom during the eighties- with his thick head of head and rugged manly man’s looks. Stacey Nelkin does a decent job as female co-star, she has that doe-eyed look about her that gives her a vulnerable on-screen persona- although she has a bit of balls about her too, and a fantastic perm (another wonder of the time and place). While Halloween and Carpenter film veteran Nancy Kyes steps in as the irate ex-wife Linda to break the suave Dr. Challis’ balls for letting his kids down- we get the idea he does a lot of this and could possibly be a bit of a sleazeball on the side. While Dan O’Herlihy puts on his best evil leprechaun voice to portray a villain of pantomime proportions in Corey Cochran.
One of the biggest complaints from the franchise fans about this instalment is the lack of Michael Myers, thus missing the point that there never was supposed to be one. In fact John Carpenter and Debra Hill were quite vocal about the fact that their involvement was because there was no Myers, and the film was attempting to set another scene. If you can get past that and see this as just another cheesy Halloween based horror film from the early eighties, it does offer up a lot of fun. We have some interesting effects on offer too, and while not particularly graphic, there are some gooey, gross out things to behold. While the use of killer robots and science-fiction type elements mix up the formula for the well-trodden slash and hack approach. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score provides the perfect grim eighties futuristic soundscape, seeping dread into every frame. While the repetitive electronic base notes imply a sense of urgency that continues to increase as the plot ticks along. Finally, how can anyone forget, the main Silver Shamrock ‘… days to Halloween’ theme, that will guarantee to burrow into your mind and infect even your dreams with its contagious energy.
This is normally the part where I will wade in with some pros and cons and try and summarise why or indeed why not you should/shouldn’t watch a film. In this case well as biased as I am, I am going to say that every self-respecting horror fan should put this film on their viewing list this Halloween. Yes, sure there are moments were Wallace and his crew could have done better, but so what? We know it’s cheesy, and camp- but because it’s under the ‘Halloween’ moniker, does that mean it doesn’t get to demonstrate a bit of eighties hokum style? Personally I think that is what makes the film, because the festival of Halloween, as celebrated as a commercial holiday, is campy and excessive and silly, and Halloween III revels in that spirit (while also poking at institutions such as the power of corporations and television). So what if there is no Myers? Because it’s a film about Halloween should it have a man ambling around in the William Shatner mask spying on people and occasionally stabbing them? With no disrespect to Carpenter and his original team- who did produce something that was ground breaking at the time with the first film- I think once we got past part two and saw that the mysterious Ben Tramer actually was a person, it was only natural to try and take things in another direction. I, for one, am quite sad that that line of thinking didn’t take off. Halloween is the perfect seasonal setting for a horror film, but there aren’t that many genre pieces that actually take place at this time of year surprisingly (mainly because the ones that do are Stateside made, given that in Europe and until recently the UK Halloween is largely ignored). A whole franchise of, different, Halloween based horror films, now that really could have been a thing! As it is we still have Halloween III for all its wonderful absurdity, it’s ridiculous over acting on the behalf of the main bad guy and kids having their heads melted off with masks stuffed full of creepy crawlies- that ladies and gentlemen is my idea of perfect Halloween viewing.