Many horror fans consider this to be the worst in the Halloween series, mostly based on the argument that Michael Myers was nowhere to be found. However, I think that if this movie had simply been titled Season of the Witch, it would have a fervent following today.
To understand why the movie was made as part of the series, one must understand what John Carpenter (who produced this film) was thinking. A year before this movie was made, Halloween II was released. The movie featured Michael Myers doing his thing, hacking and slashing people to death. However one important thing has been long forgotten since the sequel’s initial release Michael Myers dies in the end. Ol’ Mr. Carpenter was thinking that this would be the end of this particular storyline and that he would produce a new scary movie each October with the Halloween name to rake in the viewers. Thus, he commissioned Nigel Kneale (creator of Professor Bernard Quatermass) to write an original story. Kneale turned in a script but had his name removed from the project when director Tommy Lee Wallace changed his story and boosted the violence.
And for the record, this is far from the worst in the Halloween series. That award is reserved for entries eight and five. Plus I personally feel that this is better than Halloween II.
What does this movie have that makes it so great? For starters, it’s a fairly original story. Not just a departure from the done-to-death Michael Myers saga, but somewhat fresher than most horror movies of the time. Instead of invincible serial killers, we have Conal Cochran (played flawlessly by Daniel O’Herlihy), an old man who is mass-producing exceedingly popular Halloween masks. But when a badly traumatized man turns up at the hospital holding one of these masks and is subsequently murdered, Doctor Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) becomes suspicious. Teaming up with the dead man’s cute daughter, Doc decides to cruise out to the mask factory to see what’s going on.
Now we begin the spoilers, sadly necessary to describe what’s so awesome and original about the story. Through his investigation, Challis discovers that Cochran is an evil druid warlock, who is planning to use the magic stored inside one of the Stonehenge rocks to kill the trick-or-treaters. By use of a radio signal broadcast through a television commercial on Halloween night, all of the masks will begin to produce hordes of poisonous insects and snakes to kill the unfortunate mask wearers and anyone in their immediate vicinity.
Now is that cool or what? I sure as hell couldn’t come up with a story like that. Yeah, it’s far-fetched as all get-out, but so are most of the Halloween movies. You really think Michael Myers could survive all the crazy crap that has happened to him over the course of the series? If you like seeing him come back time after time, you should easily be able to get past the oddities of Season of the Witch.
What else is good about this overlooked, underrated work of genius from the genre of kiddy mass murder? The acting. It’s no Oscar winner (although O’Herlihy was once nominated), but it’s better than a lot of horror movies out there, and definitely better then the crap they dared to call acting in Halloween: Resurrection. Although he doesn’t have the biggest role, Daniel O’Herlihy’s acting is top-notch as always. He plays both sides of Conal Cochran to perfection, first as the happy, generous and loveable CEO of the toy company, and then as the evil antagonist revealing his bloodthirsty plans. The transformation between the two is flawless. Just like Christopher Lee, O’Herlihy brings his best talent to movies that don’t deserve him.
Another great performance is given by Tom Atkins, one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets. He’s a primarily a small-part actor, only getting leading roles in horror movies like The Fog and Maniac Cop, and getting a fairly prominent part in the first Lethal Weapon. But his acting is always gold, and Season of the Witch is no exception. He plays an everyday person in an unreal situation, and soon realizes that saving the world is up to him. His emotions are real, particularly in the end where he desperately pleads with the television stations to turn the doomsday commercial off.
And that brings me to another particular piece of excellence that this movie brings to the screen: the film ends in the middle of the climax. This is one of John Carpenter’s favorite tricks, leaving the audience guessing at several questions when the credits start to roll. He did it in the original Halloween, The Thing, Prince of Darkness and several other movies, and director Wallace picks up on this slick technique just as successfully. Challis is successful at stopping two of the three stations from broadcasting the commercial that will kill millions, but as he’s on the phone, screaming “turn it off! Stop it!”, the screen goes black and cue credits.
A lot of people hate this trick since it leaves everything open for a sequel and it leaves so many questions unanswered. While I personally never like an obvious opening for sequels, I love the fact that the ending doesn’t fully answer everything. Did Challis manage to save the world, or did the masks melt into bugs, snakes and other creepy crawlies? The fact that there never was a sequel and never will be is icing on the cake in my book. Who needs the questions answered? It ends on a cliffhanger, with the audience on the edge of their seats and their blood pressure through the roof, which makes it all the more fun.
The soundtrack is great too. John Carpenter did the music for this, and as any loyal Carpenter fan knows his movie soundtracks are always great. He writes the music for most of his films, and the soundtrack for Season is as haunting and appropriate as anything else he has done. Spooky synthesizers howling and thumping drive the tension to a peak at the exact right moments.I would like to conclude with touching on the poster art for the film, used on the initial VHS releases. The current DVD release uses approximately half of the art for the film cover, and the second release on VHS used the other half, and neither are nearly as good as the original. It shows several silhouetted children walking over a large hill during a red twilight. Above them is a grotesque face blending into the sky, its hair raising up and forming the film title. Here’s the best picture I could find of the image even though the grotesque face is too dark to see clearly http://www.moviemaze.de/media/poster/2064/1/halloween-3.html It’s creepy as hell, and I don’t know why the current distributors won’t just use it.
So there you have it. Time to quit listening to all of your friends who hate this movie and think for yourself. You have a kick-ass plot followed by a super kick-ass ending, some kick-ass acting, all wrapped together with a kick-ass soundtrack, and the kick-ass artwork is the icing on the cake. Sure, it doesn’t truly compare to Carpenter’s original Halloween, but very few horror movies do. And if you catch yourself watching this and you just can’t come to terms with Michael Myers’ absence, get some duct tape and cover up the Halloween III on the movie box.
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