Halloween Retrospective: Halloween 3 - Season of The Witch

halloween3_buddyTVThroughout the month of October, Rob will be taking a trip down memory lane, examining the Halloween series as the films exist in chronological order.

Let's talk about Halloween 3. Let's talk about the concept of taking the Halloween franchise and turning it into an anthology series. Under the direction of Tommy Lee Wallace (who also provides the throaty "announcer" voice), Moustapha Akkad, working with Carpenter and Hill, envisioned the series going off into a variety of directions. Carpenter, being a fan of British horror/science fiction writer Nigel Kneale, helped craft a narrative that would take witchcraft and juxtapose it against the background of then-modern technology.

While the teaser trailer does nothing to indicate that this film has nothing to do with Michael Myers, all subsequent trailers do. I don't particularly get the hatred that's often heaped upon this film. It's completely unwarranted. As a piece of sci-fi/horror, Halloween 3 is near-perfect.

Tying the disappearance of Stonehenge rocks to an evil mask-maker's plans to usher in a mythological, hellish new era of witchcraft and mayhem is a brilliant note. Stonehenge is mythological and creepy enough, tie it to ancient religious beliefs and mythology and throw in some shady technological processes and you've got the recipe for a nightmare that's almost as powerful as the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a clear influence on the narrative).

Tom Atkins plays the tomcatting Dr. Challis. After a terrified and nearly-comatose patient is brought into the hospital where he works and is subsequently murdered by an eerie well-dressed man, Challis begins investigating the ties between the Silver Shamrock mask company and the patient's ravings that "they're gonna' kill us all!" Its a relatively classic setup, but when put in context of such a brutally dark story, it takes on new life. It helps that the suited assassin then detonates itself in its own car. Crazy stuff, for sure. Atkins is an underrated performer. Popping up in genre classics like Night of the Creeps and The Fog (directed by Carpenter), the dude plays the cool, level-headed hero expertly. While not as handsome as a traditional leading man, Atkins consistently displays an awesome swagger whenever he walks into a room.

Robocop's Dan O'Herlihy plays Cochran, the maniacal villain of the piece. Taking pride in his plan to play the "ultimate trick" on the children of the world on Halloween night, Cochran is a total monster, classically-inspired by the Universal and Hammer-type villains that came before. Using Halloween masks to turn the children of the world into explosions of bugs and snakes is pretty vicious.

Ellie, the daughter of the murdered patient, teams up with Challis to solve the mystery of her father's murder. It doesn't take much convincing, Challis is my kind of guy. He grabs a six pack and rushes off into the unknown with a little hottie he just met. I absolutely love the guy.

One of the aspects of Season of the Witch that's always confused me is, at what point does Ellie become an automaton? It stands to reason that she's one from the get-go, but at the same time, why lead an awesome, capable hero like Challis to the factory and potentially throw a wrench in the plans? There are little comments early on, about Ellie's insatiable sex drive that indicates that she's a robot, but tiny touches here and there add to the mystery. What's fascinating is that Stacey Nelkin, who plays Ellie, was supposed to be the sixth replicant in Blade Runner, but was apparently cut for budgetary reasons. Playing androids might be her forte. Nelkin is sexy and driven in Season of the Witch, but isn't given enough to work with. This is an old-school sci-fi/horror flick, with male leads firmly in control.

As a kid, I remember loving the masks used in the flick. Seeing the "process" of the masks being made was cool, too, as inaccurate as it might be (I have no knowledge of mask-making, so it might be 100 percent accurate). The tour of the Silver Shamrock factory is a treat, like a demented version of Willy Wonka's tour of the chocolate factory, if there is something more demented than that.

Perhaps the most memorable sequence in the entire film is when the Kupfer family, part of the tour, are forced to watch the legendary Silver Shamrock commercial. Serving as a kind of dry-run for the havoc of Halloween night, the Kupfer family is destroyed in gruesome fashion, with the son's head rotting and erupting into all matter of creepy crawly beasts. Perhaps a commentary on television consumption, with people's brains turning to mush, Season of the Witch isn't exactly subtle in its displays of horror. There's no masked madman lurking in the shadows, no lurking presence of neighborhood evil. Just a plan to ruin the world through witchcraft and technology. And it works.

Interestingly, it's that kind of memorable violence that kept Kneale's name off the feature. Upon seeing just how brutal the final product was, he sued to have his name removed. Interesting, considering he clearly wrote the film and knew just how nasty it could be. Nevertheless, Wallace received the screen credit.

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch might be the first example of a modern film mise en scene. By highlighting the fact that the Myers Halloween films exist within Season of the Witch's narrative, we're given a kind of meta look at the series as a whole. It could be the filmmaker's intent to pull us out of the existing timeline, however; there's really no need to do so. It could be hubris of Carpenter or Akkad, referring to the original Halloween as an "immortal classic," during an in-film commercial. Scream would later employ a similar tactic, making light of the notion of horror films existing as a kind of bible for individuals to use to survive a horror film.

I will admit, that, even though I absolutely adore Season of the Witch, the re-appearance of Stonehenge about an hour after its mention is somewhat jarring. Cochran jokingly refers to the difficult time they had getting it to the factory, not offering up any kind of explanation. Stonehenge is a place that remains shrouded in mystery, which naturally lends itself to a sci-fi/horror film, with its Druid and ritualistic history. Tying the history of Halloween and is Celtic origins of the veil between the living and the dead really hammers home Cochran's plan for ritualistic sacrifice.

I think Season of the Witch is important to the history of the Halloween series in that without it, fans never would have gotten Halloween 4, which is a high mark of the series. I think it's fair to judge Season of the Witch on its own strong merits. A good, hard sci-fi/horror flick is hard to come by and Halloween 3 is one of the best. 

Nov
02
2013
Robert Ottone • Staff Writer

A natural bon vivant in love with cigars, finery and luxurious booze, SelfieRob aims to make light of the world around him while living the party boy lifestyle. From the Hamptons to NYC and beyond, SelfieRob lives life to the fullest.

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