I think it’s fair to say that the Halloween sequels are like doner kebabs – even when they’re good they’re still pretty bad. You can cover them in as much chilli sauce or Jamie Lew Curtis cameos as you like but ultimately they’re still only worth having a go at when you’re right royally pissed up.
Upon its release Halloween III: Season of the Witch was considered the worst of the lot. This is mainly because it has nothing to do with Michael Myers or Donald Pleasance or killing teens with a kitchen knife and leaving their corpse spread out on your bed with a stolen headstone as a bedstead. Audiences felt short changed – this wasn’t what they paid their hard earned money to see: some gubbons about killer Halloween masks. They wanted The Shape in a boiler suit dealing out death wearing William Shatner’s face. This was not to be though. Whilst the Friday the 13th franchise was doubling down with more and more of the same, the great John Carpenter had had enough. He was not going to be doing the same old sequel. It was bad enough that he’d had to write and produce Halloween 2 (the night HE went to the hospital for a check up). Now Carpenter had free reign to persuade his original idea for Halloween sequels: an anthology series with a different horror story set at Halloween in each film.
Season of the Witch was the first of the anthology films, it was also the last.
You can see why it annoyed people so much. It is such a U-Turn from Halloween. Its a weird mix of witchcraft, Videodrome and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. An ordinary man, escaping suited strange figures, is carried into a hospital clutching a Jack-o-Lantern children’s mask and claiming “they’re going to kill us all”. He’s soon bumped off by having his eyes pushed into his skull and its left to his tending physician (Tom Atkins) to unravel the mystery of who killed him. Meanwhile the nation’s children are in the grip of toy fever over the “Silver Shamrock” Halloween masks – the same as the mask the dead man was holding…
Atkins is assisted by the deceased’s daughter, Stacey Nelkin. She is firstly, trying to find out who killed her father and secondly, waaaaaaay too young for Atkins. Nelkin may have been in her early twenties when she filmed this but she looks a hell of a lot younger than that. Add in the fact that poor old Atkins always looked about ten years older than he ever was (although here he was 47) and the whole coupling starts to feel more than a little uncomfortable. And they couple a lot. They do it twice before Atkins even asks her how old she is (risky attitude there Tom) and when someone in the next room gets zapped in the face by a laser, Nelkin worries “What was that?!?” “Who cares!” says Tom as he goes down on her breasts once more.
Anyway, I recounted the entire plot to the always delightful, and soon to be my wife, May. She proclaimed “wait! What! That’s the actual plot of a film! Nonsense! That sounds dreadful!” May has a point, it IS kind of ludicrous. However, on the other hand how can a film involving slimy suited robots, children’s heads melting into a mountain of insects, stones stolen from stone henge and a villainous Irish magician ever really be that bad? Okay, yes. Maybe quite easily, but the way Season of the Witch is made it feels like a lost John Carpenter movie, mainly because that’s what it is.
Tommy Lee Wallace would go onto direct a number of interesting projects (including Fright Night Part 2 and Stephen King’s It) but, whether by choice or not, here he is purely channelling Carpenter’s directional style. He does it through framing with sinister characters just being out of shot and then stepping into view, or being revealed with a slow pan. He has some great use of steady cam, especially early on when Atkins is chasing the suited killer out of the hospital, the villain always just at the edge of Atkin’s (and our) view. Wallace also uses dark very effectively with mysterious shapes running through the night. Add into all this a great synth score by John himself (along with Alan Howarth) and this feels like vintage Carpenter.
I mean, it’s NOT vintage Carpenter. May was right, the story is nonsense, but it has the mood and feel of the master. Plus the mystery, whilst it’s being solved, is weirdly compelling. And there is something disturbingly hypnotic about the Silver Shamrock masks and that repetitive advert that plays throughout the film: promising fun and prizes for all the children but really only giving death and sacrifice in the name of something old and horrible.
If you thought Halloween III: Season of the Witch was also old and horrible then maybe it’s worth giving it another shot. It’s certainly better that Halloween: Resurrection which is set on a reality TV show. Now that really is dreadful, like as a doner kebab from “Chick Pizz”* in Stoke Newington on a Saturday night.
*They do Chicken AND Pizzas (and Doner Kebabs) and are the worst in London. I’m not being cruel, its been scientifically proven.