In Defense of Halloween III: Season of the Witch

As a devout fan of the genre, I’ve often found myself defending some of my choices of horror movies. Despite being a “genre of the people,” horror snobs sometimes sneer down their noses at certain flicks for one reason or another. One such film that gets a lot of flack is Halloween III: Season of the Witch. 

Released in 1982, this unfairly maligned, redheaded stepchild of the franchise is the only entry in the entire Halloween series that does not feature Michael Myers as a main character, let alone as the major antagonist. Beyond a blink-and-you-miss-it Michael Myers cameo with the character appearing on a TV screen in a bar midway through the flick, the only common thread Halloween III retained was the same John Carpenter theme music as the previous two installments. Even the writing and directing team was different on this go-’round.

The closest analogy I can muster regarding Halloween III would be to liken it to Motley Crue’s self-titled 1994 album – the first and only album to feature John Corabi as lead vocalist in place of Vince Neil. Technically, it was a Motley Crue album. However, it sounded nothing like the band’s previous efforts. (Don’t get me started on the current travesty of Motley Crue without Mick Mars on guitar.) Rather than the familiar trappings of amped-up, sexually charged pop-metal, the 1994 album cloaked itself in pseudo-grunge. The element of danger was still there and it was a very good album…  It just wasn’t a Motley Crue album.

The same can be said for Halloween III: Season of the Witch: It was a very good horror movie… It just wasn’t a Halloween movie in the sense that fans of the franchise were expecting.

Masks, Marketing & Mustaches: The Plot of Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Tom Atkins (and his mustache, which should have its own IMDB page) plays Dr. Dan Challis, the hero of Halloween III. Dr. Dan checks all the boxes of a flawed hero: He’s a surgeon, a recovering alcoholic, and a divorced dad on the outs with his ex-wife and kids.

One October night, Dr. Dan sees some seriously weird shit with men in suits dousing themselves in gasoline, only to discover they’re highly sophisticated robots when they’re brought to his hospital. These robots were chasing down a young woman named Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), who eventually becomes Dr. Dan’s slam piece in the film. Ellie’s father, a costume shop owner, went missing after a meeting with the CEO of Silver Shamrock, a hip new company that has the must-have Halloween masks of the season. Together, Tom and Ellie make tracks to the Silver Shamrock production plant and uncover a dastardly plot behind these masks.

That brings us to Halloween III’s villain. In the absence of Michael Myers, we have Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) — a Halloween mask manufacturing tycoon by day and an ancient Celtic sorcerer by night! As the brains behind Silver Shamrock, Cochran (likely aided by a staff of genius Marketing Druids) concocts an advertising campaign to ensnare the hearts and minds of American kids with a series of commercials pimping his line of rubber masks.

These commercials themselves are one of the highlights of Halloween III, replete with a goofy jingle counting down the days to Halloween in a creepy, sing-song voice.

I mean, come on! Who could resist THIS catchy little ditty?!:

Okay. Maybe Tom Atkins and his magnificent mustache could.

The commercials urge kids to wear their masks in front of the tube on Halloween night for Silver Shamrock’s “big giveaway.”

The “big giveaway” that Cochran plans to dole out is “a joke on the children! The best kind of joke of all!”

And by “joke,” Cochran implies the kind of “ha-ha” on the kiddies that’s only funny if you happen to be Casey Anthony.

As Dr. Dan, his awesome mustache, and his slam piece discover, the commercials are the trigger to detonate a chip embedded in the masks’ logo. Death is administered with a horde of insects and poisonous snakes coming out of the mask when the Silver Shamrock chip is activated, turning kids’ head to gelatinous goo and killing them within minutes.

Oh. Did I mention that the chip is actually a piece from Stonehenge that Cochran and his Marketing Druids somehow managed to import from across the pond? Yeah. So, there’s that.

Halloween III’s Race Against Time

While Halloween III: Season of the Witch is certainly a departure from Michael Myers lumbering around the streets of Haddonfield and hacking up horny teens, it ups the stakes by 1.) not confining the chaos to just one small town and 2.) introducing a villain with sinister aims and a seemingly infinite reach.

Sure, an ancient corporate Druid isn’t going to outrun you, but you do have to outrun a ticking clock — and Ol’ Cochran’s mammoth advertising budget, which slotted these commercials into rotation more often than Geico and Progressive ads combined.

In previous Halloween installments, the hero / final girl had to survive long enough for Michael Myers to run out of gas or outwit him on a micro, one-on-one level. In the race to Halloween III“s finish, the film employs a storytelling standard of counting down to a big event — which, in this case, is the time of the big Halloween night giveaway via simulcast.

Our intrepid hero, Dr. Dan must use the powers of his superlative ‘stache to stop the networks from running this commercial and making America’s kids’ heads go softer than a 70-year-old without Cialis. Then again, this was 1982, so Dr. Dan only had to call up about three stations. Good luck with that shit if you had to yank a commercial from  streaming services, cable, TikTok, and YouTube in 2023!

Halloween III: A Campy Commentary on Consumerism

Unlike a lot of ’80s horror films, Halloween III tried to get “deep” by offering a cautionary tale on the perils of consumerism. You have to give the film points for trying to point out the error of their ways to the “Me Generation,” even if it did get muddled in a sea of mustachioed make-out scenes and melting heads.

Halloween III’s villain, Cochran, drums up this elaborate plan because he’s pissed that the holiday has become commercialized, straying from its ancient roots. It’s kind of like Charlie Brown’s rant on the commercialization of Christmas, but in this instance, sweet Chuck is a 3,000-year-old Boomer who’s angry that human sacrifice to ensure a fruitful harvest is no longer “the reason for the season.”

So, basically, kids are punished for being trendy and the masks they are clamoring for actually cause their demise.  While this is Halloween III‘s not-so-subtle riff on the dangers of consumerism, I have to admit that it would be pretty awesome if trendiness for all ages was punishable by death. Think of how few people we’d have embracing low-rise jeans, Trilby hats, or the modern farmhouse aesthetic with shiplap if Silver Shamrock started manufacturing those items!?

We only get a glimmer of Cochran’s backstory, but let’s face it: the Halloween franchise has never been great about giving us coherent backstories or timelines. Thankfully, what Season of the Witch does give us about Cochran’s history is just enough to make him a compelling villain. (Honestly, I’d love to see an ancient creepy Celtic crossover with the mask-making tycoon and Rawhead Rex joining forces in a prequel. Mind you, I hate prequels, but I would welcome this premise.)

Halloween III: A Final Defense

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is actually a much better film than it’s reputation would indicate. Is it campy? You bet your sweet pumpkin, it’s campy! That’s part of the fun! (Right, like the other Halloween movies weren’t campy, either. Donald Pleasance screaming “This is YOUR house, Michael! YOUR HOUSE!” at a psycho in a William Shatner mask ranks right up there on the Camp-o-Meter.)

I’m not alone in my love for this film. Although horror icon and tastemaker, Joe Bob Briggs may not be a fan of the flick and has vowed to keep it far, far away from his The Last Drive-In series, Briggs’ co-host, Darcy the Mail Girl (aka – writer, model, actress, podcaster, and pop culture connoisseur Diana Prince) is a massive fan of Halloween III. Legendary horror writer/director Mick Garris and filmmaker Edgar Wright are also big fans of the flick, too, so, at least I’m in good company!

Yes, you have to suspend a bit of disbelief with Halloween III, which is par for the course with most any horror movie. The film is best enjoyed if you remove all preconceived prejudices that “Ew! Michael Myers isn’t in it! It’s not a Halloween movie!” It may not be a Halloween franchise movie with anything to do with Michael Myers, but it’s still a damn entertaining flick if you give it a chance.

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