All film franchises have that one movie that is, for lack of a better word, a bastardization.
A Nightmare on Elm Street had its version with the homoerotic Freddy’s Revenge in which it was Freddy Krueger working through a troubled teenage boy. This strayed from going after being in their dreams. Friday the 13th angered fans with their fifth installment in which Jason Voorhees only appears in nightmares and hallucinations of Tommy Jarvis. The actual killer is a paramedic upset over the murder of his illegitimate son at a camp for troubled youth, he goes on a murdering spree wearing a hockey mask.
Even The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift could’ve easily ended the franchise had Vin Diesel and Universal Pictures not successfully negotiated a deal over the rights to the character Riddick for Diesel’s cameo as Dominic Toretto. Yes, it happens a lot in movies and TV shows were contracts don’t negotiated and they have to recast characters. Anyone remember when The Dukes of Hazzard had their cousins for a series or that Inspector Clouseau movie where Alan Arkin stepped in for Peter Sellers? 22 Jump Street made a joke on this with Seth Rogen appearing in place of Jonah Hill with a meta-reference to the problems.
But Halloween III: Season of the Witch doesn’t have anything to do with the Halloween franchise aside from the title alone. Not one single character from the franchise appears in it. Mainly, it treats the first two Halloween movies as fictional movies that exist in the world in which the movie is set. There is footage from the 1978 version shown on TV screens.
This was a ballsy and daring effort by John Carpenter and Debra Hill to make an anthology franchise out of the Halloween name brand. And though the movie made on a small budget of $2.5 million turned a good modest profit of $14.4 million, it was a far cry from the money made on the first movie. Even the second one made about $26 million. I’m sure some of those ticket holders were angry they were expecting to see Michael Myers’ return from being burnt to a crisp at the end of the second one.
But that didn’t happen. Not in the third one, at least.
You see, the plot of Season of the Witch involves a medical doctor, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) who is looking after a man, Harry Grimbridge, at his hospital who was being pursued by mysterious men in suits. Harry is later killed and Dan, who is struggling with alcohol meets Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) at a bar. They talk about the mysterious events surrounding Harry’s death and go to Santa Mira, California, where the Silver Shamrock factory is located.
You see Silver Shamrock Novelties is the manufacturer of the very popular Halloween masks, one of which, Harry had in his hands when he was admitted to the hospital. Dan’s own kids have them. The masks mainly have three varieties, a Jack-o-Latern, a skull and a witch. And from the look of them, they’re better than those plastic masks with an elastic string on them that were common in the five-and-dimes back in the day.
Dan and Ellie discover there is a microchip in the back of the masks and investigate further, where they meet Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), who is the head of the company. But something just doesn’t seem right behind Cochran’s jovial attitude.
One of the mysterious men immolated himself in a car after killing Harry, but there was no body found, just mechanical parts. And Santa Mira doesn’t seem like the quant town people would expect. This all leads to the popular masks.
Below are spoilers
It turns out that Cochran is a worshipper of the ancient pagan rituals on his native Celtic lands. He is using fragments from a Stonehedge monument to place the seals on the masks which can be triggered by the flashing lights of popular commercials Silver Shamrock broadcasts. These cause the masks to more or less cause fatal brain damage unleashing snakes and insects from the wearer’s head. Cochran tells Dan he’s gotten upset over how Halloween has been commercialized even though its roots are in witchcraft. Cochran is also making android duplicates which explains why the mysterious man had no body.
Season of the Witch was a different tone. It was more of a detective movie as the plot delves into a story on witchcraft and ancient Celtic and pagan rituals. Fans of the first two movies, of course, were upset. They were expecting a slasher, but the producers didn’t want that. They had done it twice already.
The idea was to have each Halloween movie focus on a different horror subgenre. This is the same thing American Horror Story has been doing for the past 10 years. And the Friday the 13th series was able to focus on superstitions. But in 1982, it was hard to get the word out. Remember there was no Internet buzz to get people interested. Unless people watched Entertainment Tonight to get the lowdown, pop culture was a different time. I got mad when I saw The Muppets Take Manhattan because they hinted in the commercials it would be in 3-D. Or at least I thought that at only 6. Just a few years earlier, people tuned into The Star Wars Holiday Special expecting a sequel but got a strange variety show.
Now, I think it would work better. There would be Halloween movies focusing on vampires, werewolves, cults, haunted houses, and even zombies. AHS has shown how it can be successful. Unfortunately, the first one to do something is always criticized for straying from the norm.
I also think giving the era, it makes some social commentary about the dangers of commercialism, consumerism and pop culture. Dan tries to buy his kids those cheap masks I mentioned above but everyone has to have the better masks. At the end when Dan is screaming in the phone at a gas station for the news stations to stop broadcasting the commercials, kids at the station keep changing the channels to see the commercials. They were telling us even in 1982 America is being too consumed by pop culture. Carpenter would later focus on these same ideas in They Live.
Fans of the Halloween movies are divided over this movie. Some love it. Others hate it and don’t talk about it like the one relative in the family. I think it was a good effort by Tommy Lee Wallace, who had worked on the first movie. If the movie had been more successful, I’m sure the franchise would’ve gone in a different direction.
Unfortunately, six years pasted before Halloween 4 brought Michael Myers back. And I must say it’s one of the better installments. Horror movies in the 1980s soon became a harder sell to audience no thanks to film critics trashing them and parental groups advocating movie theaters and studios to pull them.
But Halloween III still has its legion of fans. The greatest thing about movies are they are eternal and there’s always new fans discovering them each day. With the Internet, the fandom is spreading.
What do you think about Halloween III? Please comment.