Halloween 3

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which famously abandoned Michael Myers, is actually the best of the many Halloween sequels.)

The Halloween franchise has given birth to an entire candy bowl full of sequels, yet none are as reviled as Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Even the abysmal Halloween: Resurrection, which features Busta Rhymes drop-kicking Michael Myers, seems to garner more respect than Season of the Witch. It’s the black sheep of the family. The odd film out. The one that even the film’s producer Irwin Yablans thinks of as a huge mistake.

Yet beneath all the ire lies a wonderful, weird horror movie that should’ve been the start of bigger and better things for the franchise. Instead, the film disappointed so much that it would be another six years before another Halloween film graced movie screens, in the shape of a film that returned the franchise to its normal roots and take it down a path toward mediocrity.

Major spoilers are found throughout this article.

Halloween 3 masks

The Night No One Comes Home

It’s almost time, kids. Halloween is right around the corner, and with it comes the inspiration to watch and rewatch horror movies in the spirit of the season. At the forefront of them all is John Carpenter’s immortal classic Halloween, a film that seems to personify the holiday in all its dreadful glory. Yet there’s a Halloween sequel that actually does an even better job of encapsulating that most horrific of holidays. A film that takes the very essence of All Hallow’s Eve and boils it down into a tale of terror that thrills and delights in equal measure.

And most people hate it.

Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween was lean and mean. A slasher movie ahead of its time, back before general audiences even knew what a slasher movie was. A suburban Halloween is turned upside down when the silent, nearly inhuman murderer Michael Myers returns to his hometown and begins killing off innocent young teens, one by one. With his white, featureless mask and his cold, unrelenting determination to kill, Michael Myers made the boogeyman into something real. No longer resigned to the stuff of nightmares and children’s closets, he was now out in the real world, and seemingly nothing would stop him.

The first Halloween ends on a terrifying note: after being shot multiple times, Michael vanishes, but we still hear his heavy breathing behind his mask. That breathing is everywhere, signaling that Michael Myers could be anywhere – anywhere at all. Watching, and waiting. The surprise success of the film inspired a sequel, Halloween II. John Carpenter and Debra Hill, the writers of the film film, penned the script, which is set only minutes after the previous film ends. Already, Carpenter was showing signs of fatigue regarding his hit creation. He declined to direct Halloween II. The filmmaker didn’t even want a sequel to begin with, but the promise of more money swayed him.

When it came time to make the inevitable Halloween III, Carpenter and Hill hit upon what they thought was a brilliant idea. They would move away from the established timeline of the franchise and tell a completely different story set at Halloween. No more Michael Myers, no more teens being stalked in the shadows. Instead, they would plan to release a new film every year on Halloween that would tell a completely different story in the spirit of the season. It would be like a TV anthology on the big screen. Creatively speaking, this is a brilliant idea. Here was the chance to do something with a horror franchise that no other series was even attempting at the time. Many years later, Ryan Murphy would be applauded for doing something similar with his American Horror Story series. At the time of Halloween III, however, audiences were apparently just not ready.

But Carpenter and company didn’t know that yet. They were all convinced of the genius of their idea, and set about making it a reality. Nigel Kneale, a British science fiction author, was hired to pen the script. Carpenter was a fan of Kneale’s Quatermass series, based around a BBC Television character who explores the supernatural. The script Kneale turned in was more psychological than horrific. “The main story had to do with deception, psychological shocks rather than physical ones,” the writer said. After Kneale turned his script in, Carpenter set about polishing it up. In the meantime, Tommy Lee Wallace, the art director for the original Halloween, was hired to direct the film. Wallace had been offered the director’s chair for Halloween II as well, but had turned it down due to lack of interest. It was the concept of doing something completely new with the franchise, and avoiding Michael Myers altogether, that hooked him for Halloween III.

Years later, Wallace would acknowledge the biggest problem with Halloween III was a failure to clue audiences in on just what the hell was going on. A clever marketing campaign could have potentially saved the film, as far as box office returns go. But there wasn’t even the tiniest bit of effort to warn fans of the franchise about what they were in store for. As a result of this, people came away perplexed. Just what was going on here? Where was Michael Myers?

Like the other Halloween films, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is set on the days leading up to the holiday. Yet while the other entries in the series tell a story of a stalker with a knife, Season of the Witch has more in common with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There’s an air of science fiction to the proceedings, albeit one tinged with sudden bursts of horrific violence.

Halloween III

The Hills Ran Red

Season of the Witch opens with a man desperately trying to evade a group of silent pursuers. Clutching a bright orange Halloween jack-o-lantern mask, the man ends up in the hospital, croaking out a dire warning: “They’re going to kill us all.” It’s not long after the man ends up in the ICU that he’s brutally murdered by a man who proceeds to set himself on fire in his car to avoid capture.

These mysterious goings on draw the attention of Dr. Daniel Challis, played by horror genre staple Tom Atkins. As played by Atkins, Dr. Challis is a beer-swilling ladies man, not averse to blowing off his ex-wife and kids to grab a six pack and hightail it out of town. He forgets things easily, and buys his children cheap plastic Halloween masks, much to their chagrin. They’d rather have the ultra-cool Silver Shamrock masks that keep popping up on a series of incessant commercials. There are three masks: a green-faced witch, a cracked and grinning skull, and a day-glow jack-o-lantern – the same mask the now-dead man was clutching when he was brought into the hospital.  

Atkins’ character, likable yet not adverse to some casual sexual harassment with the nurses he works with, is an unlikely hero, and his presence here is a true indication on how different the franchise wanted to be. The protagonists of the previous Halloween films were hapless teens. Atkins’ Dr. Challis is a much older man; an adult drawn into a bizarre nightmare. Challis teams up with Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), daughter of the murdered man, and the two begin an X-Files-like investigation into just what happened to Ellie’s father.

Continue Reading Halloween 3 is the Best Halloween Sequel >>

Pages: 1 2Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: