It doesn’t have Mike Myers. It doesn’t have Sam Loomis. It wasn’t directed by John Carpenter. And Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is the best in the series. Now hold on, before you knock down my door with pitchforks and torches, hear me out! The Halloween franchise started with Carpenter, Debra Hill, and the tale of “The Shape”. When it came time to film Halloween 3, Carpenter and Hill weren’t interested unless it didn’t involve Michael Myers. For many horror fans that was like signing the movie’s death warrant before it even got released. But I fell in love with this strange little movie the first time I saw it, and now I’m going to sway you, too!
Here’s the basic rundown: A doctor’s patient is murdered in his hospital bed, then the murderer light himself on fire. The Doctor, confused, and the patient’s daughter, heartbroken, team up to find out why this tragedy happened. As Halloween ticks ever closer, they find themselves embroiled in a plot for world domination by an Irish millionaire with a Halloween mask company. Sound weird? It is! This movie, which some may shrug off as ridiculous, actually kind of revels in its weirdness. It’s a simple story with a lot of strange plot hooks and twists… not your run of the mill.
Season gets ragged on for being a “cheesy” horror movie, but the production quality is actually pretty high. Director Tommy Lee Wallace used a variety of filming techniques, from wide sweeping shots to claustrophobic close-ups. And each type of shot served its purpose. Halloween 3 opens (after a computer-generated pumpkin smiles at us from the opening credits) with a man running for his life from an unknown threat. The scenes are still and static, and the actor does all the movement. It sets a mood early in the film that illicits feelings of confusion and entrapment. When our heroes make it into the small town of Santa Mira, California, the tone shifts and the movie fills with suspicion, paranoia, and dread. This isn’t just another slasher cash-in, this is a weird movie that’s filmed well.
Tom Atkins is a horror mainstay, the guy’s been bringing barrels-chested machismo to flicks since the late sixties. His most famous role, perhaps, is of the detective in Night of the Creeps, but he really shines as the hunky lead in 3. His no-nonsense, straight-faced earnestness in this movie keeps the plot from getting out of hand, and he’s got a great scream too. His love interest, the bereaving Ellie played by Stacey Nelkin, is a tough and inquisitive partner. The two make a glimmering duo in this movie. But no one in the movie keeps up with Dan O’Herlihy, who plays the ruthless villain Conal Cochran with seething delight.
The Special Effects
The gore in Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, doesn’t come often, but when it does it’s grisly. When an annoying customer complains about a malfunctioning Halloween mask she gets a blast of energy right to the face. Her death scene is one of the nastiest in all the Halloween movies. It’s strange, we don’t expect it, and it’s tough to look at. Other moments, including the melting of a child’s head (in a mask, we’re not that evil), are executed with a lot of talent from Don Post Studios. The movie’s not the bloodiest horror flick out there, but when it hits it hits hard.
A Legacy Lost
Finally, I think I love this movie because of everything it could have been. The original plan for the Halloween series was for it to be serial in nature. Scary things happening in each film, with the only through-line being the date: Halloween. But because Halloween was such a success, they hurried up and put out Halloween 2 which meant more Michael Myers. Once the audience got a taste for that pasty terror, there was no going back. Now I love Michael Myers, I think he’s a great, scary, complicated villain. But holy smokes, how awesome would it have been to get a high-quality anthology of horror movies every year?
So before you skip Halloween 3 on your binge this season, remember… it’s well acted, well shot, and weird as hell! What more could a horror fan ask for? You can keep your Michael Myers, tense plotting, and minimal aesthetics. Give me melting heads, screaming men with mustaches, and evil Celtic maniacs!