It surprised me to learn that fans of the Halloween series of films harshly judge Halloween 3: Season of the Witch as the runt of the litter. Yes, the film isn’t centred around Michael Myers but is it really worthy of the scorn poured on it by fans of the rest of the franchise?
I first saw it on video in 1984 when I was the tender age of 9. It was released in the midst of the whole Video Nasties furore and so was cautiously trimmed of any ‘excessive’ gore by Thorn EMI. The same company had garnered plenty of negative criticism as they had distributed the film The Burning on video. I saw this censored version of H3 but had no idea it was cut. The film was then shown on BBC1 who accidentally showed the full version. The full version blew my mind. I was so glad that I recorded the film on VHS on this occasion as the film was subsequently shown in its censored state after this.
There are many reasons to take this film to your bosom and love it unconditionally.
Firstly, the cinematography is by Dean Cundey who amongst other things also shot the original Halloween. His camera work in this film ranks as some of his best. Panoramic landscapes, the eeriness of small-town America and an incredibly brutal scene in a forensic laboratory that could have been from Halloween 2 are all shot beautifully.
The film’s soundtrack is by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth- if this is not enough to excite the most ardent horror fan then I don’t know what is. This soundtrack is one of the greatest film scores written by them and is in my humble opinion one of the greatest film soundtracks of all time. Synthesizers are used to chilling effect to convey a sense of constant doom that permeates the film and proceedings depicted therein. This score is essential. A few years ago it was released expanded and remastered- this is the definitive version. The jingle for the commercial used in the film will burrow its way into your brain and never leave.
The film’s cast are impressive also. The film’s villain is played by none other than Dan O’Herlihy a well-respected award-winning actor who had been nominated for an Academy Award years before. He was also in cult favourite Robocop.
The film’s leading man is Tom Atkins aka ‘The Man’. He is perfect for the role of the alcoholic tomcat Dr Dan Challis. He will be known to all fans of Carpenter’s work as he was in The Fog and Escape From New York. He makes for a flawed but likeable and convincing leading man.
The screenplay for the film is a thing of bizarre beauty- an evil Irish toymaker wishes to kill every child in America by using microchips containing particles of one of the stones from Stonehenge attached to each Halloween mask his factory makes. A special commercial shown on Halloween night will activate the deadly microchip on each mask and melt the wearer’s brains into a mass of spiders, snakes and creepy crawlies. OK, so this is also very far fetched but you just have to suspend disbelief and enjoy the film. I’m so glad I first saw the film when I was 9 rather than seeing it when I was a more cynical older age. Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame helped write the first draft of the script but then asked for his name to be taken off it after the filmmakers decided to develop the film in ways he didn’t approve of. Apparently, the final draft of the script is still mostly Kneale’s handiwork.
The film takes place in the fictional small town of Santa Mira. This is a reference to the movie Invasion of the Bodysnatchers which takes place in a small town with the same name.
Tommy Lee Wallace directs with the ease of an experienced filmmaker. Instead of making just another horror film to compete with the other horror movies being released that year, he delivers a film that is gorgeous to look at whilst being atmospheric and best of all, scary as hell.
The film also makes some brilliant observations about consumerism (When Challis presents his kids with cheap Halloween masks he’s bought they look disappointed and explain that their mother has bought them the more expensive Silver Shamrock ones) and the insularity and creepiness of small-town America (check out the scene in which Challis and Ellie drive into Santa Mira for the first time).
All of these ingredients helped Halloween 3 to be more than another formulaic horror sequel. Something was created that was innovative, unique and scary as hell. Halloween fans hated the film as Michael Myers wasn’t in the film (even though he was briefly ho ho ho) and dismissed the film before it had even been released. I bet a lot of the most vocal detractors of the film haven’t even seen it. If the film had just been released under the name of Season of the Witch it would have fared better with horror fans- but ironically may have fared much worse at the box office as it didn’t have the Halloween moniker. A Catch 22 situation.
Whilst the film has its detractors it also has its fans. They seem to love the film even more because of its reputation and because it’s far from being the cinematic trainwreck that some people will have you believe.
I agree with these fans and am smug in the knowledge that we know that Halloween 3 is great. In fact, I think it’s one of the best horror films of the 80s. The franchise fans who detest H3 are the ones who like the sequels that featured Michael after this- even the one that stars Busta Rhymes. If this isn’t the biggest backhanded compliment for H3 fans then I don’t know what is.