Tommy Lee Wallace’s Michael Myers-less threequel riled up fans of the Halloween franchise when the film opened in 1982 to a complete commercial dud. Three decades later, reappraisals give it significantly greater value as a capricious entry—albeit a squandered one.
The Butterfly Effect is captured in vivid detail in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, its ripples frozen in the form of a handful of dismal schlockers that, however ridiculous the means, make an effort to showcase Michael Myers. You can’t turn away from statistics, of course. The threequel, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, is one with no masked murderer in it, at least not the literal kind. The move, bold as it may, led to thwarting box office numbers, a metric which bolstered Universal’s hypothesis: Michael Myers is the franchise’s money.
It isn’t that the film is terrible; those who first saw it in the 80’s were, however, convinced that this was the case. I, for one, think that the film, as is the case in most projects that involve John Carpenter (the director of the original Halloween here serves as producer, film scorer, and co-screenwriter), is ahead of its time. It is, in a gist, a crossroads of sorts of fears of the unknown—those that loom around us, and those that are inevitable. In it, the “monster” hides behind the mask of commerce, wielding its strongest concealment with a stupidly catchy jingle that entices children to wear Halloween masks. Carpenter would of course make a more refined film that echoes a similarly cynic view on consumerism and mass media in his magnum opus They Live, but Lee Wallace’s film, on its own, carries a powerful social weight, and may be seen as a precursor to Carpenter’s distinctly subversive pulp thrillers,
Therefore, I submit: had Season of the Witch been received well, as it rightly should have, we would have had a film anthology in our hands. More importantly, mankind would not have had to endure the torture that is H20: Halloween.
An Irish tycoon named Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) plots to rid the earth of American youngsters on All Hallow’s Eve. The means by which Cochran plans to achieve this is ridiculous, yet intriguing: harnessing the power of an ancient hedge stone possessing of dark magic and of a redhead android militia programmed to assail anything that comes in his wicked ways. Instrumental, even more, is a brisk television spot twittering directly to children, inviting them to give in to the convenience and social stature a pre-made, mass-produced Halloween mask provides. The masks even come in three variations, to veil the scheme a false sense of individuality, of choice—a facade which, lacking as it may of hypersexuality and Jane Fonda-like body standards, makes Season of the Witch a most fitting horror film to have come out amid the so-called Reagan revolution.
At the center is Dr. Daniel Challis (played by Tom Atkins), whose failures as a father rids him of the means through which Cochran affects his victims. He’s the sort of father that really tries, but fails, the sort that buys his children cheap knock-offs instead of the in-trend masks of the present—a failure that Wallace lays great stress on towards the film’s joyless denouement. The question then becomes this: is facing an inextinguishable evil (like Myers, from the first two films) worse than successfully killing one whose devilry carries on?
The question then becomes this: is facing an inextinguishable evil (like Myers, from the first two films) worse than successfully killing one whose devilry carries on?
In all form, style, and intent, Season of the Witch toils to draw a crisp-clear distinction from the 1978 original. To succeed what would become the quintessential slasher horror with a film that features centuries-old witchcraft, violent assassin-droids, and egoistic, mass murderous multimillionaire is, as far as logic is concerned, crazy. Hypersexual tweeners are nowhere to be found, and therefore are not “rightly” punished, but there’s Tom Atkins slowly seeing through the facade that is commerce and mass media. Regardless of whatever this meant, however, fans of the budding franchise were quick to turn their backs. In short, if someone from the marketing team time-travelled to the 21st century, where the fans delude of having even greater claim than actual paying executives on the film, maybe Season of the Witch would not have sold Michael Myers too much in the promos, thus mitigating the fandom backlash.
The tl;dr is: with the early fallout of Season of the Witch, the idea of a Halloween-centered film anthology series came down with it. It’s lost somewhere in the fringes of the genre’s periphery, an elusive ghoul that many tries to capture. Films such as Trick ‘r Treat find modest success, a The Twilight Zone-esque collection of featurettes that happen in the space of one feature film. Ryan Murphy’s ridiculously wild and wildly ridiculous horror series “American Horror Story” tells copious stories that happen around All Hallow’s Eve. Take a second, however, and think of what we have potentially lost: a whole slew of bleak, sublime horror stories that unfold in bad-for-you synth scores. A great loss, let me tell you.
The film is just brewing itself a cult following more than thirty years into its initial release—perhaps one of the few positive impacts of the genre in the post-Scream era. The hero, towards the end of the film, cushions on what ostensibly feels a victory, but mere moments later, faces a dismal failure. A better ending would, by some force of nature, make the remaining androids malfunction, murder humankind, take over the world. In this iteration, at least, Challis failed outright and thus is exempt from enduring the death of America’s children in the most American way imaginable.