Mitchell Brown says Halloween III pays tribute to the franchise while being a beloved standalone cult film.
Sequels are tricky. Those that stick too closely to the formula run the risk of being redundant. However, if a sequel strays too far from the established formula, there’s no guarantee lightning will strike twice. Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill recognized the limitations of the Halloween franchise after Halloween II (1981). They wanted to pivot to an anthology of stories about the Halloween season, and we all know how that turned out.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch, written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. Wallace would go on to direct the miniseries, It (1990), based on Stephen King's novel, published in 1986. Though met with initial hesitation from critics and fans of Halloween (1978) due to its lack of antagonist Micheal Myers, the film has gained a cult following. Deservedly so, because while the film is a departure from the story of the boogeyman, it retains many of the thematic trademarks, serving up a story rooted in Celtic folklore—which plays a role throughout the film series—leaving the slasher genre behind in favor of witchcraft and science fiction.
Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) is an on-call doctor with a fondness for liquor, a rocky relationship with his kids and ex-wife Linda (Nancy Kyes), and a skill of successfully tossing Halloween masks to cover security cameras on his first try. One week before Halloween, he’s called to the hospital to assist a patient carrying a Silver Shamrock jack-o-lantern mask. The man warns him, “They’re going to kill us all!”
Later that night, a finely-dressed man comes to the patient’s room, crushes his face until he dies, gets in a car, and sets himself on fire, resulting in a large explosion. Challis works with the patient’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), traveling to the quiet and secluded town of Santa Mira—the town's name an ode to Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)—to investigate the Silver Shamrock factory owned by the elusive Conal Cochrane (Dan O’Herlihy), later to revealed to be intent on resurrecting ancient pagan rituals of sacrificing children during the age of Samhain from his native Celtic lands.
What’s fascinating about Halloween III are its ties to the original films. Dean Cundey returns as the Director of Photography, his work is immediately recognizable. There’s an emphasis on color, shadows, and framing reminiscent of the first two films. Carpenter returns with Alan Howarth to compose the score—an eerie, synth-heavy beat that builds the repetitive dread that his horror scores are known for. Wallace pays homage to the first two films by overlying the opening credits on top of a jack-o-lantern. This time, however, the jack-o-lantern is digitally animated on a computer screen, which conveys the film’s themes of Celtic mysticism through technology.
Both Atkins and Nelkin deliver solid, albeit underwritten, performances. The real standout is O’Herlihy's Cochrane. He’s a joy to watch, and his presence elevates every scene he’s in. The character is so exuberant in his convictions that it’s hard not to like him. He’s pure evil and loves every minute of it. When asked why he wants to kill millions of people, his response is, “Do I need a reason?” Even when he elaborates, it feels like he’s doing it because he can. One doesn’t go to the trouble of stealing a piece of Stonehenge to murder children for monetary gain, they do it for the thrill and the love of the game. O’Herlihy effortlessly transitions from warm and charismatic to quietly wicked, sometimes with a quick expression change.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a glorious underrated treasure that plays into the Halloween season's spirit, with decor flooding the screen, especially in the Silver Shamrock factory. The film is often written off because Michael Myers isn’t in it. That is a mistake. On its own merits, the film is wildly creative and atmospheric, especially the town of Santa Mira, which simultaneously feels vacant, but like there are eyes everywhere. Halloween III just celebrated its 40th Anniversary, making it the perfect film to watch on Halloween night. You'll forever associate "London Bridge is Falling Down" with the Silver Shamrock commercial, which can be heard 14 times throughout the film...I counted.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is now streaming on Peacock.