When we think of horror films, “Halloween” undoubtedly ranks among the elite genre entries. While it wasn’t the first slasher flick, John Carpenter’s 1978 classic arguably popularized the slasher subgenre, and of course, as is wont to happen, kicked off an endless string of sequels. Many of the follow-ups, like “Halloween 2,” and “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” are terrific. Others we’d prefer to forget (we’re looking at you “Halloween: Resurrection”). Of the entire “Halloween” franchise, possibly no other entry is as severely under-appreciated as “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.”
Unlike the previous two entries in the “Halloween” franchise, “Halloween 3” doesn’t feature a Michael Myers-centric plot. Rather, John Carpenter’s plan was to kick off a Halloween-themed anthology series: each successive film would explore a different, unrelated narrative. Unfortunately, both audiences and critics were similarly baffled at Myers’ absence, and what could have blossomed into a unique anthology reverted confusingly back to a Myers bloodbath with “Halloween 4.”
“Season of the Witch” opens eight days before Halloween, on Oct. 23, 1982. Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) is chased by well-dressed, shady looking men. Eventually he’s rescued at a gas station grasping a jack-o’-lantern mask from the Silver Shamrock company, and is whisked off to the hospital by gas station attendant Walter Jones (Essex Smith). He’s rambling on, repeating over and over “They’re going to kill us all.” At the hospital, Grimbridge is treated by Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), but shortly thereafter another business man arrives in Grimbridge’s room, murders him, then lights himself on fire in the parking lot.
Grimbridge’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), shows up investigating her father’s death. While probing the events preceding his murder, she makes a connection between the Silver Shamrock company, run by Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). Ellie and Dr. Challis travel to the Silver Shamrock Factory in Santa Mira, California, where they unravel an insidious and wacky conspiracy, with Silver Shamrock at the center.
By technical standards, “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch” isn’t a great, or even good, movie. It’s disjointed, chock full of tropes, and riddled with plot holes. The story somehow miraculously combines androids, an Irish businessman, lasers, Stonehenge, and the grisly festival of Samhain.
Yet, amidst the utter absurdity are several highly enjoyable elements. The premise fosters an engaging mystery story; Challis and Ellie form a decent detective squad, providing compelling banter. Like the 1978 “Halloween,” “Season of the Witch” is perpetuated by dialogue, even more so than its predecessors. There’s not as much violence in “Halloween 3,” but what it lacks in volume it makes up for in gore. One scene features a woman’s face getting blasted open by a laser before bugs crawl out.
“Halloween 3” is even ballsy enough to kill a kid- in front of his parents no less. Most films, even the most hardcore horror flicks, won’t dare tread into such treacherous territory. In “Halloween,” there wasn’t really any worry for kids Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards). “Season of the Witch” subverts the child immortality notion completely. While movies like “Jaws” feature kids dying, “Halloween 3” goes so far as to depict it on screen. Plus, the ending, a jarring, dystopian cliffhanger, is arguably the most powerful in the entire “Halloween” series.
Despite its lackluster critical reception, in recent years “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch” has emerged with a cult following. Contributor Giaco Furino made the admittedly bold statement on Oct. 31, 2014 that “Halloween 3” was the best in the entire franchise. Beneath the ridicule, “Season of the Witch” remains a solid flick: it’s brilliantly acted, intriguing, and unique. Even the cinematography and score are terrific.
Unfortunately, the “Halloween” titular inclusion may have been “Season of the Witch’s” downfall. Had the film not been associated with Michael Myers, it’s possible this gem could have perpetuated a successful anthology series. From the bizarre plot to the nihilistic ending and catchy (read: inevitable earworm) Silver Shamrock jingle, “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch” is without a doubt the most under-appreciated, and tragically misunderstood, entry in the “Halloween” franchise.