Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)

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Halloween 3 represents a bold gambit in the history of film. Sure, it wound up being nearly universally panned, but here at A-Z Horror we respect people who make choices. Halloween 3 is the third in the Halloween franchise (obviously), but it completely severs its ties to the rest of canon (surprisingly). It’s not a slasher. It doesn’t have Michael Myers (aside from a TV based cameo). It’s not so much about morally ambivalent teenagers, and moreso about two intrepid detective types trying to figure out who murdered some guy. Legend has it that director Tommy Lee Wallace passed on directing Halloween 2 so that he could write his own script for 3. Bold move considering his approach was write a movie seemingly for a completely different franchise. How’d it turn out? Well, either listen to our podcast or scroll down below the break. Either way, be warned, spoilers abound.

Reviewed by: Mark

 
 

Plot Synopsis

The movie opens with some jabroni running away from a pack of stiff suit wearing gentlemen. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s the gentleman or the suits that are stiff, it’s both. While clinging to a cheapo Halloween mask, he narrowly escapes his pursuers and eventually is taken to a hospital. Turns out, when you’re being doggedly pursued by mystery men the last thing you want is to anchor yourself to a hospital bed. One of these fellows finds his way into the hospital and rips his skull off of the rest of his skull (or something... it's unclear). Once he’s dead the assailant then casually walks out to the parking lot and immolates himself in a Michael Bay-esque explosion… things escalate quickly at the start of this movie.

 
If you think these guys don't spray starch their suits then you are wrong.

If you think these guys don't spray starch their suits then you are wrong.

 

Following that quick escalation you get a long lull in the excitement as we are introduced to our two actual protagonists, Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), the jabroni’s doctor and daughter, respectively. In order to discover what happened to their poor sweet patient-dad, the duo embark on a journey to his last known whereabouts: the seemingly innocuous town of Santa Mira.

Santa Mira appears to be a quiet company town inhabited almost exclusively by employees of the Silver Shamrock Novelty company, purveyors of cheapo Halloween masks and obnoxious commercials. As the duo explore the city further they uncover a plot to ruin Halloween by murdering a large number of America’s youth. The devil is really in the details on this one.

Okay, so, here’s how it works. Silver Shamrock’s CEO Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) is actually a warlock (pretty typical of most major corporations). He has managed to build an army of android henchman who he dresses in suits (remember how I said they were stiff?) and has them do his bidding. It’s basically androids and warlocks all the way down at this company. Conal uses his robot army to steal a bigass piece of stonehenge and shave off little bits of it to put into microchips that are placed on the back of each mask that the company sells. When the stonehenge shavings are exposed to some coded message in the company’s obnoxious commercials it turns your body into a murderous insect-and-snake swarm, and triggers an end-of-days age of witchcraft type scenario in celebration of Samhain. You know… science stuff.

 
Pictured: Science lasso.

Pictured: Science lasso.

 

Dr. Dan finds out about all this shit with just enough time to put an end to their operation within Sant Mira. He obliterates most of the androids using the aforementioned Stonehenge-microchip-laser-pogs and gets Conal disintegrated by the remnants of the stonehenge rock. No, it doesn’t make any more sense during the movie. As he and Ellie escape to society to try and get the commercials pulled from the air before it is too late, it is revealed that Ellie has been replaced by an android. Dr. Dan decapitates her with a tire iron, but it seems as though the delay tactics were enough to keep him from getting the commercials pulled. He gets it taken down from two stations, but not a third and the movie fades to black leaving the viewer to assume that the new age of witchcraft is upon us. Wait, maybe it’s not an age? Maybe it’s a season? Yeah. A new season of the witch is upon us.

 

This is equal parts seizure warning and turn-your-child-into-bugs.

 

What the Movie Does Right

The shift from Michael Myers-driven slasher to witchcraft driven sci-fi detective story is pretty incredible. This topic could easily go in the “what the movie does wrong category,” but I’m potting it here because I like how bold a gamble it was. The idea was that they could turn the franchise into an anthology series telling the various spooky tales of Halloween. Hindsight is 20/20, but honestly this probably would’ve been a better direction to go with the franchise as a whole. If you like Mike (and who doesn’t?) spin him off as a separate franchise and let this one continue being creative. Unfortunately, people at the time weren’t exactly receptive to this jump-shift, and the series promptly reversed pivot back to slasher. Now we have Rob Zombie remakes and Busta Rhymes doing kung-fu.

To get back to discussing the actual movie, the practical effects are actually pretty stupendous in this one. This movie comes with a modicum of child murder, and instead of treating it lightly the movie leans in and turns it into a pretty brutal sequence. On top of that, one of the more forgotten deaths in this thing is a lady getting lasered right in the face. I’ll admit the laser doesn’t look great (more on that later), but the after effects are phenomenal. Just look at this mangled face…

 
LaserFace.jpeg

LaserFace.jpeg

 

Lastly, this movie brings the creepy-crawly game pretty hard. If you don’t like bugs or snakes then this movie will really get under your skin. The whole “evil plan” the plot centers around involves turning children into swarms of murderous insects. I don’t really have anything to add here except that the irrational fear of insects is called entomophobia. Add that one to your word of the day calendar.

 
Nothing says spooky like  a little bit of light child murder.

Nothing says spooky like  a little bit of light child murder.

 

What the Movie Does Wrong

As good as the practical effects are in this one, there is about an equal amount of regrettable CG. Does that count as Newton’s 3rd Law of special effects? There is a non-zero amount of witchcraft+science deus ex machina, and the result isn’t great. People in the 80’s seemingly really liked lasers, but weren’t exactly capable of making them. Remember laser face from earlier? Well, here’s the shot immediately preceding that one.

 
Majestic, isn't it?

Majestic, isn't it?

 

One of the other big issues with this one is the pacing. The prologue establishes a pretty solid pace for the movie, but then the first and second acts center mostly around slow moving detective work. It doesn’t get all the way to boring because there’s enough weird shit happening to keep your attention, but it is a movie where you’ll probably be checking your phone quite a bit. The ending does ratchet things back up a bit, but for many viewers it might be too little too late. Especially, for those among us who aren’t able to suspend the disbelief surrounding this bonkers plot.

Finally, this movie has nothing to do with the 1966 Donavan song, and that is a damn shame and a missed opportunity.

 
 

Ratings (1-10)

Story: 6.5 - I generally put concept into the story category and execution into immersion. Convoluted plots aren’t always a good thing, and I feel like the execution of the story may have gotten away from them a bit on this one, but the elevator pitch for this movie is very intriguing. “Corporate witches create Halloween masks that kill you on Halloween” is a very solid concept. It could’ve been a little tighter, but ultimately I think the story is one of the better and more unique aspects of this movie.

World-Building / Immersion: 3 - Yeah. It’s not gonna be very high. As I’ve already rambled at length about, this plot is bonkers and there are a lot of times where if you stop even for a moment to ask a question about what is going on you’ll be taken out almost completely. It’s a house of cards near an oscillating fan. It might not fall over, but it also might utterly collapse and waste two hours of your time. Pile on top of that the pacing issues and the fact that much of the referenced technology hasn’t aged well, and you get a very subpar immersion score.

Scare-Factor: 3 - Vocab word alert: If you are entomophobic this score will likely be higher for you. There are a few intense scenes in this one… eyeballs being gouged, spiders crawling out of mouths, snakes slithering around. Outside of those there isn’t a whole lot to get your jimmies rustled in this one.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5 - I’m gonna reuse my joke about Newton’s 3rd law of special effects. For every good practical effect in this one there is an equal and opposite regrettable CG effect. The highs are high and the lows are low, and the result is an average effects score.

Overall: 4.5 - I think this movie gets a bit of a bum rap because it inserted itself into the Halloween franchise without conforming to the first two movies at all. Stripping that criticism away, what is left is a movie that is solid and aspirational but struggles to deliver on an overly complex plot. It’s unique and interesting, but also a bit slow. Probably worth it to watch it simply for the historical context of what happens when a franchise decides to go in a completely new direction.