“Season of the Witch,” the subtitle for Halloween III, is a phrase that’s been used many times. To the best of my knowledge, it originates from a psychedelic rock song that was written by the British artist Donovan in 1966. This eerie little song could have many possible meanings, but it makes me think about the drastic social changes that were happening back in the 1960s (e.g., the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and everything in-between). On the one hand, we seemed well on our way to making Star Trek a reality; on the other, we were also in serious danger of reaching Night of the Living Dead territory. I think the “witch” in Donovan’s song is basically a Deity or Fate, and there’s some paranoia in his voice as he wonders just where this force might be leading us as a species. It’s a great tune and it’s been covered by many different artists. (Furthermore, its message is still relevant in the contemporary environment.)
Naming Halloween III “Season of the Witch” might not seem to make sense at first, since there is no character in the film who is clearly a “witch.” Dr. Challis identifies Conal Cochran’s activities as “witchcraft” at one point, but Cochran never uses this label himself. (I generally think of witchcraft as the concept of female empowerment anyway, and there are no powerful women anywhere in the entire film – aside from an artificial one, of course.) But I do think the subtitle makes sense if we think about it in terms of the Donovan song. As Cochran himself points out, “The world is going to change” as a result of his sinister plot. If Silver Shamrock succeeds in killing all the nation’s children on Halloween, what will life in the United States be like the very next day? Our entire society will collapse and we’ll become a “third-world” country overnight. Every suburban neighborhood will instantly become a disaster area, with survivors either murdering each other or committing suicide in the streets. Will Challis succeed in banishing this potential future back into the void from whence it was conjured? Or has Fate already decreed that the U.S. will become a massive war zone?
Aside from Halloween III, Season of the Witch is also the title of at least two other films. The first is a 1972 film by George Romero that is also known as Hungry Wives or Jack’s Wife. It’s not really a horror movie, but more of a character study about a suburban housewife who lives with an abusive husband and a resentful daughter, and who has nothing to do but take care of her house and occasionally go out with friends who are even more miserable than she is. She then starts practicing witchcraft for her own self-empowerment. It’s not very well-made, and it’s unclear what Romero is actually trying to say with the story. (It seems to be pro-feminism and pro-witchcraft, but it can just as easily be interpreted the other way around.) Either way, Romero’s Season of the Witch is what I call a “Golden Turkey” (i.e., a low-budget independent film that’s not very good, but which is still entertaining for some reason). I would only recommend it for seasoned viewers of grindhouse cinema; folks who prefer their movies to have things like solid acting and decent production values should probably steer clear.
George A. Romero’s Season of the Witch (1972)
And then there’s Dominic Sena’s Season of the Witch (2011), in which Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman are Teutonic knights who go after an accused sorceress during the Black Plague. I haven’t seen this film as of yet, and it’s unlikely that I’ll be seeing it anytime soon. (Not because I’m unwilling to try it, but just because I’m never in the mood to try it.) However, it does seem similar in concept to a slightly earlier film called Black Death (2010), in which Sean Bean leads an expedition of Crusader knights to the only medieval village that hasn’t been touched by the bubonic plague. I can’t speak for the Sena film, but Black Death is phenomenal and deserves repeated viewings. It’s kind of similar to The Wicker Man (1973), especially when the knights arrive at the town and learn that its people have completely forsaken the Christian church.
James Leo Herlihy’s Season of the Witch
“Season of the Witch” has also been used as a title for several novels. First there was Jean Marie Stine’s 1968 science fiction novel, which is about a rapist and murderer whose brain is transplanted into the body of one of his female victims. (This book is praised for having a pro-transgender message, which was extremely unusual even for the 1960s.) Then there’s James Leo Herlihy’s 1971 novel, which is about a teenage girl who runs away from home with her gay male friend during the summer of 1969. I detect several recurring themes here; we have drastic social change (whether it’s in the 20th century or the Middle Ages), gender issues (whether it’s queer people, misogyny, or disposable robot women), and we have guys with heavily Celtic names (whether it’s Donovan, Dan O’Herlihy, or James Leo Herlihy). What the hell’s going on here, anyway?
“Twenty more days ‘till Halloween,
Twenty more days ‘till Halloween,