At the end of Halloween III, Conal Cochran gets zapped by an unearthly beam of blue light that shoots forth from the stolen Bluestone. Soon thereafter, Cochran – whose features now seem distorted, as if his face were really just a mask – fades away, never to be seen again. I think most viewers assume that this is Cochran’s “death,” but I beg to differ; I don’t think Cochran dies at all. I’ve read the Halloween III novelization by Jack Martin, which retains certain details from Nigel Kneale’s original script that were excised from the finished film. (I’ll be discussing more of those details later.) The novel makes it very clear that Cochran’s disappearance at the end of this film is really just the beginning of his evil. It also makes it clear that he isn’t just some crazy toymaker in a suit and tie, but someone – or something – that transcends time and space as we humans understand it.
What Cochran looks like after he’s been zapped
Before he pulls his disappearing trick, Cochran says “we” a lot, suggesting that he actually has peers; yet no one who works for him at Silver Shamrock seems to qualify as such. (Everyone in Santa Mira, California is either a robot or a sycophant of some kind.) Therefore, Cochran’s “we” must be referring to some other group of people that we never see. Cochran also mentions “those who came before” him, and he speaks of human beings as if he thinks we’re all insects. It would therefore seem that this “Irishman” isn’t really from around here (and by “here,” I mean Earth). Assuming that this is true, why the hell would Cochran take the form of an Irishman? Surely Halloween III isn’t suggesting that Irish people come from another planet (regardless of Nigel Kneale’s anti-Irish sentiments). No, my guess is that Cochran is just one of many otherworldly beings that have visited our world before, and that there’s something his people happen to like about Gaelic culture. In fact, I believe Conal Cochran is actually what Celtic folklore calls a “Fae of the Unseelie Court” (i.e., a dark fairy).
We often think of “fairies” today as cute little Tinkerbells who fly around and make children fly with magic dust. But some of the oldest fairy stories indicate that these beings were often much darker and more sinister than any of the Disney movies would have us believe. Celtic folklore is full of benign fairies that are willing to live in balance with human beings; but it’s also full of malign fairies that want nothing more than to rob us of our children or trick us into eating each other. To make matters worse, these entities can make themselves look like anything, including animals, furniture, or even Dan O’Herlihy. The custom of wearing masks and costumes during Samhain began as a way of keeping such dark fairies away (and I for one believe that such magic actually works). But as Cochran notes in Halloween III, most of us have “thought no further than the strange custom of having [our] children wear masks and go begging for candy.” American culture doesn’t take the paranormal very seriously anymore (except for Jesus, of course), and we’ve turned our modern version of Samhain into a completely commercialized joke.
The Bunworth Banshee, from Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker (1825)
At another point in the film, Cochran talks of how “the last great” Samhain was over 2,000 years ago, and that “the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children” that night. Admittedly, this makes it seem like Halloween III is quoting a Jack Chick comic strip, with Cochran being a fanatical Satan-worshiping neo-druid. Yet there are several reasons as to why I reject this theory. For one thing, there’s absolutely nothing of Christianity to be seen anywhere in this film. Normally in a story with that sort of agenda, the hero will be (or become) a “soldier of Christ” and defeat the villain with prayer; but here, the hero is an M.D. who must stop Cochran by purely practical means. Secondly, Cochran never claims to do what he does in the name of any Celtic God or Goddess (or even the Christian devil, for that matter). In the novel, he even refers to the concept of “God” in general as being “quaint.” He certainly agrees that the children of America will be “sacrifices,” but he doesn’t appear to be using this term in any devotional sense. Cochran’s plot has nothing to do with religion at all; if anything, it seems to be part of an even greater scheme that’s never explained, but which has something to do with the planets being in alignment.
From the Jack Chick strip, The Devil’s Night
My third reason for dismissing the anti-Samhain theory has to do with the specific language Cochran uses while explaining his scheme. He says that what he considers to have been “the last great” Samhain took place 2,000 years ago, but Gaelic people have been celebrating this festival well into modern times. The entire reason we have Halloween in America today is because Irish immigrants (including some of my own ancestors) brought their Samhain customs over here with them. So Cochran is clearly referring to a very specific Samhain that occurred in history. Now the oldest literary references to Samhain date back to only the 10th century CE, which is only 1,000 years ago (approximately). It therefore seems plausible (in the context of the Halloween III universe, at least) that the specific night Cochran is describing might have been what necessitated the Gaelic Samhain traditions in the first place. I’m guessing that it was really a bunch of dark fairies like Cochran who made “the hills [run] red” that night – not the Gaels or their druids – and that the Gaels who survived started wearing costumes and practicing other forms of protective magic at Samhain as a result.
When the film is considered in these terms, it actually comes across as being very pro-Samhain. Think of it this way: the Gaels have been successful in warding monsters like Cochran away for 2,000 years; whatever it was that happened all those centuries ago, it hasn’t happened again since. But now that Samhain has been Americanized, it has also been secularized and over-commercialized. Halloween is nothing more than a “party” for most Americans, and this irreverence has given creatures like Cochran what they need to get past the magical defenses on which Samhain is based. In fact, Cochran has now taken the magical tools that once kept us safe from his kind and turned them against us. What kept our ancestors safe is now being used to extinguish our future generations, and if we had never bastardized these traditions in the first place, the old Gaelic wisdom would still be keeping us safe.
(And perhaps appearing on Earth as an Irishman is just another example of Conal Cochran’s sick sense of humor. Perhaps it’s his way of mocking the people who’ve been keeping his kind away for the past two millennia. It certainly looks like his Dan O’Herlihy face is really just a mask after he gets zapped by the Bluestone, and I’ve often wondered what his real face looks like beneath that mask.)
I realize this post is already pretty long, but there’s just one more thing I’d like to share. Here’s a snippet from the very end of the Halloween III novelization, in which Dr. Challis considers Cochran’s true cosmic nature:
Cochran was nothing new, whatever his latest disguise. He and the dark forces he represented had been around in one form or another since the beginning of time; there was no good reason to believe something so ancient had really been destroyed in a blaze of fireworks in a small town on a cold autumn night. This year’s dark venture was like a rerun on the Late, Late, Very Late Show, an endless loop re-enacting the last reels of the same relentless stalking of the heart of the American dream. It had always been so…He would come to movie theaters and TV screens over and over in untiring replays for as long as people turned away and pretended he was not really there; for that very refusal gave him unopposed entrance to their innermost lives. Nothing ever stopped his coming and nothing ever would stop it, not for as long as people deferred the issue of his existence to the realm of fantasy fiction, that elaborate system of popular mythology which provided the essence of his access…For now, he was still advancing, merely shifting from one field of view to another, larger one, from a single television screen to the televised psyches of a nation. Challis shuddered.
So when Cochran disappears, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t die. I’m convinced this scene is merely an example of how Cochran’s kind travel between the worlds. Instead of spaceships, they evidently use Stonehenge (which, I’ll remind you, is also how the aliens travel to and from Earth in Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Conclusion).
“Eighteen more days ‘till Halloween,
Eighteen more days ‘till Halloween,