The poster for Halloween III from 1982
For the first several years after the original Halloween was made, its makers were content to re-release the film in theaters each year in October. But in time, other filmmakers started making inferior rip-offs of Halloween to cash in on its success. This was the beginning of what horror buffs call the “slasher” movie craze in the early 1980s. At one point, it was almost as if there was a new Halloween clone out every week, complete with a holiday-themed setting and title, a Michael Myers clone (albeit with a different mask and weapon of choice) and a Laurie Strode clone (albeit with a different actress who usually wasn’t anywhere near so talented as Jamie Lee Curtis).
The problem with these films – the likes of which included 1980’s Friday the 13th, 1981’s My Bloody Valentine and 1981’s Happy Birthday To Me – was not only that they copied Halloween, but that they did so poorly. Most of them totally removed all of Halloween’s supernatural elements and focused on exhibiting murder scenes that became increasingly grisly and misogynistic. (I’m thinking particularly of 1981’s The Prowler, a.k.a. Rosemary’s Killer.) Despite their generally poor quality, these slasher films brought in a lot of money. So it was only a matter of time before the producers of the original Halloween became jealous. They started pressuring John Carpenter to make a sequel, and when he initially refused, they threatened to sue. The end result being that Halloween II was released in theaters in October 1981.
While it certainly has its strong points (e.g., the idea of having the film take place on the same night as the original), Halloween II is vastly inferior to its predecessor. While the first film primarily uses elements of shock and suspense to tell its unique story, Halloween II is a splatter film. In fact, it’s much more similar to the films that rip-off Halloween than it is to Halloween itself. It’s a bit misogynistic for one thing, and it contains enough gore to make even experienced brain surgeons feel queasy. It also drastically alters the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode by (1) revealing that they’re actually siblings, (2) rendering Laurie helpless for the entire film, and (3) nullifying the entire “punchline” of the first movie in its conclusion. At the same time, the film exudes the feeling that its makers really didn’t want to make it, but were practically forced to do so at gunpoint.
Nevertheless, Halloween II made lots of money and the producers immediately asked Carpenter and his associates for another sequel. (Debra Hill, Carpenter’s co-writer and co-producer, is said to have fainted when she heard this request.) Carpenter agreed, but for a price: he wanted to take the series into more of an “anthology” direction (like The Twilight Zone) and to make the next film a completely different story. It would have its own unique characters and plot, and it would not be a “slasher.” Every subsequent sequel, in turn, would follow its lead by telling a different story as well. The end result, released on October 22, 1982, was one of the most inventive (and controversial) horror film “sequels” ever made – Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
A crazy guy who’s being chased by men in business suits shows up at a gas station in the middle of the night. He’s holding a Halloween mask and gibbering about how “They’re gonna kill us all.” After collapsing on the floor, he’s taken to a hospital where he’s treated by a divorced alcoholic physician named Dr. Daniel Challis. Next thing Challis knows, the crazy dude gets his skull ripped apart by one of the mysterious suits (who uses his bare hands in the process). Then the suit goes out into the parking lot, rinses himself off with some gasoline and lights a cigarette. Needless to say, this all sets Dr. Challis on edge. When he learns that the murdered man has a hot young daughter named Ellie, he runs off with her to investigate the reasons for her father’s brutal death.
Dan O’Herlihy as “Conal Cochran”
Challis and Ellie’s investigation leads them to a sleepy little California town called Santa Mira, which is the home of Silver Shamrock Novelties. Silver Shamrock is the company that manufactures the kind of Halloween masks Ellie’s dad was holding at the beginning, and these masks are bigger than Jesus all over the country. Little kids are wearing them all over the place and Silver Shamrock commercials are playing non-stop on every TV set. Challis and Ellie decide to stay in Santa Mira and scope out the Silver Shamrock factory, where they eventually meet the company’s owner, an old Irishman named Conal Cochran. Cochran’s a world-famous practical joker, and it turns out that he’s about to play the biggest practical joke ever on the entire North American continent. I’m not going to tell you what the joke is, but I’ll give you a hint: it involves witchcraft, robots, astronomy, Stonehenge, human sacrifice and (possibly) interdimensional travel. All of which means this Halloween’s shaping up to be the last one anyone’s going to celebrate for the next millennium or two.
Despite what you may think, Halloween III’s plot is different but its story is essentially a variation of the original. It’s all about an evil supernatural force using our disbelief to get past everything about Halloween that’s meant to keep us safe from such threats. The difference here is that this force, unlike Michael Myers, doesn’t come after you while wearing a mask and brandishing a butcher knife. Conal Cochran uses corporate business and the gullibility of American consumers as his weapons. Furthermore, he’s not happy killing just one victim at a time; he won’t settle for anything less than total genocide. To achieve this goal, he not only works around the apotropaic trappings of the Samhain season; he actively perverts those trappings into weaponized forms, with none being so deadly as his cheap and mass-marketed Halloween masks.
Halloween III is like a weird combination of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Wicker Man (1973). I’m especially intrigued by its unique synthesis of magic and technology (or “technomancy”). I first saw this film long before I ever became religious, but seeing it during my middle school years really made me start to wonder about these things. Specifically, it made me think about how (1) magic is like “technology” for tribal societies and (2) technology is like “magic” for industrialized societies. It also inspired me to research the historical origins of Halloween, which is how I learned about the real festival of Samhain. This, in turn, is what led me to learn about Neopagan and polytheistic reconstructionist trends today. Imagine my surprise upon learning that witchcraft is still practiced and taken seriously today, and that it’s not necessarily evil or destructive. Watching Halloween III was the catalyst that led me to discover these things as an adolescent. It was also one of the catalysts that led me to accept Seth-Typhon as my God in 1997.
Of course, some polytheists might object to the film and its antagonist’s “unique” way of celebrating Samhain. This has never bothered me because Cochran never specifically claims to do what he does in the name of any Deity. I also think he isn’t human; he says “we” a lot, he talks about “those who came before” him, and he talks about human beings as if he thinks we’re insects. He’s also the only character in any movie or TV program (before 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat) who pronounces the word Samhain (“SOW-wynn”) correctly. (This is no doubt because Dan O’Herlihy, who’s positively brilliant in the role, was an Irishman and actually knew how to speak Gaelic.) For these reasons, I’m convinced that Cochran is actually a malevolent faery of some sort, just as I think Michael Myers is really a changeling in the first Halloween. In my opinion, Cochran’s precisely the sort of paranormal entity that celebrating Samhain is meant to protect us from.
Creating Halloween III was a real labor of love for John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Tommy Lee Wallace (the director), and it shows in the film. Unlike Halloween II, this is a film they very clearly wanted to make. Unfortunately, it earned some very poor returns at the box office. Audiences simply couldn’t understand why it didn’t include Michael Myers and why it wasn’t a slasher. They wanted more of the same thing that was seen in Halloween II, and they became angry when they didn’t get it. Critics tore the movie to shreds (and often without bothering to watch the film). And the people who financed the film were extremely pissed off. They made it very difficult for John Carpenter and Debra Hill to get any new Halloween projects off the ground. Carpenter was also suffering from the general public’s incredibly negative reaction to his remake of The Thing, which had been released earlier that same year. He and Debra Hill ended up scrapping their ideas for an ongoing Samhain-themed anthology series, and they eventually sold their interest in the franchise. Carpenter has consistently refused to have anything else to do with the Halloween series ever since.
That being said, Halloween III has finally found its audience; it simply took the film a decade and a half to do so. In my experience, I’ve found that people who prefer slasher movies tend to absolutely hate it; people who enjoy more thought-provoking horror films tend to like it much better. Many people in the second camp avoid the film precisely because it’s marketed as a sequel to a slasher film. The people who most often give it a try tend to fall into the first group; hence the mass outrage. If the film had been marketed somewhat differently, it probably would have been more successful. In any case, there are those of us who appreciate it as a legitimate entry in the original Halloween series. And while I’m a fan of Halloween 4, 5 and 6, I personally feel that Halloween III is the only other film in the franchise that’s on more or less equal footing with the original. It’s also required family viewing in my household during the Samhain season.
Now I will admit that when I first saw this film back when I was 12 years old, I absolutely hated it. This had nothing to do with the fact that the film doesn’t involve Michael Myers; I was aware of this before I even watched it. No, what bothered me about the movie is that it deeply disturbed me in ways that I can’t really explain without giving away a couple of important plot points. All I can say is that Halloween III may not be a splatter film, but its shock factor is pretty goddamn high and I just wasn’t expecting some of the shocks that it threw at me. They really upset me at the tender age of 12 and I swore up and down for a while that this was the worst film I had ever seen. (Since then I’ve seen movies that are a lot worse, such as 1991’s Troll 2.) After a while, however, I kept feeling strange urges to watch Halloween III again and again, and I started liking it more and more each time. I finally realized one day that this movie is fucking brilliant, and it’s been my second-favorite film ever made (right behind the first Halloween) ever since.
Oh yeah, and it also has one of my all-time favorite movie quotes:
DR. CHALLIS: “Whoa, whoa, whoa! It’s getting late, and I can use a DRINK!”