You’ve got to pick up every stitch, oh no must be the season of the witch!
While Halloween III: Season of the Witch was not the expected direction for this franchise, it’s a film that provides some interesting ideas about the holiday, horror, and consumerism.
The trailer makes it hard to discern what this film is about. Witchcraft is mentioned. It doesn’t seem to have Michael Myers in it either. There’s a creepy looking guy in a 3-piece suit threatening another man that is tied up. Welcome to Halloween!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
In Northern California, on October 23rd an older man clutching a rubber pumpkin mask runs from a car, hiding out in a gas station. Walter (Essex Smith), the gas station attendant, brings the man, Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) to the hospital where Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is on duty. A man in a three-piece suit (Dick Warlock) calmly enters the hospital room and kills Harry, before returning to his car, dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire. The next morning, Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) comes to identify her father’s body.
A few days later Dan visits the coroner, Teddy (Wendy Wessberg), in an attempt to get any identification on the mysterious killer. On Friday the 29th Ellie finds Dan at a bar and asks him to help her figure out who could have killed her father. They drive to Santa Mira, California, home of the Silver Shamrock Novelty company. Dan soon realizes that everyone is watching them, including CCTV cameras. He and Ellie decide to check into the town motel as husband and wife to deter suspicions. Dan sneaks a peek at the register and sees Ellie’s father’s name and knows they’re on the right track.
At 6pm an automated announcement tells the town folk that they need to head inside for the night. For some reason Dan decides to not heed the warning and bumps into a Hobo muttering about Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) the town patriarch and owner of Silver Shamrock. When Dan returns to his room, the Hobo is attacked by a pair of well-dressed men who easily rip his head off. Dan and Ellie’s neighbor, Marge Guttman (Garn Stephens), is carted away by a factory van due to what they overhear as a “misfire.” She was messing with one of the Silver Shamrock brand badges on a mask, when a laser beam sliced open her face from which a bug crawls out.
Checking with Teddy on the autopsy, she tells Dan that someone screwed up. There’s no organic tissue, just car parts. The next day, Saturday the 30th, Dan and Ellie get a tour of the factory with Buddy Kupfer (Ralph Strait) and family, the number one Silver Shamrock salesman. Ellie notices her father’s car in a shed, but Dan tells her not to make a scene. After they return to the motel she is taken by the men in suits, so Dan breaks into the factory to save her. He encounters a life-size clockwork woman “toy” before being attacked by the well dressed men. He “kills” one, punching his hand thru its stomach and pulling out wires–robots!
On Halloween, Cochran shows Dan a demo of his plan. The Kupfers are shown to a private room for their opinion on the new TV commercials. The Silver Shamrock theme song plays and little Buddy puts on his Jack O’Lantern mask. After a few moments of the commercial running, the boy slumps to the ground, bugs and snakes pouring out of his mask, killing his parents. Cochran explains the real meaning of Halloween to Dan as the festival of Samhain, human sacrifices, and witchcraft. Silver Shamrock are implanting small pieces of a stone from Stonehenge in the masks, which are triggered by the commercials. “Advanced, ancient technology.”
Dan escapes from custody and saves Ellie. They sabotage the robotic helpers by activating a number of the mask badges, which also kills Cochran. As Dan and Ellie drive away the factory burns to the ground. Suddenly Ellie attacks him, having been replaced by a robotic version of herself. Dan destroys the Ellie-bot and makes it to Walter’s gas station where he calls the local TV stations to stop the commercials from running. Two stations go off the air, but the third station doesn’t stop the commercial. It keeps running. “Turn it off! Stop it,” Dan yells repeatedly into the phone.
“It has a power in it. A force. Even a particle. Devastating.” – Conal Cochran
History in the Making
People that tuned into Halloween III: Season of the Witch thinking that they would get Laurie Strode or Michael Myers were in for a big surprise. Following the success of Halloween and Halloween II in 1978 and 1981, respectively, the third part was eagerly anticipated. Unfortunately producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill thought that turning the franchise into an anthology title, where each film would take place on the night of Halloween and follow different stories, might be a better idea. The audiences did not expect or enjoy this. According to Box Office Mojo, Halloween II made about 50% of what the original film earned, with Halloween III making only half of the preceding film; or 25% of the original film.
It’s a move that seemed to kill the franchise. While other horror films, like the Friday the 13th series, continued to generate big box office numbers, for horror films at least, Halloween seemed in danger of never returning. In fact it was over 6 years until Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers appeared in theaters. Of course anyone that has been following the franchise knows it’s still going strong, have had six other films, including the 2018 version of Halloween, and the upcoming Halloween Kills (2021), which both follow the immediate events of the original film, ignoring all the sequels.
In the meantime, Halloween III has become quite a cult favorite enticing fans for the opposite reasons above: that it has nothing to do with the larger mythos of Michael Myers. The film is just weird enough to provide questions for fans to discuss and quirky enough to have several of its flaws overlooked. It’s reminiscent of another franchise that tried to switch things up in the middle of its run, to worse success. The House franchise had the original film and House II, which followed similar storylines about a haunted house. But then the third film was released as The Horror Show (1989) in the States (but called House III overseas). It attempted to take the story in a new direction by creating a murdered serial killer that comes back to life. It too performed poorly. A fourth House film was released a few years later, ending that franchise for good.
So many of you may be asking, “why is Halloween III included in Sci-Fi Saturdays?” As the last film in the 2020 edition of 31 Days of Horror, which I try to make a Halloween film (except two years ago when I reviewed It), it fell on a Saturday. And surprisingly enough this was an 80s film and also a somewhat science-fiction infused horror film. That, of course, is up for discussion, but Halloween III has at least as much sci-fi in it as Night of the Comet, last week’s film. The film is primarily horror, and not of the slasher variety, instead dealing with witchcraft, warlocks, and human sacrifices.
As such, the film has ties to many other ritualistic pagan horror films, such as The Wicker Man. Cochran says that his work at Silver Shamrock is all about a return to the old ways, where the “hills ran red with the blood of animals and children,” as part of the festival of Samhain. This is an ancient Gaelic festival of the end of the harvest and usually takes place on October 31, or November 1. There is even an upcoming horror film called Samhain, that appears to deal with a similar festival, Halloween and murder. Samhain was also the name of the strange sprite spirit in the 2007 anthology film Trick r Treat. And it’s not even a stranger to the Halloween universe of films, as in the previous installment, Michael Myers writes Samhain on a school chalkboard in blood. All together, this is really not that weird of an idea for a film series called Halloween to make a film out of.
But the film is also part science-fiction film, with lifesize clockwork robots–or maybe robots enhanced with witchcraft, laser-blasting circuit boards that release the power of the Stonehenge bluestone, and computerized rituals that synchronize the deaths around the world. Indeed it takes more than a single viewing to understand this weird plot that Conal Cochran has–if there’s really any sense to it at all. Modern (1982 anyway) technology is helping him re-enact a 3,000 year old ritual using bits of Stonehenge, latex masks, and Japanese circuit boards. But the sci-fi elements don’t stop there. The film is also a riff on one of the greatest sci-fi horror films of all time, the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not only does it take place in the same town, Santa Mira, but Ellie is kidnapped and replaced with a replica, and the ending, with Dr. Challis screaming into the phone, channels the best version of Kevin McCarthy’s doctor screaming for people to believe him.
Very much like Chopping Mall and Night of the Comet, which have been the last two Sci-Fi Saturdays articles, Halloween III has a bit of anti-consumerism in it. From the catchy Silver Shamrock jingle (to the tune of “London Bridge”), to the mass production and mass-marketing of the novelty masks to ensure that every child in the country wants, and gets one, the film is showing the audience how marketing works. The commercials continue to remind viewers how many days to Halloween, and to make sure to watch the “big giveaway” at 9pm. On Halloween itself, Silver Shamrock trucks drive around neighborhoods and remind listeners the same thing. Even Dan’s own kids would rather have the “cool” Silver Shamrock masks, than the cheap plastic ones he bought for them. Remember kids, consumerism kills!
There’s also a theme of insiders and outsiders in the movie. Dan remarks, when they realize everyone is staring at them as they drive into Santa Mira, that it’s a “company town.” That is, the entire local economy is influenced by and revolves around the work at the novelty factory. It can be assumed that the majority of townies work for the factory in some capacity, and many, like the manager of the motel, Rafferty, think that Cochran is a wonderful and generous person. It probably goes to say that the majority of townsfolk do not know the true secrets of Silver Shamrock. All the people working in the “final processing” room appear to be the automatons created by Cochran. And those that find out the secrets, like Harry Grimbridge, and the hobo don’t live long enough to share with others. This “inner circle” or clut aspect, is so much like many other films reviewed this month.
The Science in The Fiction
The “science,” as mentioned earlier is tenuous at best. Most of it is in service to the plot, but there are certain aspects that seem interesting. The robo-suits, or automatons, created by Cochran and used as bodyguards and technicians, seem to be based on the 200 year old clockwork woman from Germany that he has in the back of his offices. Though they are upgraded using plastic coated wires and have sort of ochre colored slime inside them. Organic energy? Witchy ectoplasm? Who knows! Whatever it is, it’s reminiscent of the blood in the Tall Man from Phantasm. I’ve always wondered if these two were linked in some way.
The film also has the ridiculous elements of a bluestone from Stonehenge being brought from England to Santa Mira, CA. This is the weirdest part (and there’s so much weird stuff here) of the film, since the theft is mentioned on a TV news story the week before Halloween, yet the stone is necessary to the manufacturing process of the masks, which is still happening in huge numbers the day before Halloween. The bluestones are the smaller stones at the Henge, weighing between 2-5 tons. Cochran tells Dan, “You wouldn’t believe how we did it.” And then he never tells. Small pieces of this stone appear to have the magical powers that he needs to wreak his havoc, and sending electricity through the bit of rock is enough to create the portal for the bugs to crawl out of the kids heads. Or something like that. Not that it really matters, since this film is really about the horror aspects and not a “how to” video.
The Final Frontier
Tom Atkins is a famous actor from various horror films, having starred in the John Carpenter film from two years previous, The Fog. He was also in Night of the Creeps, Creepshow, Maniac Cop, and the remake of My Bloody Valentine. Halloween III also has some minor links to the overall franchise. The Halloween film shown on TV is the 1978 Halloween, starring Jamie Lee Curtis. She does make an appearance of sorts in this film as the voice of the curfew announcement as well as the telephone recording telling Dan that his call can’t be completed.
Thanks for reading these articles for 31 Days of Horror. It’s been a fun time watching these films and writing up reviews. I hope to continue this series next year as well. And for fans of science-fiction films, please stay tuned every Saturday for Sci-Fi Saturdays, which takes a look at a different iconic or genre defining film each week. The series will continue next week starting with sci-fi films of the 1980s, which will include all of your favorites, and maybe some new favorites as well. So, thanks again for reading, and pleasant screams!
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.