As it’s the first of International Halloween Month, or “October” to non-believers and plebs, it’s that time again folks: gather round, and let’s crack out the Silver Shamrock. I used to think I was alone in my unadulterated rabid love for Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), until a couple of years ago, when social media pointed me to the place where I could find the other people with exceptionally good taste. Prior to this I spent years (probably about 15-20) forcing my children to watch it every Halloween, to the point where they grew up into non-horror loving adults. I stand unrepentant, and also harbour the belief that one day they too will understand the genius involved. But until such a time comes, I will be here, every first of Halloween Month, declaring this love. And this is going to continue until…forever.
So let me count the ways I love thee “Halloween III”…
Halloween was never meant to be a one man show.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the original Halloween (1978). There’s something quite perverse about the idea of a mask clad maniac tearing through small town America breaking into houses and laundry rooms. Plus the atmosphere, despite being shot in California in Summer, is sublime. It stinks of autumn and all its magic. This said, once we got beyond part two, and finally found out who the mysterious Ben Tramer was, enough was enough. It was time for something different. In fact John Carpenter and Debra Hill were quite vocal about the fact that their involvement was because there was no Myers, and the film was attempting to set another scene. Just because a film is labelled “Halloween” doesn’t mean it needs a man shuffling around in a William Shatner mask. Especially when you can have magical masks full of snakes and bugs, candy, dead kids, and a mad pagan. Picture this: a Halloween film with a different Halloween story, every time. Now that really would have been something.
As if this point needs to be said, but there have been very few who could use a moustache as a chat up line like Tom Atkins — at least when it came to his Carpenter associations (although Halloween III was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, after he turned down the opportunity to direct the second instalment). In Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) Atkins played Nick Castle, jeep driving hero, who had Jamie Lee Curtis’ hitch-hiker, Elizabeth Solley, out of his passenger seat and into his bed before she even had a chance to tell him her name. In Halloween III he is Dr. Challis: absent father, medical man, and robot fighter. His kids might need to go out trick-or-treating, but this guy needs to save the world. He also needs to get his co-conspirator Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) into a motel room. She might have just lost her father, but that’s not going to stop him. And a ball breaking ex-wife screaming at him about what a piece of shit he is to his kids, certainly isn’t either.
In bold move to end all bold moves, Halloween III doesn’t just digress from Myer territory, it crosses genre as well. Science fiction and horror have always blended well; for example, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and its remake (1978) — to which Halloween III owes some debt — the Quatermass films, The Last Man on Earth (1964) Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965), Children of the Damned (1964), The Omega Man (1971), Westworld (1973), Alien (1979), the list goes on and on (these are some of my favourites, you can fill in your own). One of John Carpenter’s most loved films, The Thing (1982), does just that, in that it’s one of the most perfect cross-breeds of science fiction and horror, ever. As a side note I also believe The Thing is also one of the most Lovecraftian (sci-fi horror God) films ever committed to celluloid, when you consider how it manages to translate the mood and atmosphere found in the author’s At the Mountains of Madness, despite not being based on any of his texts. But I digress…
In throwing out convention and bringing in killer robots, Halloween III breaks all the franchise rules. This makes it the punk sibling, and dark sheep, meaning I can’t help but love it more than all other chapters. And the robots aren’t cheesy either, they are grim, nasty, violent, weird nihilistic automatons that self-destruct when cornered. In fact, the entire Cochran side plot where he crafts these really wicked animatronic figures, like the knitting granny, burrows deep into Freud’s sense of the uncanny, as well as other themes like the Gothic double, and sorry, but that’s it is just too juicy to ignore. Pure horror, pure genius.
As an English woman, first and foremost, I am going to have to admit I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween as a commercial entity. I grew up in the UK, through the latter part of the seventies, into the eighties, completely oblivious to the fact that “Halloween” was even a thing, in its trick-or-treating dress-up holiday form. It didn’t exist here. But certain Celtic traditions did. E.T (1982) changed that for me, and it was during that moment sat in the cinema aged 8, I felt robbed by the fact that we didn’t get to go around getting free sweets like the American kids did. Now things have changed, and Britain has got into the vibe somewhat. My own kids, while betraying the horror cause, still got out for the sweets. And while I generally loathe the barefaced commercialism of it all, the horror fan in me has to admit the carnival atmosphere of cheap holiday garnish, shaped like ghouls and pointy hats, does reel me in somewhat.
On that note, Halloween III is me, in film form. On one hand it embraces the gaudy carnival of commercial Halloween. It has the amazing Silver Shamrock jingle. It has the masks and Jack-O-Lanterns. It’s signature colours are orange, green and black. It has it all. But on the other, it gives corporate America, and capitalism, a quick kick in the balls, for the way it indulges in social satire. So we have Santa Mira, the town where everyone who works for Silver Shamrock is put on curfew after dark, to be treated like they live in a prison camp. We have Harry Grimbridge, the little guy, crushed under capitalism and a robot’s hand to his throat, as one of the good guys. We have the power of the media and television, the stupidity of the “fat, loud American family and their stupid kid” represented with scathing humour and ghastly horror. As a piece of cinema that rips through the values of the so called American Dream, Halloween III has it all.
Although represented by a complete raving nutter, Halloween III does what very few Halloween based films do: it returns the festival to its original Celtic roots. As a pagan myself, I can forgive the addition of Stonehenge, given that it really has no purpose here if we are going for accuracy, because that in itself is an act of mad genius, in a film littered with many of these moments. In Celtic and pagan tradition All Hallows’ Eve or Samhain, has a more positive spin. It’s a time to remember ancestors, and practice magic such as divination, because it is believed that the veil between the land of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. It is from here that the practice of carving Jack-O-Lanterns comes, to ward off evil spirits, and it’s also a time to set a spare place at dinner and invite the family ghosts to come join you.
Halloween III doesn’t use the festival in this way, however, but it does hark back to my previous point, “satire”, in the way it has pagans killing off the population of greedy consumerists, with the trappings of their own holiday. For that I have to place Conal Cochran up there, with my other favourite crazed pagan Lord Summerisle from The Wicker Man (1973). Cochran also gets major kudos for giving Samhain its correct pronunciation “Sow’en”. Seriously, I would vote for him as President.
There are many other reasons to love Halloween III, take the gloomy retro-futuristic John Carpenter, Alan Howarth score for example, but the main thing is it needs to be loved, it was made to be loved. Because it is Halloween, and for that, it’s truly glorious. And if you don’t believe me, crack out that Silver Shamrock song, a few hours of that will put you right.