Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) has taken a beating since its release 36 years ago. Belonging to one of horror’s most beloved franchises and NOT featuring its iconic villain was a bold step for the series to take, but it was one that damned the film for several years, turning it into a punching bag for sour fans. Though time hasn’t fully erased the hate that Halloween III has received, it’s allowed the ambitious sequel to gain a much-deserved following, and we’re here to tell you why.
The history of Halloween III is no secret. Masterminds John Carpenter and Debra Hill determined that the young slasher franchise had potential to deviate from its expected course and become an anthology series, showcasing the many horrors of Halloween night. Tommy Lee Wallace, co-editor of Halloween (1978), took over writing and directing duties for the first post-Michael Myers film, developing a plot that consists of a diabolical novelty company owner, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), who uses the mystical powers of Stonehenge rocks as a means for witchcraft. With the lives of everyone- particularly children- in jeopardy as Halloween night approaches, it’s up to the super-suave, dashingly handsome, and potentially alcoholic Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) to save the world.
Full disclosure: our purpose may be to defend the film, and trust us, we will, but we are well-aware that the story at work here is ludicrous. Halloween III is most enjoyable when you don’t read too much into what’s going on, as Wallace’s plot will likely raise more questions than answers. Fortunately, the film gets so much right that this glaring issue is quite forgivable. Without further ado, here are five reasons why Halloween III: Season of the Witch totally rules.
5. The John Carpenter Approach
While Wallace’s script certainly isn’t the strength of the project, his direction can be credited as a saving grace. It would be easy to confuse Halloween III for a John Carpenter flick, as Wallace leans heavily into the director’s style, specifically in the way he manages a thick, dreadful atmosphere throughout. It’s evident from the eerily-scored opening chase sequence alone that Wallace had learned a thing or two in his previous partnerships with Carpenter. He maintains a similar bleakness from the opening seconds to the final frame of Challis screaming into a telephone while children everywhere are (likely) suffering a gruesome fate. The film’s foundation is built on a hopelessness that even the sillier moments cannot undo, which appropriately matches the ending.
4. Dr. Challis vs. Conal Cochran
This battle of decent versus evil may not be as iconic as the long-lasting rivalry between Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers, but it’s still a compelling one-off showdown. Dan Challis is a flawed protagonist of a different era. On one hand, he’ll never hesitate to lie to his ex-wife and neglect his children if it means hanging out with attractive young women, and on the other, he respects those women and their boundaries, even if he is a womanizer at heart. Challis is far from a clean-cut hero, but the tremendously charismatic performance from Tom Atkins is enough to win anyone over.
The overall stakes for Challis are much greater than those of Dr. Loomis in the original Halloween and its many sequels. As horrific a threat as Michael Myers is for the town of Haddonfield and beyond, Conal Cochran has his sights set on much broader chaos and devastation. Though he wears a smile and exudes the likability necessary to hide his true intentions from the world, Cochran is a purely sadistic force hellbent on power, and stopping him requires the utmost urgency lest thousands of children die.
3. The Halloween Aesthetic
Despite the hate that Halloween III has taken over the years, it’s proven itself to be essential October viewing, whether you watch alongside the franchise or view it as a standalone horror flick. The spooky holiday is on full display, as the entire film centers around Halloween masks and the mysterious novelty business that creates them. There’s even a super-catchy jingle that counts down the days until the holiday throughout the film’s runtime. Wallace and his team understand the atmosphere that the holiday is meant to evoke, and they capture it wonderfully.
2. It’s Quietly Brutal
When you think of the many deaths in the Halloween film series, you undoubtedly recall your favorite Michael Myers kills: Bob being pinned to the wall with a knife in Carpenter’s original, the numerous hospital deaths in Halloween II, and maybe even the more vicious death sequences of the Rob Zombie movies. Even without Michael Myers, though, Halloween III is game to match the series in brutality.
There are several memorable scenes of violence in this underrated sequel, including a shop owner having his eyes pushed in and his nose severely fractured, a woman being zapped with a beam of electricity and having her face and mouth grotesquely peeled away, and, of course, the terrifying scene in which Dr. Challis is forced to watch the power of Cochran‘s masks being unleashed on a friendly couple and their young child. The image of insects and snakes swarming out of the rotten pumpkin mask is eternal nightmare fuel, and one of the scariest moments in the entire franchise.
1. The Score Rocks
John Carpenter may be primarily known for his horror movies, but he’s only slightly less popular when it comes to his iconic musical scores. The music of Halloween is perhaps the most famous theme in all of horror, but its hardly Carpenter’s only hit. Like the movie it belongs to, the score produced by Carpenter and Alan Howarth for Halloween III is entirely underrated and overlooked. The score effortlessly establishes a sinister tone from the very first frame until the last. If the devil played a synthesizer, this is surely what it would sound like: dark, moody, and relentless.
Are you a fan of Halloween III: Season of the Witch? Where does it rank for you among the rest of the franchise? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook. Oh, and have a spooky Halloween!