Though only an effort as producer, the much-maligned, persona-non-grata entry in the Halloween series has all the fingerprints of horrormaster John Carpenter. Featuring one of the most disturbing kill-concepts in the genre Season of the Witch fits in well with the trend of 70’s paranoia filmmaking as well as Carpenter’s career-long obsession with omniscent mental control and thus resounds as one of the most chilling underappreciated horror films of the decade.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) dir. Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy
By Alan Bacchus
There’s a number of disturbing elements of horror contained in this picture which don’t quite fit together, but on their own create remarkable tension and bone-chilling terror. The opening features one of the film’s numerous zombie-characters, dead-eyed businessmen who track down a man in flight and who proceed to kill him by poking his eyes out with their thumbs. Ouch. These zombies would eventually be revealed as robots built by the evil corporate owner of manufacturer Silver Shamrock Enterprises as security guards, but now we can see how well they fit in with Carpenter’s career-long admiration for George Romero’s zombies.
The film’s most notorious device is the ominous Silver Shamrock masks sold and advertised to the extreme by the mysterious toy manufacturer leading up to what is intended to be the last Halloween ever. The plot is downright mind boggling it’s in conception, the idea of creating children’s masks, which when worn could be turned into a deathtrap when triggered by the hypnotic drone of the company’s television advertisement.
Stories around the film’s development and production describes John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s intention to depart from the Michael Myers lore as an attempt to create an anthology-type franchise as in Night Gallery or Twilight Zone. But now the film is unfortunately perceived as an illogical non-sequiter. That said, look carefully and you’ll see strong aesthetic connections including John Carpenter/Alan Howarth’s chilling synth score, Dean Cundey’s superb anamorphic lensing and steadycam use as well as a few reused scenes from the first film inexplicably placed on television screens within the film.
In plotting the filmmakers chose to follow the mold of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Don Siegel’s classic 50’s paranoia film, which was admirably updated in the 70’s by Philip Kaufman. The notion of a silent takeover by a clandestine corporation through television adverstising speaks to American consumerism and extreme free market capitalism in the 80’s. Few ‘throwaway’ horror films in the decade contained this kind of sharp political commentary. The journey of Doctor Dan Challis (Carpenter stalwart Tom Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge searching an answer to the mysterious death of her father by one of the Shamrock robots, follows the same trajectory as Body Snatchers, and other 70’s semi-classics such as Soylent Green.
The pair arrive in the Silver Shamrock corporate town, named Santa Mira, under the same kind of mind-numbing hynopsis as Ellie’s father’s murderer. Here we can connect the drone-like depiction of the townsfolk to Romero’s themes as well Carpenter’s future work remaking Village of the Damned.
The recurring monotonous carnival-esque sounds of the Silver Sharmrock television ads unsubtley direct us to the company’s despotic leader’s grand plan. But the true horror of the masks are admirably saved for a cringe-worthy scene in the final act where the head of a child of an innocent family is turned into a thousand bugs and snakes who proceed to consume the other family members. Adding bugs, snakes to the mix may not fit in with the themes of corporate malfeasance, television hypnosis and later Stonehenge, the scene is so magnificently grotesque we can excuse the overextended ambition.
The finale is tremendous, Tom Atkins’ character frantically calling the television cable company to pull the Shamrock commercial from the air before it turns the heads of millions of children into bugs and snakes excudes the same kind of bold punctuation as Kevin McCarthy’s dramatic final cries in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.