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Thursday, October 22, 2015


 Masks in a horror movie. Yeah, that's undoubtedly gonna work out well...

The week leading up to Halloween, 1982: In the wake of a bizarre murder followed by the immolation suicide of the killer, Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) embarks on his own investigation with the victim's daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin, late of GET CRAZY), providing transportation. The trail of clues leads to the remote, all-Irish Californian town of Santa Mira, home of the Silver Shamrock Novelties company, which this year is mass-producing children's Halloween masks — a skull, a witch, and a Jack O'lantern — bolstered by a saturation marketing campaign with commercials featuring a jingle that is an earworm of Godzilla-like proportions.

Seriously, do not play this unless you want the Silver Shamrock jingle stuck in your brain for a week.

Masterminded by Irish expat Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), a renowned master of the practical joke, the marketing blitz is itself a mask for a twisted plot involving the old school Gaelic festival of Samhain, chips harvested from one of the Stonehenge monoliths, and the playing of the ultimate evil trick (rather than a treat) on all children who wear the Silver Shamrock mask while watching a TV special at a certain time on Halloween night...

Long kept at arm's length like some sort of bastard child of the franchise, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH was released to universal disdain from both professional critics and horror movie fans alike. Intended as the first in an annual horror anthology series in the wake of HALLOWEEN II's seeming coda to the Michael Myers "boogeyman" thing, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH tried something different and genuinely inspired in its weirdness, but its era's slasher-hungry audience wanted its thrills as undemanding and brain-dead as the same crap they'd been repeatedly spoon fed since the release of FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), and that wave rode out the decade to increasingly diminishing returns. And though all of the films bearing the HALLOWEEN franchise brand that followed in its swiftly-dismissed wake brought back Michael Myers as their unstoppable antagonist, none of them were any good and not one of them displayed even one-tenth of the imagination and creativity to be had with SEASON OF THE WITCH. Though sparse on gore/violence (though what there is is quite memorable) and low on actual scares, it's completely loony and rich in atmosphere. What most compels about HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH is its concept and the eventual knowledge that its threat is a dire anti-child practical joke on a truly diabolical and insane scale, which only serves to counterpoint Cochran's techno-sorcerous genius.

Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy). Who says dark magicians can't have a sense of humor?

SEASON OF THE WITCH's focus on ancient pagan magic was a good way to shift from Michael Myers's silent "Boo!-and-stab" schtick but while Celtic magic and alignment of the stars for evil ritual purposes would be touched upon again in later HALLOWEEN installments, that perhaps noble attempt at not totally sweeping SEASON OF THE WITCH's contributions to the franchise under the rug brought nothing to the proceedings and only served to make the stories make even less sense.

To be 100% honest, I was among the disgusted naysayers who experienced HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH when it first hit, and none of my peers at the time had anything kind to say about it. But, unlike the creatively-bankrupt Michael Myers followups, the years have been very kind to the misbegotten SEASON OF THE WITCH and it is finally being re-assessed on its own low-key merits. If you're one of the legion of haters, do yourself the favor and give it a second look. It's a hell of a lot better than you may think.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

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