Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #14
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 22, 1982
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $14,400,000
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Producers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace, Nigel Kneale, John Carpenter
Special Make-Up Effects: Jon G Belyeu, William Aldridge
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Score: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Editing: Millie Moore
Studio: Dino De Laurentiis Corporation
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Michael Currie, Garn Stephens, Nancy Keyes, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, Brad Schacter, Garn Stephens, Jonathan Terry, Al Berry, Wendy Wessberg, Essex Smith, Maidie Newman, John MacBride
Suggested Audio Treat:
John Carpenter & Alan Howarth Main Theme
Certain films just don’t receive the credit they deserve and seem ordained with spending eternity overlooked and woefully misunderstood. On rare occasion, said works eventually locate their target audience and go on to achieve cult status and, when this happens, their detractors are forced into eating humble pie. This is particularly rife amongst sequels as expectation often prevents them being regarded on their own merits. Time can be the great healer and it is then, and only then, that the outlook can become sunnier. Suddenly, said naysayers perform a swift U-turn, exercise reason as opposed to contempt, fondness instead of indifference or, worse still, disdain. I truly hope that is the case for Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch as the witch hunt it was subjected to back in 1982 was simply unforgivable.
Its crime against cinema was simple. It bore the massive burden of being shamelessly marketed towards a fickle demographic for which anything less than Myers was never likely to suffice and wore that heavy cross around its neck like an osmium anchor. Wallace’s film was considered culpable for not being a Halloween movie in anything other than name and thus foolishly regarded as little more than a seasonal cash-in. However, what many critics largely chose to ignore is that it is actually a superior movie to any of following stream of sequels and reboots to John Carpenter’s hugely influential innovator. Not only that but its feet are actually firmly planted in the same universe as the one he provided for The Shape’s stomping ground.
It replicates the atmosphere of a Halloween film and this due, in no small manner, to its throbbing synthesized score. With Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth on audio duties, it becomes instantly relevent. I would even go as far as saying that it ranks amongst the pair’s finest ever compositions. In a wonderfully whimsical nod, it even manages to feature actual footage from the original film to remind us just where we are residing. There is so much about this film that is authentically Halloween yet somehow Wallace’s film still obtains its own exclusive identity. Perhaps if it had been known simply as Season of The Witch (regardless of whether or not George A. Romero had already claimed this mantle ten years previous), then due respect would have been achieved. Either way, one thing is crystal clear to me: it is one helluva great fucking movie!
The first of Wallace’s master strokes is to cast Tom Atkins in the leading role of cynical love doctor Dan Challis and this is no small coup we are speaking of here as few can claim to possess even a tenth of this man’s bedside manner. It frustrates the living hell out of me that Atkins has been so consistently overlooked for linchpin roles as he has proved, time and again, the kind of unfathomable sexual bravado that has in his locker. At his best when portraying stony-faced ladies man with a devil-may-care outlook; this faint whiff of arrogance enabled a man of his years to bed The Body that was Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog and, what’s more, make it totally believable. Fuck it, she even acted like the lucky one.
The old dog is at it again here, and his crude cologne is evidently a potent aphrodisiac as once again he entices a woman barely half his age to accompany him on the horizontal Challis slide. This culminates in a wonderfully frank and funny exchange during the throes of passion as his concerned bedfellow overhears a bizarre noise and inquires as to what it could be. In perfectly deadpan Atkins manner, he mutters “who cares!” before continuing to probe away unperturbed. He was also pitch-perfect as Ray Cameron in Fred Dekker’s forgotten classic Night Of The Creeps and the fact that Challis provides perhaps his most iconic turn is some compliment believe me.
The opening scene sets us up rather perfectly as a sorry victim is pursued doggedly by some decidedly dapper devil drones and escapes by the very skin of his teeth. After being admitted to the local hospital and placed under the care of a certain Dr. Dan Challis, the old man is promptly snuffed out in particularly inhospitable fashion. This culminates in one of the most unnerving eye-gouges I’ve ever witnessed and is achieved, almost entirely, by sickeningly effective use of audio alone. As far as intros go, Halloween III: Season of The Witch has itself something of a doozy and states its morose intention without any procrastination whatsoever.
Anyhoots, Challis smells a rat and, realizing that he needs a travel/mattress companion, joins forces with granddaughter of the deceased Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). Together they set off to investigate the suspicious circumstances of his untimely demise and their inquiry leads them directly to the sleepy town of Santa Mira. This is also the residence of Silver Shamrock Novelties, a factory run by Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) and it isn’t long before things take a turn for the decidedly worse. We just know that Cochran is up to something and that behind his creepy smile lies a criminal mastermind hell-bent on world domination. Moreover, Challis shares our concern, and is just as hell-bent on uncovering the truth (after a dash of harmless coitus naturally).
John Carpenter & Alan Howarth Chariots of Pumpkins
While it is abundantly clear that skullduggery is indeed afoot, I shall reveal no more as it would markedly lesson the experience for any first-timers amongst us. Plot aside then, what actually makes Halloween III: Season Of The Witch such a great goddamn movie? I have decided to break it down for you. Each tick it achieves will earn it a mark out of ten and that is how I intend to reach my overall judgement. I’ve never really cared for the orthodox approach you see, this is how so many critics become so shockingly misguided in their blathering. So, without further ado, it’s time to do the math.
Starting with the plain obvious, the inspired casting of my own personal man-crush Atkins bags its first mark straight off the bat. 1/10. The pulsating electronic score swiftly doubles that tally. 2/10. It knows its roots and utilizes the Halloween template cunningly to tell its fable. 3/10 The aforementioned eye-gouge leaves an interminable stain on the psyche. 4/10. It is alarmingly gory in its uncensored print and the practical FX is both deftly handled and devilishly gruesome. 5/10. Wallace demonstrates how to build tension steadily and consistently throughout. 6/10. It provides a surprisingly strong anti-consumerism message, a fact sadly overlooked upon its release. 7/10. It doesn’t shy away from the controversial and makes no bones about redecorating a young boy’s skull as a playground for serpents. 8/10. The closing act is downright masterful and concludes with a truly nerve-shattering ending. 9/10. Indeed it is a single flash of eighties bush away from attaining that elusive perfect score.
At the very least, I hope my appraisal starts to rebuild this film’s tarnished image after the damage dealt by its poor critical reception. I find it downright unforgivable that its IMDb average user score is currently 4.4 and it is obvious that the penny still hasn’t collectively dropped. Of all the movies dealt rough justice during the eighties, this one saddens me the most. Granted, it may not feature Michael Myers but Season of The Witch is actually very much a true Halloween movie in one key area. Wallace’s movie restores the festive night to its witch cult origins and, moreover, does so with considerable aplomb. That alone renders it fully deserving of its mantle in my book. I pray that one day the rest of the world will cotton on and, if not, then I’ll just keep playing the Silver Shamrock jingle until they do.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers: Make absolutely no mistake, this is one damned mean-spirited little number. Top boxes are tugged free from their windpipes, faces melted down by electrical surges, peepers pushed back into hemorrhaging brains. The lot. My personal stand out would have to be the moment when poor Little Budd has his head space converted to a squidgy pulp by all manner of venomous snakes and other creepy crawlies as I just didn’t expect Wallace to go there. Both decidedly bleak and utterly unrelenting, Season of The Witch comes surprisingly close to supplying us Gruehead heaven.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)