The longevity of horror franchises has always relied on the star power of their villains. An iconic movie monster like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees can give a film legs beyond an average premise. Removing that character from a later installment can be… risky, to say the least. To it’s credit, Halloween III had the guts to try.
Michael Myers, the face of the Halloween franchise, is altogether absent from Season of the Witch (except in what amounts to occasional cameos via the first Halloween being played on television). Instead, Halloween III starts with something closer to a crime thriller vibe. A man, Harry Grimbridge, races for safety from a pursuing car. He barely manages to escape to a gas station after killing one of his attackers. Admitted to a hospital under the care of a Doctor Challis (our protagonist), Grimbridge is murdered in his bed, his killer returning to his car only to burn himself alive.
Already disturbed by the violence and the man’s final words (“They’re going to kill us.”), Challis is approached by Grimbridge’s daughter, Ellie, who has been investigating the events surrounding her father’s death. The two soon find links to the small town of Santa Mira and the novelty company that has been producing the year’s most popular Halloween masks…
Halloween III takes a lot of risks, and most of them pay off. Doctor Challis (played with gruff charm by Tom Atkins) is a layered, vice-riddled protagonist and far more interesting than most horror movie leads. The film relies far more on mood and tension than violence to earn its thrills, building to both with the assistance of a rather memorable score along the way. The film’s plot also features an unusually heavy dose of science fiction for the slasher era, making the plot’s blend of pagan magic and microchips unique. Perhaps most impressively, Halloween III makes children the villain’s primary targets. While this element undoubtedly made Season of the Witch unlikable to some, it added an extra level of unsettling power to the ambiguity of the ending.
John Carpenter had hoped Halloween would spawn an anthology film series centered on the holiday, making Season of the Witch‘s critical and box office failure an unfortunate waste of potential. However, Halloween III has been coming into its own as a cult phenomenon in more recent years. It’s a true pity that praise couldn’t have come sooner and kept the Halloween franchise fresh for years to come.