Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) — ‘Halloween III: Season Of The Witch’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?).
Most folks, myself included, go to certain movies around the holidays. However, my favorite holiday of Halloween did not gain a film that genuinely celebrated it until 1978’s Halloween. John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick is rightfully considered one of the best horror movies ever made. It gave us an icon of modern horror in Michael Myers. More than that though, it created a franchise that spanned 11 movies, 4 continuities, and 40 years With the upcoming 11th entry, Blumhouse’s Halloween, set to be released on October 19th, I’ll take a look back at the Halloween franchise. In doing so, I’ll trace precisely how one of the most convoluted movie franchises in history got to the already divisive entry and why we need it. Before we rush to get to the latest 21st-century attempt to breathe new life into this series, let’s look at the first attempt to do so with Halloween III: Season of the Witch!
Every long-running horror film franchise has a black sheep in its filmic flock. For Freddy Krueger, it’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). Then there’s Jason Voorhees, whose resurrection was roundly rejected in Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985). And for the Halloween franchise, there’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). A film that upon its release, baffled audiences and was ultimately dismissed by them at the time. However, in the 36 years since then, the film in review has gained a devout cult following and found new life. With that in mind, I’m going to give you some insight on the development of Halloween III: Season of the Witch as well as my take on the movie. So, let’s get into it; is Halloween III a trick or a treat?
As I stated in my review of Halloween II (1982), this franchise’s creators, John Carpenter and Debra Hill felt perfectly fine putting Michael Myers to bed for good with that second installment. But as you might imagine, the various producers of the first two pictures didn’t want to abandon their Halloween horror money train. Given carte blanche, Carpenter and Hill presented, what, at the time was an exceptionally novel idea. Halloween III would not feature Michael Myers; instead, it would be an entirely new story exploring other facets of the Halloween holiday. Moreover, they pitched the idea that these films could become an annual tradition. An original anthology story each year; any of which could be sequelized or branched-off from. Sound familiar?
The story pitch for Halloween III was “Witchcraft in the computer age.” To execute such a concept, Joe Dante (The ‘Burbs) was originally hired to direct, and Carpenter approached The Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale to pen the film’s screenplay. But, as tends to happen in filmmaking, things changed quickly. Dante bowed out as director and Kneale’s screenplay was given a rewrite by Carpenter in which the story’s violence was amped up. At this point, Hill and Carpenter reached out to Halloween’s editor and production designer, Tommy Lee Wallace; offering their old pal the directing gig (just as they did with the previous installment.) Upon learning that this third entry would essentially be its own thing, Wallace immediately agreed to hell the sequel. In doing so, Wallace also gave the movie’s screenplay a rewrite of his own.
What results is one of the most brilliantly wonky stories in horror movie history. Season of the Witch takes us out Haddonfield, Illinois and into California. It’s a week from Halloween when Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) has a patient die under mysterious and violent circumstances. The following day, that patient’s daughter, Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) shows up; suspicions that one of the companies with which her father dealt, may have something to do with his death. As horror movie logic dictates, Dan instantly agrees to travel with Ellie to the small town of Santa Mira, California to get some answers. Once they arrive, the couple finds that the spooky village is essentially run by the Silver Shamrock Novelties Company and its founder/owner Conal Cochran (Dan O’ Herhily). Soon, Dan and Ellie are plunged into stopping a ghastly Halloween trick that could change the world forever.
Now, if that sounds like the plot of a B-movie that should’ve probably landed on TV as a movie of the week in the 80s or SyFy today, it’s because that’s precisely what this movie would ordinarily be. The story for Halloween III is absolutely bug-nuts but in the best way possible. Back in the day, I wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies until they came on TV, in their edited formats. However, my folks oddly seemed to have no trouble with me reading what would be R-rated material. Thus, my first exposure to Halloween III was in its novelization form by Jack Martin. Even as a middle-schooler who read this book while being forced to go to-and-fro to Summer physical therapy; sessions, the novelization kept me entertained. Even then I knew the story was one of pure craziness; probably fueled by over-imbibing in pumpkin juice and candy corn.
So a few years later when the movie in review finally did start a regular rotation on TV, I tuned in. I must admit that upon my first viewing all those years ago, I did not love Halloween III. In fact, I probably reacted the way most of the moviegoing audience did back in ‘82. At the same time though, I knew that the film possesses the qualities of the holiday that it needed to. Furthermore, I felt the movie had an almost hypnotic quality.
Even so, it wasn’t until years later that I came around to seeing how good of a movie Halloween III is (much like the rest of the horror community did.) Does this film fit snugly into the rest of the franchise of which it’s a part? No, absolutely not, but once you get past the fact that Michael Myers is not (technically) in Halloween III and accept that this sequel is own thing, you might enjoy it. If not for anything else, this third entry does have the same atmosphere and mood of its predecessors; if not a superior one. The movie has those same qualities because the majority of the previous entries’ crew returned to work on the film under review. Specifically, this picture boasts beautiful cinematography by Dean Cundey anda score that sets the mood by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Beyond that, the movie has nice little through line that connects it to its predecessors.
More importantly, though, Halloween III offers a new take on the horror of the holiday. This movie gives us a unique story with new characters. Like many people, my favorite character in the movie is Dan Challis, played by Tom Atkins. A protagonist who makes bad choices, is a functional alcoholic, and most-likely a terrible medical professional. However, Challis is a likable, hero all the way through. In my opinion, Challis’ likeability is thanks to Atkins’ performance. A long-time character actor and occasional leading man, Atkins has that unique ability to be both an everyman and a bad-ass simultaneously. Having had the pleasure of meeting Atkins years ago at a convention, I can tell you he gives us off the same vibe in real life; and is a nice guy to boot!
Halloween III also gives us a fantastic new villain in Conal Cochran. Played with the bravado of a Bond antagonist Dan O’ Herhily. While Cochran’s motives are ultimately ludacris; they are also just malicious and scary enough to work as a story point. Alas, I can’t commend the rest of the cast, which I feel merely give serviceable performances. Granted, all of these performances are a bit overblown at times. Thankfully though, such an acting quality is less distracting than you would think. In fact, I think the acting adds to the B-movie goodness of it.
By no means is Halloween III a perfect film. It’s pacing is sometimes labored, and the plot is absolutely ridiculous. Despite those issues though, I do think that it’s a good movie and my favorite sequel in this franchise. Halloween III is B-movie made with A-grade skill. It tried to do something different and was financially successful; pulling in over $14 million on a $2.5 million budget. Alas thanks to mismanaged marketing, the audience of the time was understandably baffled and disappointed. Had the anthology concept that Halloween III set forth been successful, it would have been film’s first cinematic universe. No matter the results of the day, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, by its very nature is A Franchise Expansion! So if you’re one of these folks who disregarded this film because Michael’s not in it; please, give it another chance this Halloween season!
Join Me Next Time When This Franchise Returns to Familiar Territory with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)!
In the meantime, you can also treat yourself to the other Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) Reviews in the Halloween series-
Halloween II (1981):