How ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ Took the Franchise’s Biggest Risk

Maligned sequel leaves the saga's serial killer out but not the chills, thrills

Tommy Lee Wallace’s “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1983) begins with a zoom-like sound, an electronic squeal or shriek chord that will be repeated later on.

It’s the Alan Howarth/John Carpenter score, a sinister, creepy and wonderful composition, which plays over the clever opening of a pumpkin being formed into a jack o’ lantern, albeit with early 1980s computer graphics.

As the introductory credits finish, the jack ‘o lantern flashes in a violent strobe effect, an unsettling visual offers some foreshadowing: we will eventually know this is the last image the film’s victims will ever see on “The Night No One Comes Home” (as touted by the movie poster tagline).

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982) Official Trailer

We get a prologue that must have been the first indication to an eager audience that this is nothing like they’d expected.

We see a man being chased by the first of many threatening men in suits, who wordlessly stalk and kill their prey. It’s brutal and eerie in a way that is nothing like Carpenter’s 1978 original but reflects the grisly explicitness of the 1981 sequel, “Halloween II.”

The dying words from an early victim are, “they’re coming.”

The prologue is followed by “One Year Later.” We meet Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins), a family man and doctor investigating a bizarre murder that takes place in his hospital. A silent, suited monster murdered a hospital patient, then walked to his car, covered himself in gasoline and ignited himself in flames.

It’s not the first or last instance where the violence is far more gruesome than necessary.


Joining Dr. Challis on his wild investigation is Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), who is searching for her missing father.

We then head to Santa Mira (actually Eureka, Calif.), a small, working-class town with surveillance cameras perched on high. As a “period piece,” since this was in theaters 40 years ago, it takes us to old costume shops, offers us pay phones and empty, low-tech hospitals.

This is among the most atmospheric films in the entire “Halloween” series. The montage of this Norman Rockwellian town under lockdown and shutting off for the night (after a loudspeaker announces curfew) is spooky.

At one point, Dr. Challis checks a motel sign-in book while Ellie distracts the owner – a touch right out of “Psycho” (1960). Not long after, we get a motel patron’s shocking and outrageous death by a laser. The old-school plot threads are constantly being contrasted by joltingly gross bits of gore.

The film’s central villain, Zephram Cochrane (an imposing and quietly terrifying Daniel O’Herlihy) rides by in his limo. We don’t see him at first, but we’re looking through his POV as the vehicle leaves the scene, much like Michael Myers’ early stalking scenes in “Halloween” (1978).

Once O’Herlihy officially becomes a central character, the actor brings a different and far more commanding energy than his co-stars.

The scene with “Buddy Cuthbert” and his tacky family feels aligned with John Hughes’ “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” except here, the equivalent of the Griswolds are severely punished for their consumerist ways.

It is announced with admiration that Cochrane “invented Sticky Toilet Paper” (!) and that he’s “the richest man in the country and got that way selling cheap masks.” Hence, Cochrane has achieved the American Dream and, when we finally know what he’s up to, realize he’s like a satanic James Bond villain.


For all the playfully pulpy aspects of the screenplay, the sadism hits hard: The murders of the lab assistant and the visiting family in the Silver Shamrock factory are truly mean.

It’s not a surprise when Dr. Challis discovers that Cochrane has been creating robots, but the unveiling is intriguing – the hero finds a full sized, animatronic woman knitting, a robot revealed to come from “1785, made in Munich.”

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch” is wild and exists in a dread-inducing world where anything, even the most unthinkable, is possible. It moves well, takes its bonkers premise as far as it can go and doesn’t allow for a pat or safe ending.

Dean Cundy’s cinematography is a major asset here. There’s a great montage of children all over the world Trick or Treating, as well as the stunning exterior shots of Santa Mira. Like all of Cundey’s work for Carpenter, this is an exceptionally good-looking horror film.

Tommy Lee Wallace’s “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” was famously a cause for fanboy outrage and a franchise killer upon initial release. Truly, this does not take place after “Halloween II”. In fact, Nancy Loomis’ cameo as Dr. Challis’ wife and a trailer for the original “Halloween” plays in a bar – this is a world where the first movie is a work of fiction!

This used to appear very high on annual lists of the worst sequels ever made. Over time, an appreciation not only for its differences from the other “Halloween” films but also as a misunderstood horror/sci hybrid has elevated its once rock-bottom reputation.

Now, here’s a film that has not only garnered respect but even true admiration from fans, who have redirected their position on it. Like the similarly dismissed then reevaluated “Alien 3” (1992), I’ve seen this a lot, didn’t like it the first time but have come to appreciate it more with each viewing.

Of all the films in the long-running series, this is the true cult film in the “Halloween” franchise.

Although Wallace is the film’s writer/director, original creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill produced. You’ll also hear orchestral similarities to Carpenter’s spooky, hypnotic electronic score for “Christine” (1983).

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (5/10) Movie CLIP - Test Room A (1982) HD

The Don Post-created Halloween masks on view that Cochrane mass markets, with the Pumpkin, Witch and Ghost options, are the essence of Halloween; it’s a touch that suggests Cochrane knew this would be the last Halloween for America, as the masks are stripped down and convey the season in a traditional and sinister fashion.

Atkins is a 1970s leading man and Nelkin is striking but it’s the late O’Herlihy who walks away with the film. The rushed and not entirely convincing “romance” between the two leads has a ‘70s attitude that drifted into this very-80s horror film.

The villains are all silent men in suits and unnerving, zombie-like henchmen. The “Silver Shamrock” jingle is played 12 times (the commercial was created by Sam Nicholson and is as well produced and plausibly catchy as anything from that era).

Halloween III: Season of the Witch - Making Of

The finale offers a series of surreal reveals, then goes full circle back to the gas station of the opener and concludes with Atkins doing his best Kevin McCarthy from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

The last act of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” is among its best, because you won’t be able to get ahead of it. While fans of the series may have balked at the lack of Michael Myers back in 1983, there’s no way they could have predicted how this one ends.

The dread of the introduction is fulfilled and, of all things, a once beaten down franchise entry has become a scrappy favorite for those who want more than The Shape for Halloween.

One Comment

  1. It’s been a looong time since I’ve seen this movie, but I think it would have done better in its theatrical release if it wasn’t a Halloween sequel. Make it part of the Halloween “universe” or whatever with the nod to the original playing on TV, but a lot of moviegoers likely went in expecting Michael Myers and badmouthing the movie as a result.

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