Happy anniversary to one of my favorite horror movies! Halloween III: Season of the Witch was released on this date in 1982. Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, this is the only movie in the franchise that does not feature Michael Myers (though he does make a cameo appearance — we briefly see Halloween playing on TV during the Silver Shamrock horrorthon). I’m not shy about my love for this movie, but it hasn’t always had the best reputation. It was pretty widely hated upon its release, but critics and horror fans have revisited the movie in recent years, and it is finally being recognized for the classic that it is.
It’s difficult to give a brief plot synopsis of Halloween III, so get ready for a lengthy one. The film opens with a jack o’ lantern, just like the first two films, but this jack o’ lantern is on a computer screen (and on my shoulder in the form of a tattoo — told you I loved it). A caption tells us that we are in Northern California on October 23. A man is frantically running away from a car with a jack o’ lantern mask in his pocket. (We soon learn that his name is Harry Grimbridge, and for clarity’s sake I’m going to use his name from here on.) Grimbridge’s pursuers are all dressed alike in grey business suits, and one of the suited goons catches up with him and tries to strangle him. Grimbridge crushes his would-be murderer with a car, and he escapes to a gas station where he tells the attendant “They’re coming…” just before he collapses.
The attendant takes Grimbridge to the hospital, where he continues to play the soothsayer, telling the nurses and doctors, “They’re going to kill us all.” Geniuses that they are, they put the terrified man rambling about a murderous conspiracy into an unguarded hospital room all by himself. One of the goons waltzes into Grimbridge’s room and crushes his skull using just two fingers. Dr. Challis, played by my main man Tom Atkins, sees the goon and tries to chase him down, but before he can do anything the goon gets in his car, pours gasoline all over himself, and lights a match. (This is the most realistic car explosion in the history of the franchise, by the way. The explosion at the beginning of Halloween II is probably the least realistic — that’s just not how things work, unless that kid was made entirely out of C-4.)
Challis is understandably intrigued by this bizarre murder-suicide, and when he meets Grimbridge’s daughter Ellie the next morning, they decide to investigate the doin’s that are a-transpirin’ in Santa Mira, the town that Grimbridge visited just before his death. They check into the town’s lone hotel and learn that everyone in the town is creepily devoted to Conal Cochran, the owner of Silver Shamrock Novelties, which is headquartered in Santa Mira and has produced the Halloween masks that all the cool kids (including Challis’s son and daughter) are wearing for Halloween that year.
Challis and Ellie meet a few other non-Stepford people at the hotel: shop owner Marge Guttman, top salesman Buddy Kupter, and Buddy’s wife and son. Marge complains about the silver logo on the back of the masks, saying Silver Shamrock’s quality has gone down lately, and as she fiddles with it the silver circle falls off and reveals a microchip on the back. As you do when you see ominous secret technology, Marge pokes at it with a bobby pin. A laser shoots out of the chip, destroying Marge’s face and causing bugs to crawl out of it, because that’s how lasers work. The grey suit goons show up and whisk Marge’s body away to the factory, telling Cochran that it was a “misfire.” Challis is again intrigued by the mysterious injury and besuited goons, and when he says he is a doctor and can help Marge, Cochran goes full-on “Grinch lying to Cindy Lou Who” and tells Challis that everything is under control and Marge will be taken care of at the factory.
The next day, Challis and Ellie go to the factory, where they meet the Kupters as they are about to begin a factory tour. Challis and Ellie talk their way into joining them on the tour, and they see a not-at-all-suspicious room marked “FINAL PROCESSING.” Ellie also sees her father’s car, guarded of course by the Grey Suit Mafia, so she and Challis return to the hotel to call for help. The goons kidnap Ellie, and Challis returns to the factory to try to rescue her. Challis is caught by the goons, who turn out to be androids created by Cochran, who proceeds in true movie villain fashion to explain his entire plan to Challis.
Cochran bemoans the current incarnation of Halloween and says he wants to return to the traditional celebration of the Celtic holiday Samhain, which includes blood sacrifices. (He also actually pronounces Samhain correctly; unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Loomis when he encounters the word in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, which is another reason to hate that movie.) Cochran stole a piece of Stonehenge, transported it to the factory, and is now using its powers combined with the microchips located on the back of all of his masks to perform a mass sacrifice on Halloween night.
Incidentally, one of my favorite parts of this movie is how it dares you to complain that there is no way in hell they could have stolen a 13-foot, 25-ton rock and transported it from England to California without a single person seeing anything. Cochran says to Challis, “We had a time getting it here. You wouldn’t believe how we did it!” I mean, the balls it takes to include such an impossible plot point and then just say, “I don’t have to explain anything to you, viewers. Come at me, bro.” I love it.
Meanwhile, in the giant microchip/Stonehenge/murder computer portion of the factory, Cochran and his Druid Droids demonstrate to Challis how the masks work. The Kupters are led into a sealed room, where their son puts on a jack o’ lantern mask and settles down in front of the TV to watch the Silver Shamrock horrorthon. The ad with history’s best jingle comes on, and as the music and flashing lights get faster and faster, Little Buddy Kupter realizes something is wrong and grabs the mask to try to pull it off. But alas, dear readers, it is too late for Little Buddy. He collapses dead on the floor, and a hilariously huge number of bugs and snakes crawl out from the space where his head used to be and kill his parents.
Horrified by the Kupters’ gruesome deaths, Challis collapses as well, and when he wakes up, he is tied up in front of a TV set with a skull mask on. Cochran tells him to enjoy the horrorthon and leaves. Because he is Tom Frakkin’ Atkins, Challis manages to take off his mask and toss it on top of the security camera; he then escapes and crawls through the ventilation shaft to rescue Ellie. Before they leave the factory, Challis grabs a box of microchips and dumps them into the center of the Stonehenge Computer Murder Room, killing the Druid Droids and Cochran. Challis and Ellie run away from the factory just before it explodes from all the Stonehenge magic.
They drive away to save the day, but Ellie soon attacks Challis. During the fight, Challis literally rips Ellie apart, revealing her to be an android as well. (Say what you will about those murderous Druids, but they do damn good work. They created a perfect replica of Ellie in no time at all. That is some impressive craftsmanship.) Challis runs to the gas station to alert the TV stations to stop airing the Silver Shamrock ad, and — because he is Tom Frakkin’ Atkins — two of the stations take the ad off the air on the word of a random guy raving about witches and microchips. The ad continues to play on the third station, though (yes, there were only three TV stations; kids, ask your parents). Challis knows that every child in America, including his own kids, will die in moments if that third station doesn’t stop the ad. He screams into the phone: “Turn it off! Stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!” The film cuts to black, letting us know that the massive blood sacrifice is a complete, and completely disgusting, success.
Besides its inherent awesomeness — it’s original, weird, and creepy, which are my favorite things — I love this movie for a few reasons. (1) John Carpenter intended the Halloween franchise to be an anthology series, with every sequel after Halloween II being a standalone story that had nothing to do with Michael Myers. I love this idea, and I wish we could have seen the films that Carpenter, Wallace, and other directors would have made in that series. (2) Though Cochran was a murderer and a maker of creepy-ass androids, he did have a valid point about Christians, particularly Americans, appropriating and sanitizing Celtic beliefs and traditions. I’m not advocating for a massive blood sacrifice, but the man had his history right. (3) This movie has one of the darkest endings in horror history. I like a happy ending every now and then, but I tend to like my horror bleak, and “EVERYBODY DIES. THE END.” is about as bleak as it gets.
Also? It’s gutsy as hell. Following up two successful slasher movies with a sci-fi story about Celtic witchcraft that kills every kid in America is almost as crazy as creating an army of androids and turning Halloween masks into murder weapons. Though that crazy risk didn’t seem to pay off at the time — critics panned it and audiences didn’t want to see a Halloween movie that didn’t have Michael Myers in it — Halloween III: Season of the Witch has deservedly gone up in horror fans’ estimation and emerged as a horror classic that deserves to be a yearly staple alongside the original.