It’s hard to not admire the tenacity of the producers of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), including the series progenitors, John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Moustapha Akkad alongside the legendary, and volatile, Dino De Laurentiis, who had also produced the prior sequel. Here were four people with full creative control of a budding franchise featuring a now iconic character in its antagonist Michael Meyers, a boogeyman for a new generation of horror obsessives. The concept of franchising a horror property was still relatively new in 1982; the closest peer of Halloween (1979) is Friday the 13th (1980), which was also marking its third installment that year. The iconic slasher of that series, Jason, had only a small part in the first film but was introduced in mature form for the sequel. Meanwhile, the producers of Halloween III did the unthinkable: they took their franchise player out of the picture.
In the same year that Jason would pick up his hockey mask for the first time, Michael Meyers sat out the third entry in the series that had been built around him. The first sequel, the aptly titled Halloween II (1981), picked up right where the first film left off, with Meyers surviving his supposed death to continue stalking his would-be victim, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, transporting the suburban horror of the first film to the corridors and patient rooms of a hospital. It operates as you’d expect, with an increased budget, better-known cast, and higher body count. It would be safe to say that when a third film was announced, audiences expected Meyers to rise again and continue his streak of terror, leaving even more bodies in his wake, but the creative team had a different idea.
The directorial debut of Tommy Lee Wallace, who had collaborated with John Carpenter as co-editor of Halloween and The Fog (1980), Halloween III could be considered a sequel in name only. The script, co-written by Wallace and the British horror scribe Nigel Kneale (The Quatermass Xperiment, 1955; The Stone Tape, 1972), is equal parts folk horror, conspiracy thriller, police procedural, and gory horror show. It’s an inspired, kitchen-sink approach to genre conventions, but it is distinctly not a slasher film. Wallace’s sequel abandons the stalk-and-slash formula of Carpenter’s original, and its decidedly similar sequel, for something much more amorphous: a conspiracy-focused film that sees a small town as the homebase for a corporate scheme to Make Halloween Great Again. Rather than giving out candy or other means of seasonal cheer, they opt to carry out this mission with the aid of masks which come with deadly results for those in possession of them.
There has, naturally, been heated debate for decades as to whether or not Halloween III is a canon entry in the series. To date, it is the only entry to not (technically) feature Michael Meyers, although the recent Halloween Ends (2022), flirts with something similar. Despite the absence of a marquee villain, Wallace’s film embodies the spirit of the holiday and of Carpenter’s original film. An insidious, often very violent, portrayal of small-town America and the evil that it harbors, it’s not only canon, it’s one of the best entries in the series.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch screens tonight, October 30, at both BAM and Roxy Cinema in 35mm. It also plays again November 1 at Roxy.