At times no one seems to hate a horror franchise more than the people tasked with producing the sequels. A successful horror movie is almost always spectacularly profitable given that the budgets are so low that they’re quick to recoup. That a successful movie be followed quickly with a sequel is the edict of the genre, all too often the original filmmakers become too expensive to maintain. Instead producers turn to scrubs and up and coming directors to churn out the sequels. Whatever the career ambitions of this lot, many chafe at regurgitating the bullet points from the earlier films. Still, assuming the reigns for a franchise means they get a chance to make a film, one that will have an established audience on opening weekend. So these filmmakers try to slip in a bit of their original vision and we get “Jason Goes to Hell” which reimagines Jason Vorhees as a vengeful spirit, or “Freddy’s Revenge” where Freddy Krueger is a symbol of self loathing rooted in repressed homosexuality.
Perhaps the keenest example of this is Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. John Carpenter demurred when asked to direct Halloween 2, perhaps scorned that so little of the profits went to the filmmakers and instead to producer Moustapha Akkad. Carpenter and his writing partner Debra Hill did provide a script and stayed on as nominal producers. The end result impressed no one.
For the next feature, Carpenter moved further into the shadows. He still could affect the trajectory of the series and elected to let Michael Myers remain dead and turn Halloween into an anthology series. Joe Dante was enlisted to direct “Season of the Witch”, but unfortunately fell through.
What’s in a name? Would this movie be better remembered if the name was ‘Season of the Witch: From the Makers of Halloween’ or ‘John Carpenter’s: Season of the Witch’. I have to believe so. There’s just too much gonzo imagery thrown on the screen for this film to go quietly into obscurity.
It imagines a corporation with a family friendly public face bent to the ritual sacrifice of the nation’s children. The means to this end are shards chipped away from Stonehenge (!) that when soldered to a circuit board and triggered by a TV commercial will turn the nearest person into a decaying corpse. How to get people to wear the circuit and watch the commercial? They are sewed into popular Halloween masks and a massive ad campaign ensures that most children will be glued to their TVs wearing their masks, just waiting for the broadcast.
The deaths are spectacular if not gory per se. The masks turn their wearer’s heads into decaying breeding grounds for snakes and crickets. What kind of person would work in an institution devoted to such ends? No one! The soft spoken owner employees an army of androids. Hardly invincible, they tend to bleed orange pus when struck in the abdomen.
The final third of the film throws out any semblance of logic. The villainous CEO, Colan Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy, who deserved more of these roles) captures the erstwhile hero and begins on the horror equivalent of Goldfinger’s fantastic exposition sequence. Why not just kill the hero, Daniel (Tom Atkins), right there? Dare I imagine it’s because at that point Conal Cochran’s victory is assured and he realizes he’s left no record of his intentions. He takes great pains leading Daniel through his whole macabre production process, explaining each element, its importance, and its origins. He tests his equipment early and kills a whole family just to watch Daniel’s reaction. When Cochran is finally killed by his own tools his expression is of pure bliss.
Daniel escapes with just enough evidence to convince a couple TV stations to pull the commercial, but of course he’s only in one city on one side of the country. A child immediately underscores the futility of these actions. Finding a TV station blocked, he switches to another, then another, until he finds the deadly message. Cochran wins.