Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 4/52a: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – A Curious Slice of Culture and Collisions with the Past
Well, Halloween III. Where to start and where to finish, it’s something of a multi-layered subject and film…
Back around Autumn 2017 I started to find myself increasingly interested in the work of John Carpenter. I’d been watching his work on and off since a young age but something sparked off a renewed interest…
…and then during the weekend just before Halloween last year I found myself in one of the bargain-about-£1-per item shops that dot the land…
There for but £1 was the DVD of Halloween III: Season of the Witch – I rather liked the synchronicity of coming across the film at that time of year and so I wandered home with it.
I’m not quite sure I was completely ready for it as a film. It’s an odd (but also intriguing) cinematic and cultural experience.
Originally released in 1982, it’s not actually a John Carpenter film, rather part of the Halloween franchise which was created by John Carpenter, with the film being co-produced by John Carpenter, with a soundtrack by him and Alan Howarth and was written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Well, sort of written by him. More on that in a moment.
How to describe it? Well, if you imagine a mixture of the work of John Carpenter at one step remove, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Stepford Wives, a more b-movie and less arthouse take on earlier David Cronenberg and the work of Nigel Kneale, you may not be far off.
Why Nigel Kneale? Well, he wrote the original screenplay and was asked to do so in part because John Carpenter was an admirer of his Quatermass series. Nigel Kneale delivered a script that was apparently based more on psychological shocks rather than more conventional horror and physical ones but Dino De Laurentiis, who owned the distribution rights, wanted more traditional horror/violence.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace revised the script and Nigel Kneale asked for his name to be taken off the finished film.
However, watching the film I think it has a surprisingly small amount of gore and violence considering the above and its genre – much of such things happen offscreen and in comparison to the often gratuitous imagery and special effects of a number of films today, this seems relatively tame (if still at times quite shocking).
The spirit of Nigel Kneale’s work remains quite strongly in the finished film; the plot involves a novelty toy/trick manufacturing company that has incorporated a microchip which includes fragements from one of the stones from Stonehenge in their halloween masks – which are proving massively popular with the children of the US.
The stone fragments contain some form of ancient power, which via the microchip will be triggered by the flashing images in the company’s television adverts on Halloween, causing the death/sacrifice of the wearers and those nearby, effectively reviving a ritual that last happened 3000 years ago and bringing about the resurrection of an ancient age of witchcraft.
Ancient, buried rituals. The power of standing stones. The collision of ancient powers and modern science. Nothing Nigel Kneal-esque there then.
As mentioned earlier, Halloween III brings to mind the earlier films Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Stepford Wives – this is in particular due to the company’s power over and replacement of the local town and it’s population.
The town is completely run and controlled by the company, complete with a threatening sense of electronic surveillance, a curfew announced in the evening over a tannoy system and a sense that the population is being replaced by androids.
Returning to David Cronenberg, Halloween III, put me in mind in part of Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which was released around a similar period in 1983.
Although more overtly b-movie like than Cronenberg-arthouse-esque, at times Halloween III seems to have some of the emotional distance that Cronenberg’s films can have.
(As an aside, John Carpenter’s films – particularly his earlier work – could well be considered the less arthouse but possibly at times more entertaining flipside to David Cronenberg’s earlier films).
As with the manipulative organisation in Videodrome, in Halloween III, despite planning on effectively taking over/changing the world and having the resources to mass-manufacture convincingly human androids, the novelty manufacturing company, their factory and infrastructure seems curiously low-key and non-high tech: this isn’t some big gleaming futuristic corporation, more a small-ish local factory with a slightly down-at-heel, paint chipped locale.
(As a further aside the town where the factory is based seems to be a fairly typical small sized town, with the factory work seeming quite blue collar manual when carried out by humans, while in contrast the android “workers” are corporately, white collar suited.)
And in both films television/video are shown as being used for a form of signal transmission which controls the minds and/or causes a physical alteration/mutation and/or destruction in those who watch it.
Along which lines, the opening sequence where CRT television scan lines, pixels and glitches build into the graphic of a Halloween pumpkin capture a sense of early 1980s technology and it’s at times period use as a malignant or threatening force particularly well.
John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s minimal synth score for Halloween III is well worth seeking out and to my mind it is one of the finest of John Carpenter’s classic synth soundtracks. In but a few notes, synth washes and spare percussion it creates an intriguing, entrancing and possibly seductive atmosphere while also being almost subtly, gently ominously portentous.
The original releases of the soundtrack are now quite rare, as are most of the re-issues: it has been re-released several times, first on CD in 1989, a complete extended CD version of the soundtrack was released by Alan Howarth in a limited edition of 1000 in 2007 and a vinyl version was issued by the Death Waltz Recording Company in 2012, all of which are out of print.
However, the complete version is still available as a print-on-demand CD in the US and on import elsewhere and can also be found on various online streaming services if you should have a hankering to listen to it.