“Halloween—the Festival of Samhain. The last great one took place three thousand years ago, and the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children…”
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Wendy Wessberg, Michael Currie, Al Berry, Nancy Kyes, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, Brad Schacter, Garn Stephens, Maidie Norman, Essex Smith, Dick Warlock
Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace, John Carpenter (uncredited) and Nigel Kneale (uncredited)
Synopsis: A man runs in terror through the Californian night. He tries to hide in a junkyard, but one of his business-suited pursuers catches him, throwing him to the ground and trying to strangle him. As they struggle, the man pulls a wheel-block from beneath a nearby car; it rolls forward, pinning his attacker against a second vehicle and allowing the man to scramble free and run. Eventually he staggers into a gas station, where he collapses… Dr Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is called away from an awkward get-together with his children and ex-wife, Linda (Nancy Kyes), to attend a man hospitalised due to severe shock. Though apparently catatonic, the man reacts violently when a jingle for the Silver Shamrock novelty company plays on a television in a waiting-area, screaming that, “They’re going to kill us…!” No sooner has he been sedated and left alone than a man in a business-suit slips into his room and reaches out with deadly purpose… A nurse discovers the bloody aftermath: her screams bring Challis to the scene. He runs after the killer, who is sitting in a car outside the hospital, and is in time to see him douse himself with petrol and set himself alight: the car explodes in a massive fireball… The next morning, after a sleepless night spent assisting the police, Challis is present when the murdered man’s daughter, Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), arrives to identify her father; she recoils in horrified disbelief from what has been done to him. Unable to leave the matter alone, Challis calls on an old friend who is now Assistant Coroner. Teddy (Wendy Wessberg) agrees to tell him whatever she can find out. A couple of days later, Ellie tracks Challis to his favourite bar. She thanks him for attending the funeral, and questions him about her father’s last moments. At first Challis tries to put her off, but finally tells her about the Halloween mask that Grimbridge was clutching when he was brought in, and his final words… Challis accompanies Ellie to her father’s novelty store, where he recognises the Halloween mask as one of the Silver Shamrock line. Ellie tells him that she has checked on her father’s movements before his death: his last act was to visit the Silver Shamrock factory to pick up a new order of masks. The two agree to visit the factory, located in the small town of Santa Mira, to see what they can find out. They find out that after WWII, Santa Mira was effectively taken over by an Irishman called Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). As soon as they drive into town, Challis and Ellie realise they are being watched by the townspeople; what they don’t know is that security cameras are also watching their every move. Posing as married buyers, the two pull into the local service station, whose owner, Rafferty (Michael Currie), also operates Santa Mira’s one motel. As Ellie accompanies Rafferty to a room, Challis slips into the office and looks through the register, confirming that Harry Grimbridge stayed there. At 6.00pm, a town-wide P. A. system announces curfew; the security cameras continue to scan the now-deserted streets. Challis, however, goes out to pick up a bottle of liquor. On his way back he is accosted by a homeless man who begs for a drink. Challis obliges, taking the opportunity to question the man about Conal Cochran. He learns that when Cochran moved in, he forced out the original occupants of Santa Mira and replaced them with his own people, refusing to employ anyone local. The man draws Challis’s attention to the security cameras, before muttering about the “wild shit” that goes on at the factory and threatening to blow it up. He then staggers off into the night—right into two blank-faced, business-suited individuals, one of whom proceeds to tear his head from his body…
Comments: Well, we all know the story… The might-have-been-s connected with Halloween III: Season Of The Witch are legion, as are the opinions of how this situation could and should have played out. Myself, I’m inclined to mourn the loss of a yearly Halloween-themed horror movie; but the reality is that if John Carpenter & Co. really wanted to go down that road, they should never have succumbed to financial temptation and made a direct sequel to Halloween; or at least, they should have postponed the sequel until after the pattern had been broken. In the horror climate of the early eighties, once the link had been forged between “Halloween” and “Michael Myers”, there was no way to break the chain. The makers of Season Of The Witch can’t really have been surprised that, confronted with a Myers-less film, the mob got out its pitchforks and torches.
Mind you—given the film it was confronted by, the mob might have responded in the same way even if ol’ Mikey had been out of the question…
Then again, it might not. You might have noticed that I’ve already fallen into the habit of calling this film “Season Of The Witch” rather than “Halloween III” ; and there is no shortage of commentators who’ll tell you that this film might have been a success upon its first release had it not been sold as a Halloween sequel. In this respect the film bears a resemblance to Exorcist III, another unwise sequel that failed initially, but which has since found its audience on DVD. Able to come to this film with fresh eyes, unhampered by the baggage that pulled it down in 1982, many modern viewers have found a lot to enjoy in Season Of The Witch; though there are plenty of people who hate it, too. Both reactions are valid. Regardless of the circumstances of its production and release, this film offers up such a bizarre and twisted scenario it was bound to be divisive. And then there’s that ending…
It’s curious to reflect that this John Carpenter-produced film was released the same year as Carpenter’s own The Thing: a film which, so conventional wisdom would have it, tanked chiefly because of its downer ending. Evidently Carpenter, in his role of producer, warned Tommy Lee Wallace away from ending his film the way he was planning to, but nevertheless left the decision in Wallace’s own hands. Wallace persisted, and consequently Season Of The Witch concludes on a note that makes the ending of The Thing seem like a jolly romp in the park. Personally, I admire it, but…it’s not for everyone, to say the least.
When Season Of The Witch was first conceived, Joe Dante was slated to direct; and while at this distance that thought tends to make you blink, when you stop and consider what Dante did to Christmas two years later in Gremlins, you can see where the producers were coming from. However, for better or worse, Dante moved on before production commenced— although not before he had succeeded in attaching Nigel Kneale to the project.
Alas, by that point the film had also attached Dino De Laurentiis, who agreed to broker a distribution deal with Universal through his own production company, but only if the film-makers ramped up the violence and other exploitable elements in Kneale’s predominantly psychological horror story. John Carpenter obliged, changing so much of the story in the process that Kneale had his name removed from the screenplay. Carpenter was nevertheless reluctant – or perhaps understandably reluctant – to receive screen credit for Season Of The Witch, and in the end the sole writing credit went to Tommy Lee Wallace, although by his own account his contributions to the script were relatively minor.
Despite all this, for those familiar with Nigel Kneale’s work his fingerprints can still be seen all over Season Of The Witch: in the basic plot of an ancient evil erupting into modern society; the examination of the origins of modern superstitions; and the blending of science fiction and horror, in particular the use of technology in the service of the supernatural. And although this is not a “John Carpenter film”, per se, Season Of The Witch serves very much to highlight just how influential Nigel Kneale has been on Carpenter’s career overall: there’s something about the way his ideas are used here that puts you in mind of all sorts of touches in Carpenter’s own films.
(In fact, here’s a triple-bill for you, come next Halloween: Quatermass And The Pit plus Season Of The Witch plus Prince Of Darkness.)
But whatever Nigel Kneale originally intended, there is no question that Season Of The Witch as it stands is one deeply peculiar film. Quite frankly, it’s a mess; yet the results are often strangely compelling, with so much general WTF-ery on display that there’s barely a moment when you aren’t gawping at something in bemusement and/or disbelief.
Season Of The Witch opens in classic paranoiac style, with a terrified man being chased through the night by The Men In Suits. This sequence is shot in shades of grey, so that the viewer’s attention is immediately drawn to the vivid orange colour of the Halloween mask crammed into the running man’s pocket. Having survived the first attack upon himself and collapsed at the feet of the gas-station attendant, the man is taken to hospital—but his pursuers have not given up…
All this is taking place on the 23rd October, eight days before Halloween, which we know not just because of an explicit onscreen title, but—
Season Of The Witch’s most infuriatingly brilliant touch is surely the Silver Shamrock jingle, an inane bit of doggerel set to “London Bridge Is Falling Down” – “Eight more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…” – which recurs throughout the film, counting down the days, and which I promise will bury itself in your consciousness as you watch…and may in time drive you to try and dislodge it with an ice-pick, when it won’t leave your head any other way…
I know this is a big statement, but—I find the Silver Shamrock set-up the hardest thing to swallow about Season Of The Witch: not what’s going on at the factory, but purely the idea that the three masks – functional, but hardly brilliant – could sweep the nation the way the film insists they have.
In this subplot we can see something of a dry run for John Carpenter’s They Live, made four years later, with its satirical take on consumerism and advertising and big business; but although the themes are there, their working-out in this film is perfunctory at best. There doesn’t seem any overt suggestion of subliminal advertising here, but surely only something like that could account for America’s children happily settling for a witch, a skull or a jack o’lantern, no matter how ear-wormy the jingle by which they are sold.
“They’re fun! They’re frightening! And they glow in the dark!” the Silver Shamrock ad informs us, in the voice of Tommy Lee Wallace – not this film’s only uncredited bit of voice-work, as we shall see. The jingle itself is first heard coming from the gas-station attendant’s TV, after a news segment reporting the theft – or rather, the still-missing-ness – of one of the blocks from Stonehenge, which was somehow stolen earlier in the year…
One of the things at which the viewer of Season Of The Witch is most inclined to gawp in disbelief is the film’s leading man—we dare not say “hero”. In outline Dr Daniel Challis is a classic thriller protagonist, stumbling into a mystery and becoming obsessed with unravelling it, even as his personal danger escalates. This thriller protagonist is something for the books, however: repeatedly dumping his kids, lying to his ex-wife, sleeping with a very young woman but not thinking to inquire her age until after the event, and regularly interrupting his investigation in order to make booze-runs.
Challis is first seen bringing his kids Halloween masks as a present, but alas, their mother has beaten him to it—and has, moreover, bought them this year’s must-have, Silver Shamrock masks, instead of Challis’s own cheap plastic offerings. In a neat touch, the Challis kids have the witch and the skull, so that the significance of the pumpkin mask carried by Harry Grimbridge doesn’t dawn upon Challis until much later.
Challis has barely had time to exchange greetings with his family before he is called to the hospital. Linda is more resigned than exasperated: we know immediately she has been down this road countless times before.
One overt connection between Season Of The Witch and the earlier Halloween films is the presence of an absurdly deserted hospital; although at least this time they have the lights on. (In what may be an in-joke acknowledgement, the nurse comments to Challis, “Except for him, it’s a quiet night.”) As far as we know, there’s only one nurse and one doctor on duty; and the latter, after sedating the hysterical Harry Grimbridge, settles down for a sleep in a doctors’ rest-room.
So there is little chance of anyone catching the business-suited individual who makes his way into Grimbridge’s room—clamping one gloved hand over his mouth, and extending the forefinger and thumb of the other as he reaches for Grimbridge’s eyyyyyyyyyyyy—
—-uhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyeah, actually, this film’s cut here, I am…well…not unhappy to say. This is one of my exception-that-proves-the-rule moments: Film censorship is wrong…except when they’re censoring eye-violence…
Actually—to be more accurate, the standard R4 DVD release is the cut version, or a cut version, of Season Of The Witch; the Blu-Ray is uncut; neither of which I knew until after the event. (So no, I didn’t access the cut version deliberately; this was a rental, and I got what I got.) And we seem to have an odd, middle-of-the-range cut version, too, where less has been removed than in some other releases. This scene is shortened, and so is the later “misfire” scene; while the head-ripping is shown in all its graphic glory, as is the snake business, which I know is cut in some territories. Weird.
And let’s face it, I wouldn’t have been watching this scene anyway, would I?—because as soon as the killer started reaching for those eyeballs, I was gone, baby, gone… Mind you, between what they did leave in, the film’s later assertion that Grimbridge had “his skull pulled apart”, and one online commentator’s description of his injuries as “nostril dislocation” (!!), I’m not sure that what’s in my head isn’t worse than what was in the film to start with.
The nurse turns up just as the killer is calmly walking away and screams as she sees what’s been done. This brings a sleep-addled Challis to the scene: he follows her pointing finger and chases the killer out of the front doors (we note more hospital personnel outside than in), watching in horrified disbelief as the man immolates himself, his car going up in the standard movie fireball.
It turns out that Challis wasn’t just dropping in earlier, he was supposed to be picking up his kids for the weekend. He phones Linda to let her know he won’t be able to – her reaction lets us know she’s been down this road, too – and promises that he will take them the following weekend instead.
(Linda is played by Nancy Kyes, better known to Carpenter aficionados as Nancy Loomis, who at the time was Mrs Tommy Lee Wallace. It’s a thankless bit-part, which mostly requires her to yell down phone-lines at Tom Atkins. Meanwhile, Willie Challis is played by Joshua Miller in his film debut.)
Challis is still hanging around the crime scene next morning when the victim’s daughter, Ellie Grimbridge, comes in to identify her father. We next see him at the Coroner’s office, persuading a medical friend who works there, a woman we know only as “Teddy”, to pass on to him any information that comes to light about the double tragedy. He confesses to her a sense of violation at his hospital having been the setting for such a nightmare.
These events have clearly left Challis genuinely shaken. Nevertheless, the impression we have of him at this point is of an emotionally superficial man. He’ll flirt with his female colleagues – he’ll take casual sex if it’s on offer – but real relationships are beyond him.
And did I mention his drinking problem…?
Several days later, Ellie tracks Challis down at a bar, and it’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: the otherwise deserted nature of the establishment, which suggests a very odd hour of the day for drinking, or the fact that Ellie knew where to find him because, “One of the nurses told me.”
The bar’s TV runs an ad for one station’s Halloween-night movie: Halloween, which it refers to as, “The immortal classic.” (Possibly a bit premature then, can’t really argue now. Halloween in fact made its TV debut on the 30th October, 1981, as Halloween II was hitting the cinemas.) The movie, the ad continues, will be followed at 9.00pm by “the big giveaway”, brought to us by Silver Shamrock. Two more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…
Ellie wants to know about her father’s last moments, and after some fudging Challis tells her about Grimbridge’s fit of hysteria, if it was hysteria. The two go to Grimbridge’s novelty store, where the record of his movements points towards the small town in the north of the state where the Silver Shamrock factory is situated: Santa Mira…
(Heh, heh, heh…)
Challis agrees to go with Ellie to Santa Mira and do some snooping—which of course requires him to blow his kids off yet again. Naturally he doesn’t tell the irate Linda what he’s actually doing, instead insisting that he has to attend a medical convention. But he swears he’ll be back in time to take the kids trick-or-treating…
(No time for his kids, but we note Challis found time to pick up a six-pack: Ellie must have cut him off before his usual target…)
The two head for “the middle of nowhere”, as Challis reads out a potted history of Santa Mira, which was effectively taken over after WWII by an Irishman called Conal Cochran and transformed from an agricultural community into a self-contained manufacturing town; with the factory eventually employing most of the local population, and the business progressively narrowing down to focus on the production of Silver Shamrock masks.
“Company town,” offers Challis as he and Ellie find themselves confronted by silent people and watchful eyes at every turn; but this hardly accounts for the security cameras on every corner, or the curfew, which finds the residents of Santa Mira behind closed doors at six every evening…
(The voice on the P. A. system calling curfew is that of Jamie Lee Curtis, who also voices the phone operator later on.)
Posing as novelty buyers, the two check into the town’s only motel. While Ellie keeps the motel’s manager, the excruciatingly Irish Mr Rafferty, busy, Challis slips into the office and finds Harry Grimbridge’s name in the register:
Ellie: “We’ll go directly to the factory, we’ll—”
Challis: “Whoa, slow down, slow down! It’s getting late. I could use a drink…”
Because, you know, he only had six Millers to sustain him during the arduous journey.
When Challis initially suggested that he and Ellie check in, he spoke of “a couple of rooms”; but he only asked for one, besides introducing Ellie as his wife. It now dawns on him that the sleeping arrangements might be a tad awkward…but as it turns out, “awkward” barely describes it, at least for the viewer, as we are soon condemned to suffer through one of cinema’s most uncomfortable and unnecessary sex scenes.
And then there’s this post-coital exchange:
Challis: “How old are you?”
Ellie: “Relax – I’m older than I look.”
(This may or may not be an appropriate moment to mention that Stacey Nelkin was the inspiration for Mariel Hemingway’s character in Manhattan.)
But this is all still some time and some bloody violence in the future.
Season Of The Witch may on the whole divorce itself from the slasher-film framework of the remaining Halloween films, but it isn’t above trotting out some Expendable Meat. Joining Challis and Ellie at the motel are Marge Guttman, a buyer whose order has gone astray and who is forced to hang around in Santa Mira, much to her disgust (and who, in another instance of the film’s all-in-the-family casting, is played by Garn Stephens, aka Mrs Tom Atkins); and the Kupfer family: Buddy, Betty and Little Buddy, who will make you clench your teeth.
The effusively friendly Buddy Kupfer has sold more Silver Shamrock masks than anyone else, and on this basis he and his family have been invited to meet Conal Cochran and tour the Silver Shamrock factory.
(Second prize: two tours of the Silver Shamrock factory…)
While Challis is out buying booze – sigh – he runs into a homeless man whose paranoid mutterings are directed against Cochran and the factory, which he threatens to firebomb. The response to this is swift, as two Men In Suits corner the man and rip his head clean off his shoulders.
Marge Guttman, meanwhile, alone in her motel room, sees that the Silver Shamrock logo has fallen off a sample mask in her possession—and then realises that the logo isn’t just a logo: built into it is some kind of circuitry. She begins poking at it with a bobby-pin—and a blue laser-light zaps her in the face.
As mentioned, this is another of my version’s cut scenes: untampered-with, it offers a lingering shot of Marge’s grotesquely “cooked” face…and shows a large bug crawling out of her mouth…
The sounds of the electronic flash-fire and Marge’s cry of shock reach Ellie and Challis, busy with Round Two:
Ellie: “What was that!?”
Challis [nuzzling her breasts]: “Who cares?”
He manages to take an interest later on, though, when a Silver Shamrock van pulls up in the middle of the night and disgorges—not The Men In Suits – worse! – The Men In White Coats.
(Though I didn’t particularly want to look at Tom Atkins’ butt, points for not having Challis and Ellis back in their underwear when they get out of bed.)
When two of the men carry a covered body on a stretcher out of a room, Challis rushes up, announcing himself as a doctor; but no-one pays any attention. As the van departs, Conal Cochran arrives on the scene; and in the unctuous way which we will soon learn is his standard manner, he assures Challis and Ellie that there has been only “a slight accident”, and that Marge will receive the best of care in the factory’s first-class clinic.
Which doesn’t really gel with one of the White-Coaters’ muttered but overheard explanation to Cochran of, “Misfire.”
Despite this, Ellie insists on staying in Santa Mira until she can confirm that her father was at the factory, and Challis acquiesces. He puts a call through to Teddy, who can only tell him that as yet, she is yet to find any human remains in the debris of the explosion; in fact she’s beginning to wonder if the evidence hasn’t been tampered with somehow. She agrees to find out what she can about Cochran. Challis hangs up the motel office phone unaware that his call has been bugged…
At the factory, Ellie gets the confirmation she is seeking by claiming that her father’s order went astray, but is at a loss what to do next. She and Challis are on their way out when the Kupfers arrive for their tour, conducted by Cochran himself; and at Buddy’s request, they are permitted to tag along.
The factory does not – to say the least – strike us as the height of technological advancement, but Buddy Kupfer nevertheless raves to Challis over the various phases of Cochran’s career:
Buddy: “Conal Cochran, the all-time genius at a practical joke! He invented sticky toilet paper! The dead dwarf gag, the soft chainsaw… All his!”
The obnoxious Little Buddy demands a free mask and tries to grab one from a bench, but Cochran intervenes, telling him smoothly that those masks haven’t been through final processing, and slipping over his head a finished jack o’lantern; one with a prominent Silver Shamrock logo. Cochran’s evasiveness on the subject of “final processing” attracts Challis’s attention, as does the ubiquitous presence of The Men In Suits: men who look very much like Harry Grimbridge’s killer; while on their way out, Ellie spots in a warehouse what she is sure is her father’s car…
Both now thoroughly frightened (Challis must take a slug to steady his nerves, or possibly for some other reason), they agree to get out. Challis leaves Ellie to pack while he calls the police from the motel office phone. Except that he can’t get an outside line. When he returns to their room, Ellie is gone; while outside, The Men In Suits are advancing…
It speaks volumes for the amount of sheer absurdity awaiting the viewer in the final third of Season Of The Witch that the sudden transformation of Dan Challis, Booze-Swilling Slob, into Daniel Challis, Two-Fisted Action Hero, is barely worthy of remark. Of course Challis manages to infiltrate the factory; of course he gets captured; of course Conal Cochran reveals his whole insidious plan to him; of course they leave him alone so that he can escape – through the ducts – and of course he rescues Ellie. That much we can take for granted.
It’s the rest we need to stop and
gawp at examine in detail.
(There’s one particularly vicious yet blackly funny moment during this sequence, when Challis finds an internal phone which does give him an outside line. He calls Linda, trying to warn her, but all she knows is that it’s Halloween and he has broken yet another promise to his kids. When he starts raving about getting rid of the Silver Shamrock masks, she concludes he’s drunk and hangs up on him.)
First up, not much to anyone’s surprise at this point, The Men In Suits turn out to be robots, more of Conal Cochran’s handiwork. That to me is less of an issue than they way their abilities fluctuate according to the needs of the plot. If these guys are capable of ripping off a head or crushing a skull, Harry Grimbridge should never have had a chance to struggle free from his first attacker; nor should a punch to the abdomen, even one delivered by Daniel Challis, Two-Fisted Action Hero, have been sufficient to reveal the truth, as eventually, and goopily, happens.
But this is merely incidental, paling into insignificance beside (and perfectly credible in comparison to) Conal Cochran’s plan for Halloween night…
It turns out that it was Cochran and his minions who stole that missing block from Stonehenge: “We had a time getting it here – you wouldn’t believe how we did it!” chuckles Cochran (no, we wouldn’t, so the screenplay doesn’t bother telling us: that line is this film’s equivalent of Sam Loomis’s “explanation” of Michael Myers’ ability to drive a car), in order to tap into this “ancient power source”, which now sits in a cavernous room surrounded by a bank of computers (which I think are supposed to be arranged to mimic the layout of Stonehenge itself, though this is never confirmed).
Men In White Coats work at the computers; more of them are seen chipping away at the block of stone; and in fact, there’s a teensy bit of Stonehenge in every single Silver Shamrock mask. By linking ancient power and modern technology, a transmitted signal is capable of triggering deliberately what Marge Guttman discovered accidentally, to her cost.
To what purpose? Well, let’s visit with the Kupfer family, invited back to help with “market research”. They are shown into a living-room mock-up, and asked to comment on Silver Shamrock’s new ad…which is very like the old one, but with one important difference: It’s time, it’s time… Watch! Watch!
Little Buddy obediently pulls on his jack o’lantern mask as he crouches in front of the television, which shows a pulsing pumpkin image. The Silver Shamrock logo on the mask also begins pulsing, and Little Buddy starts writhing in agony. He collapses to the floor and, from inside the deflated mask, what used to be his head spills forth bugs, worms and snakes…
It is a measure of the degree to which kids are considered off-limits, even in a horror film, that so many people are still shocked by the fate of Little Buddy. Excellent physical acting by Brad Schacter really helps to sell this scene, while the fact that he doesn’t make a sound somehow makes it all the more eerie.
Of course—how exactly the “ancient power of Stonehenge” manages to convert a kid’s head into a mass of writhing ickiness is just one of the many things this film has no intention of explaining to you; though naturally I’m more interested in subsidiary details like, whoever said a garter snake is evil? – and how did that rattlesnake manage to double in size in the few seconds between emerging and biting Buddy Sr?
As a shattered Challis is led away, the film cuts away from Santa Mira to show us what’s going on across the rest of the country, namely, kids buying up the last few remaining Silver Shamrock masks (on a Sunday? really?) and getting ready for trick-or-treating. This sequence is supposed to underscore the magnitude of the threat posed by Cochran and his insane plan, but what it really does is reinforce the fact that (i) America has different time-zones, and (ii) our main action is on the west coast…where it seems to be getting dark before anywhere else. Heigh-ho.
And that insane plan? Well, we’re not quite there yet. First we have to sit through the completely gratuitous killing of Teddy (plot-wise as well as method-wise), who gets a power-drill through her head; though we see only the killer’s back and her kicking legs. I guess someone lacked the courage of Lucio Fulci’s convictions.
Oh, yeah, the insane plan! I’ll let the man himself tell you:
Challis: “Why, Cochran, why?”
Cochran: “Do I need a reason?”
Aww, what a joker! – and he is a joker – and this is just one big practical joke, the best joke of all, a joke on the children! But as Cochran eventually admits, it goes deeper than that, back to ancient Celtic ritual, the Festival of Samhaim, when animals and children were sacrificed. The last mass-sacrifice was three thousand years ago, and now the planets are aligned again…
And with that Cochran pulls a mask over Challis’s head, leaving him tied up in front of a television – which is showing Halloween, of course; hi, Jamie Lee! – where at 9.00pm, whether he likes it or not, he will be watching along with the all children waiting as instructed for “the big giveaway”…
But this is Daniel Challis, Two-Fisted Action Hero, we’re talking about here, so being tied up in a locked room under the watchful eye of a security camera isn’t going to stop him!…even if it’s best not to dwell too closely on the details of his escape (one of which apparently needed 41 takes).
Challis manages to free Ellie, but his doing so puts him back under surveillance, and the two must dodge the Robo-Goons while they make their way back to Cochran’s Circle of Power. They find themselves kneeling near a box of logos, Stonehenge-chip inserted, and Challis has an idea… He manages to creep up to the main control-computer and push the same buttons that Cochran did earlier, which initiated the playing of the deadly jingle for the Kupfers (‘666’, I do believe).
Sure enough, the ad begins playing on the monitors in the circle. Though Cochran sends some of the Robo-Goons after him, Challis has time to run up the stairs to an overhead walkway and to hurl the contents of the box of logos into the air. As they fall into the circle, the jingle triggers them: the results are, to say the least, spectacular; particularly when the Stonehenge block itself is activated, which is just too bad for Conal Cochran…
But although Cochran himself has been stopped, the threat of the masks remains.
As Challis and Ellie make their escape, the Silver Shamrock factory goes up in flames behind them. The two speed away, with Challis twiddling the knob of the car-radio as they go, perhaps seeking a news broadcast. What he finds is one more playing of that damn jingle.
Ellie has been strangely quiet since her rescue, but she livens up at this. In fact, she goes berserk.
I guess Challis should have remembered that all this was taking place in Santa Mira…
There seems to be much spirited debate out there in Internet Land over when exactly the substitution occurred, with some people even comforting themselves with the suggestion that it occurred before the sex scene; although as always with this film, it’s the side-questions that really make themselves felt, like—if she was programmed to react to the jingle, why didn’t it happen in the control-room?
Be that as it may, Daniel Challis, Two-Fisted Action Hero, finds himself facing off against Robo-Ellie, in one of action cinema’s goofier fight scenes. He prevails, of course – years of having to fight off real women who wanted to kill him probably helped him hone his skills – and he leaves Robo-Ellie in pieces; albeit that he then has to defend himself against an independent attack by her severed arm.
Think about it, people.
Robo-Ellie’s initial attack was thwarted when the car crashed. It’s a write-off, so Challis has to press ahead on foot, with a bare ten minutes in which to try and prevent the 9.00pm broadcast of the final Silver Shamrock ad. His desperate sprint down the road lands him at a service-station – the same service-station where Harry Grimbridge collapsed just over a week earlier. “Don’t I know you?” says the bemused attendant.
On the station’s pay-phone, Challis gets on to someone – we never know who – and is soon uttering the traditional Cry Of The Paranoiac:
“Ya gotta believe me…!”
Season Of The Witch is by turns amusing, intriguing, cheesy, gross, bizarre and deeply, deeply stupid. I can’t really defend it, but I freely cop to being entertained by it; and if it’s not exactly a good Halloween movie, I still think it’s a pretty good Halloween movie. Possibly a lack of emotional connection to Michael Myers helps: I adore the first film as a film, but beyond that, to me this franchise is all about Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis.
And as Donald Pleasence was required to sell the more improbable aspects of the previous films in the franchise, even more was Dan O’Herlihy necessary to Season Of The Witch. Switching in an instant from genial glad-hander to sadistic mass-murderer and back again, O’Herlihy really seems to be enjoying himself here, and as far as we can believe anything in this film, it’s because of his handling of Conal Cochran’s dialogue.
And besides…he can pronounce ‘Samhain’. Hallelujah!!
Otherwise – even granting that most of the cast turn out to be playing robots – the acting in Season Of The Witch is nothing much to write home about…with one exception. Though I will never be able to understand the basis for John Carpenter’s evident conviction that he represents the very pinnacle of chick-magnet-dom, Tom Atkins actually does a pretty remarkable job in this film. One hairsbreadth of a misstep would be all it would take to make Challis irretrievably sleazy, but as it stands there is always something pathetic about him that rescues the character, even as we are cringing at his behaviour. Dan Challis practically redefines the expression “flawed hero”, yet something in Atkins’ demeanour keeps the audience with him; possibly the suggestion that Challis is honestly too dumb to know better.
Considering the baggage it ended up carrying into the cinema, it isn’t surprising that Season Of The Witch was a failure—though we should note that, in financial terms, Halloween 4, inevitably subtitled The Return Of Michael Myers, didn’t do all that much better (not that its “failure” saved us from four more sequels, a reboot, and a reboot sequel). To this day, Season Of The Witch remains the franchise’s unloved step-child. It has its adherents, though; and me—well, I’m a sucker for an underdog, and between The Film That Might Have Been and Hey Where’s Michael?, there aren’t too many more underdoggy than this.
If you’re going to enjoy Season Of The Witch, you really do have to let go of all that baggage and just take it on its own terms. You might hate it anyway – many do – but then again, you might find yourself having some unexpected fun with its improbable hero, and its exponentially more improbable plot. I mean, c’mon… This is a film about a man who plans to wipe out a nation’s children basically just for shits and giggles—what’s not to love?
And if nothing else grabs you, there’s always that jingle.
OH GOD, THAT JINGLE!!!!!
Don’t play this, people.