Season of the Switch

What HALLOWEEN III lacks in Michael Myers, it makes up for in score.

From now until the end of time, there will be a select group of horror fans, let's call them crybabies, who will continue to hate on Halloween III: Season of the Witch for the crime of not featuring Michael Myers. That the film is unquestionably better than at least half of the ones where he does appear is evidently immaterial, as is the fact that the film was more in line with what John Carpenter wanted in the first place. A well-known opponent of sequels, Carpenter's original idea was to have an annual entry in the series that merely revolved around the concept of Halloween -- not Michael Myers himself. However, Carpenter was forced to make Halloween II a direct sequel (the details are sketchy, but he has alluded to the idea that he'd be sued if he blocked the producers from making a Myers-centric followup), which is a shame -- had he been allowed to skip directly to the concept of Halloween III, the idea that Halloween should be a series about a serial killer wearing a Shatner mask would never have taken hold.

For everyone that isn't Roger Ebert, who said in his review that the film begins at the end of Halloween II, the fact that Halloween III (directed and co-written by Tommy Lee Wallace, who edited the first film) is not a direct continuation is pretty obvious. Even if you ignore the fact that the original Halloween is seen playing on TV more than once (a broadcast of it actually factors into the plot), the film opens with a lengthy title sequence that does not contain the familiar theme music. No matter how far the other sequels detour from the original’s path, they always have that theme -- even Rob Zombie's remakes couldn't resist a reprise.

It's a shame that so many fans rallied against the film the moment they heard that Myers wasn't involved, because even if you can't get on board with its insane plot (about a demented toymaker who attempts to use the power of Stonehenge to kill all of the children in the world via their Halloween masks) or the sheer joy of Tom Atkins' lead performance, the score as a whole is fantastic, possibly one of Carpenter's best. Of course most folks mainly remember the equally excellent and irritating "Silver Shamrock" theme that plays over and over throughout the film as it counts the days down to October 31st ("Eight more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween..."), but the instrumentals -- composed along with Alan Howarth -- are just as good as anything he wrote for the first film. There's a sense of ominous dread running through the entire soundtrack, best exemplified by "Drive to Santa Mira," which is a precursor to Carpenter's brilliant opening score for Prince of Darkness. The film’s score was released on vinyl in 2012 by Death Waltz with some really great sleevenotes by Howarth and Jay Shaw, who also did the cover art, and it’s definitely a worthy purchase.

With all of its distinctions from the series, Halloween III still doesn't stray too far from its namesake, and much of that is due to the score. While the plot is a complete departure from previous and future Halloween entries (it's more of a Body Snatchers homage than a slasher film), you can hear bits of the old films in the music. "A Pleasure Doing Business" has a touch of the pounding "DUH, DUHDUH" cue that accompanies most scenes of The Shape stalking a victim; "I Really Love This" is a sort of inverted take on "Laurie's Theme" from the original; and the main theme will probably give audiences a bit of deja vu as well. Carpenter also couldn't resist bringing back his (admittedly overused) stings for scare scenes, albeit with the more electronic sound that permeated his other scores of the period, most famously Escape from New York. Of all the soundtracks for the series, it's the one I listen to the most frequently on its own, as it has the most scope. As much as I love the original film and its score, there are only about four different themes in it, making listening to the entire album a bit of a repetitive experience.

It's unfortunate that so many can't get past the number in the title and enjoy the film as is; I've heard "If only it were called Season of the Witch , I would love it!" more times than I can count, even though it's a senseless statement (what if it were called Turkey Sandwich? How would you enjoy it then?). Luckily, the film has eventually caught on with many a horror fan, to the point where it's even being referenced in other films. The French film Livide, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury and currently collecting dust on the Weinsteins' shelf here in the US, has a trio of Trick 'r Treaters wearing the film's iconic masks, and the same visual reference pops up in Adam Wingard's The Guest -- the score of which is heavily influenced by Carpenter's work here. The film's commercial failure might have kept us from seeing the full extent of Carpenter’s anthology concept (though it actually did better box office than Halloween 4), but the fact that audiences are finally growing to accept the film -- and it’s even inspiring new material -- is a pretty damn good consolation prize. Let's see how many filmmakers are inspired by any of the Dimension sequels in 25 years.

This was originally published in the October issue of Birth.Movies.Death.