Upon its release in 1982, the third installment in the burgeoning Halloween franchise caused quite a stir. Moviegoers expecting yet another familiar stalk n’ slash frightfest were confronted by a picture that all but abandoned the masked killer plotline, replacing it with an exceptionally weird supernatural murder mystery tale concerned with witches, evil toymakers, soulless robot minions and sinister mass-marketed Halloween masks that do unspeakable things to children’s heads.
John Carpenter, overseer of the original, groundbreaking Halloween, had agreed only to participate in the production of a new picture if it was not a direct sequel. Carpenter, who hands over directorial reins to freshman Tommy Lee Wallace (It)and produces here, had intended for the franchise to evolve as a broader collection of standalone chillers. Left with an effectively blank canvas on which to scrawl his most nightmarish dreamscapes, Wallace delivered one supremely startling headfuck of a film.
Hats off to Wallace as, despite pissing off so many people at the time, appreciated on its own merits, Season… stands up as a ghoulishly inventive, ambitious little shocker that offers so much more than perhaps audiences were prepared for.
In an alternate universe where Carpenter’s Halloween is the ‘Movie at 9,’ Doctor David Challis (the awesomely manly Tom Atkins) treats a terrified patient clutching a Halloween mask, screeching ominously that ‘They’re gonna kill us all!!!’ The murder of said patient by a shuddersome, unnervingly dispassionate assailant leads Challis, joined by the victim’s plucky daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), to uncover an insane toymaker’s fiendish plan to murder millions of children and restore Halloween to its witch cult origins.
Wallace’s atmospheric mystery proves a lot of fun, as you can never be quite sure where it’s headed. The film is punctuated by incessant TV commercials for ‘Silver Shamrock’ Halloween masks, reminding us that it’s ‘Eight more days til Halloween…’ and so on. The jingle is irritating, sinister and catchy as hell, popping up with such frequency that it quickly becomes clear that there is something soul-shatteringly EVIL going down.
Catchy, eh? Warning: Masks may cause gruesome death
Challis’ digging unearths a plot involving unstoppable, emotionless, mechanical villains who, while not quite living up to the iconic standard set by Michael Myers, are still enjoyably creepy and predate James Cameron’s Terminator by a good two years.
They absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!
Wallace, editor and production designer on Halloween, does an effective job of mimicking Carpenter’s extraordinary use of scope framing, filling his darkened corridors with an atmosphere of mounting dread. Satisfyingly, Carpenter found time to provide another of his brooding, ethereal synth scores in the vein of his work on The Thing: a moody, suspenseful arrangement that enhances Wallace’s foreboding visuals.
Though well-stocked with tricks and treats, Season… is let down by some lacklustre performances. The reliably grizzled Atkins (The Fog) does well as hero Challis, a moustached, scotch-drinkin’ rascal who exudes machismo.
Hey! Everyone! Come see how good I look!
Nelkin, however, as sidekick/love interest Ellie is disastrous, phoning in her performance with a constantly wide-eyed, confused expression that suggests she was taking acting lessons from the robots.
Similarly, though Dan O’Herlihy (Robocop) gets all the best lines(‘We don’t decide these things…the planets do!!!’), his villainous toymaker, Cochran, is simply too hammy and innocuous to frighten, coming across like a curious mixture of Irish Bond Villain and Police Academy’s witless Commandant Lassard.
Much of the film’s good grace is sabotaged by dodgy script issues, most chiefly being Challis’ sleazy motivation for being involved at all – why not just call the cops? Of course, the minute the investigation begins, he hops straight into bed with Ellie who is clearly half his age. Later, after seducing her for a second time, Challis creepily asks “Wait…how old are you?” Ugh…
Though, thankfully, his quarry is ‘old enough,’ this is a squirm-inducing moment in a film that features more than a few clanging, unintentionally funny moments. One scene featuring an attack by a disembodied robot arm may cause beer to squirt from your nose, though the thinking behind it is undeniably groovy.
Often, Season… is Scooby Doo ridiculous, but pulls off a quite masterful sucker punch that pushes things firmly back into the domain of soul-searing, terrifying horror. Cochran’s masterplan is revealed in a stunningly horrific, FX-laden set-piece that makes clear the awful significance of the commercials. It’s a truly visceral, stomach-troubling moment, not easily forgotten, leading to one of the most jaw-droppingly bleak endings in horror film history.
Permitted to stand alone, Season … is an ambitious treat, full of clever, frightful ideas that will get under your skin and maybe make you think twice about pulling on your mask this Halloween. You could perhaps read some significance into the film’s plot, linking it to critiques of large corporations and western consumerism. However, if you’re anything like me, you may be too preoccupied screaming ‘What the HELL just crawled out of that boy’s head?!?!?! AAaaaaaaaagh!!!’
Take a Drink: every time you hear that goddamn Silver Shamrock tune…
Take a Drink: every time the doc manhandles a lovely lady. Cos they love it really…
Take a Drink: every time Ellie looks ever so slightly confused.
Bonus Shot!! whenever one of your buddies asks when Michael Myers is gonna show up.