After the success of 2 Halloween films starring Michael Myers John Carpenter grew tired of retreading the same story. So He and producer Debra Hill decided to continue the Halloween series in name only by making more films that centered around the holiday in some way. It was a noble idea and so the hired Nigel Neale who wrote the Quatermass films to pen a screenplay. However the studio thought it too cerebral and wanted more horror and scares so Tommy Lee Wallace was eventually brought in to rewrite the screenplay and was tapped to direct as well. The story about a mask company called Silver Shamrock that has a sinister plan for the children who buy their masks was far removed from that of the slashing Myers and not surprisingly audiences rejected it outright.
The Trailer above certainly gives a bit of a false impression that its a slasher movie which couldn’t be further from the truth. My first introduction to the film was the mid 1980’s on VHS and I had much the same reaction as everyone else. However about 3 years ago I went back and revisited the film and was very surprised by how much I liked it. Its a silly story about a crazy mask maker named Conal Cochran that wants to punish kids for stealing Halloween away from its Celtic roots by murdering them with evil masks. The film opens with a man being perused by 2 others. He manages to escape and collapses in a gas station clutching a pumpkin Halloween mask. The attendant brings the man to the hospital where the Great Tom Atkins, playing drunk doctor named Challis, stabilizes the man. Soon after one of the man’s pursuers arrives at the hospital sneaks into his room and crushes the mans skull. Challis gives chase but the stranger exits the hospital, gets in a car, douses himself in Gasoline and lights a match resulting in a huge explosion. The next day the man’s daughter Ellie enlists Challis to help her make sense of why her father was running and what the Halloween Masks had to do with them setting them on the trail of Silver Shamrock.
The films storyline is pretty thin and the actors all seem to be trying to compete with each other over who can chew the most scenery. Mr Rafferty the owner of the only motel in Santa Mira where the Silver Shamrock company operates, is bigger than life with his Irish accent. Tom Atkins proves to be quite the ladies man when Ellie coyly asks him where he’d like to sleep he responds with the smoothest of lines “That’s a stupid question Ms. Grimbridge”. Leading to a night of passionate sex. That’s why he’s the silver fox.
What sets the film apart from so many other 80’s horror films is the direction. Tommy Lee Wallace, an art director on the first Halloween makes his directorial debut here. He’s very inspired by Carpenter and with Dean Cundey as the Cinematographer you have a film that looks and feels very much like a Carpenter film. The shots are wide and take advantage of the anamorphic widescreen giving the film a bigger feel than its meager budget would suggest. The lighting is very reminiscent of the Halloween films and of Carpenter films in general. The music, composed by Carpenter and Alan Howarth is the best of the series after the original film. The dissonant rumblings and electronic noises matched with the more typical timings of Carpenters music makes for a great spooky soundtrack that manages to find its way into my playlist this time of the year.
The movie fails only because it promises Halloween and delivers a creepy little tale about a insane Halloween Mask company instead. Had the film been released on its own without the Halloween banner I think it would be much more fondly remembered today as a stand out 80’s horror flick. If you can go into Season of the Witch on its own merits and forget about the Halloween series then you’re in for a good time. So give it a shot if you get the chance this Halloween, I don’t think you’ll regret it.