If you were hoping for a review, then I’m sorry to disappoint. Truthfully, there’s little I can say about 1982’s divisive (to say the least) Halloween III: Season of the Witch that hasn’t already been said regarding the film’s quality or lack-there-of. Countless critics have already covered this movie in more depth than I ever could in a single blog, both to defend it and/or systematically tear it apart.
However devoted its cult following has grown over the years, the fact remains that it was a critical and box office flop that was directly responsible for the series’ decision to return to Haddonfield and resurrect the cash cow of Michael Myers, much to John Carpenter’s dismay. Over years of sequels, remakes, and reboots, however, the brand that was once a household name has stagnated to the point that many fans now agree Season of the Witch was a better direction.
For all its infamy over the alternate universe, convoluted plot, acting, antagonists, new music, socio-political commentary such as the commercialization of the holiday, and blatant homages to Don Siegel’s work in 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there has been an increasing general consensus that Season of the Witch was a wasted goldmine of potential. Today, our focus is less on the film itself and more its impact for better & worse on Halloween as a whole.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Carpenter asserted multiple times that he initially didn’t want to make another Halloween in the first place. He’d left largely everything his vision wanted to convey in the original and saw no point in continuing it beyond the studios’ obvious motivation for money. Contrary to some fans’ belief, the cliffhanger ending was never designed to invite future stories, only to leave audiences on a note of lingering fear as to where the allegedly immortal killer had disappeared to.
Would he return like Halloween’s equivalent of Frosty the snowman to terrorize another town? Would more babysitters and/or promiscuous teenagers fall to his blade unless the obsessive Dr. Loomis tracked him down again? Even with ambiguity to provoke viewers’ imaginations, the low-budget independent project was ultimately intended and written as a standalone story.
When it became clear in light of the 1978 film’s climbing success that a sequel was inevitable with or without him, Carpenter begrudgingly returned to write (alongside Debra Hill) and produce 1981’s Halloween II. After seemingly definitively closing the book on Myers as he and his foil quite literally went out in a blaze of glory, Carpenter discussed expanding Halloween into an anthology in which each year would feature a new story, director, setting, and perhaps other holidays.
Playing Devil’s Advocate
While this idea sounds brilliant in theory, cinema as a business is more complicated. The notion of one Halloween film without its true star was already experimental and seen as a substantial risk by Universal. This not only didn’t pay off, Season of the Witch having the lowest box office in the franchise thus far, but faced the poor timing of competing against other 1982 debuts in Poltergeist, Friday the 13th: Part III, and Creepshow (ironically, an anthology horror film).
To the executives who saw the Halloween brand as exactly that, any deviation from what is proven to rake in the dough at least to a reliable extent is viewed as dangerous. The message Season of the Witch’s reception sent was “Comfort zone good, danger zone bad.” Whether we like it or not, that’s part of how Hollywood has always worked. If it was your money on the line, can you say with certainty that you wouldn’t have acted or at least thought similarly in their position?
You can’t realistically expect those whose jobs are affected by the performance of your product to fund another continuing down an experimental path when the last to do so fell so short. As many exceptions as there may be in which creativity ultimately wins out and financially succeeds to boot, that is still a gamble. Most people love an underdog story but not all underdogs take off, and it wouldn’t be practical for any business to build itself around that. There must be a balance between how much creative control we give artists vs. the bottom line.
As much as it hurts to admit, Universal were justified from a pragmatic POV in pulling the plug on Carpenter’s anthology premise. Given how young of a series Halloween was at the time and how the first two had grown so iconic, it’s understandable that the world simply wasn’t ready for such a drastic change. Thus, the choice was made to “course-correct” with a sequel + soft reboot that would bring everyone’s favorite William Shatner look-alike back into the spotlight. What followed, however, is a textbook example of “Be careful what you wish for.”
37 years, eight films, two retcons, and a few stars who are now grandparents later, here we are.
A Bad Influence
Despite not being the first influential Slasher, ‘78’s Halloween did popularize the template, convince Hollywood of the profitability for a previously niche genre, and open the door to countless inspirations that would carry the possibilities to new heights. Without the babysitter killer, we likely wouldn’t have gotten the camp creepers, the dream stalkers, or the otherworldly demons as we know them today.
1980’s Friday the 13th was the first major Halloween imitator, proving how much more fun and flexible the concept could be. It paved the way for practical effects with more creative/gory kills, directly contrasting Carpenter’s “theater of the mind” approach that used his film’s low budget to its advantage with little onscreen blood even during the iconic death of a teen pinned by a knife to the wall. Director Sean S. Cunningham and his team set the standard for continually pushing boundaries, be it in onscreen nudity, blood, language, overall shock value, or subverting expectations as to who the killer would be in a now famous twist. Tragically, this 80’s horror renaissance had an unforeseen side-effect.
If you’ve read David Day’s August 4th, 2018 blog How Slashers Killed Good Horror Movies, then you’re already familiar with how the explosion of this newfound magnet for horror fans and ticket sales alike also opened the flood gates for other genre entries that slowly over-saturated it. The damage from this multiplied irreparably with the introduction of cranking out sequels.
If you’d like to read David Day’s blog, follow this link below
For every future classic or descent into new sub-genres altogether (Ex- ’87’s Hellraiser), there were dozens of weaker received, cheaper made, worse written, and/or generally more formulaic rip-offs seeking a taste of the leisure dollar. These dime-a-dozen flicks of varying quality inadvertently ensured that the very foundations which put the Slasher on the map would quickly become the bane of its existence as these clichés were spammed across the next few decades.
Had Carpenter been allowed a fair degree of freedom and funding from Universal or another studio to proceed with his Halloween anthology, the executives taking a leap of faith for his work just once more, it’s possible that we wouldn’t have come to this. While I did concede that this wouldn’t have been smart, another harsh reality of the entertainment business is that those who always play it safe are eventually left behind. Sometimes, to stand out, endure and succeed beyond short-term box office, you have to take gambles on new ideas.
No, it’s not easy. Nothing worth doing is. Yes, it is scary and can cost you everything if you’re not careful, but competing in such a crowded market is never fair. When participating in the shaky, constantly shifting industry of visual media where consumers’ preferences change like the seasons, there is no avoiding risk. Nobody in the history of timeless films ever made a name for themselves long-term by following everyone else. They do so by walking ahead of everybody, casting as wide of a net as possible even when we may not appreciate it yet.
Again, this is a balance. Leaning toward either extreme can carry equal chance of failure, depending on circumstance. Universal and studios like it chose the extreme of repeatedly casting a net tailored toward one specific batch of fish, denying Carpenter another chance that may well have saved the genre. History shows that the products of all peaks & valleys in film are a reflection of their origin/influence.
Had the 80’s been open to more anthologies (The Twilight Zone, Creepshow, Tales From the Crypt, etc), others would have likely followed suit to try exploring a wider array of ideas rather than running icons into the ground with Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Elm Street sequels that slowly starved themselves of creativity until they’d isolated what was once fresh into a box. Is it really any wonder that this endless road led to eventual overload?
We’re Wise to The Shape’s Act
This may sound like blasphemy but I’ll say it: Halloween’s original concept isn’t as scary anymore and never will be again. The crucial element of surprise that helped it hit so hard in ’78 is gone, and no Director, continuity rewrite, score, or cast can replicate that. The best we ever could have hoped for was to recapture aspects of that lightning in a bottle and re-introduce it to new generations. Even then, there are limits to how many times you can reignite fans’ passion before the flame flickers.
Granted, there are characters across the history of fiction who manage to stand the test of time, remaining not only relevant but impacting. This is evident for countless iterations of superheroes, the legendary Gods & monsters of Greece before them, and so on, stretching back several cultures. The difference is, Michael lacks complexity as a character to endure in the same ways. He’s comparable to a suit of armor with no soul inside, a shell of what was once human.
Whatever new spin you put on it, Myers’ core routine has mostly been the same:
- Go to a place and/or escape from a place.
- Stalk victims with a protagonist as a target, kill secondary & tertiary victims until reaching target.
- Pursue target while secondary characters pursue him.
- Fight protagonist and secondary characters.
- Almost kill target until defeated, appear to be killed but leave it ambiguous.
Rinse and repeat. The only notable exceptions to this since what was written to be Myers’ death in II are his supposed demise against a firing squad before falling down a hole in Part IV, his decapitation in H20 that was contractually retconned in Resurrection, and being shot point-blank in the face by Laurie in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake before he yet again inexplicably recovered in 2009’s H2.
Those are the only entries to have left Myers as worm food in the context of how their events were concluded before studio or writer interference changed it. There was no onscreen implication of Myers returning in these cases, and it most likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise. You can only ride the same merry-go-round so many times before fans grow bored and develop a “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” attitude, which is guaranteed critical + box office poison.
John Carpenter on Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Horror Remakes
After so many visits to Haddonfield among other environments Myers has cut a trail of bloodshed through, there just isn’t much left to do with him. He doesn’t have the creative versatility of horrors like Alien’s Xenomorph or the Predator. Besides which, he was never designed to be a recurring character, let alone the face of this many films in a row and that has only shown more over the course of the series. Even if there were some creative spark left after Season of the Witch, I’d say that the decomposing horse’s bowels officially let out their last bit of post-mortem gas after The Return of Michael Myers.
One defining concept of Halloween II I’ve long disagreed with was the twist of Laurie Strode as Michael’s sister, revealing his drive for stalking her to be completing his family’s murder that began with his elder sister on Halloween night, 1963. It took away from the lack of motive that built Myers’ mystique. Carpenter himself explained that the character was meant to be like a force of nature with no rhyme or reason to his actions beyond what one could speculate.
This worked because no answer given in-film would be satisfactory compared to what the mind can conjure up. He was just this figure who appeared, killed and vanished, not entirely unlike a supernatural entity. The kids and even Laurie calling him “the boogeyman” is no accident. In a sense, that’s pretty much what he’s implied to be. Spelling out any motivation for his killing by default undermines that because it humanizes him. Having said all that, I didn’t hate Jamie Lloyd.
Danielle Harris’ introduction to the series, replacing the conveniently missing Laurie as Michael’s target for an estranged family member to stalk, admittedly led to a genuinely touching performance. Breathing life into a new protagonist that for the first time wasn’t a teen, the script took full advantage of the “innocent child with a tragic backstory trope” complemented by Harris’ exceptional performance, making us invested in her survival as we were with Laurie and Loomis.
This expertly set up a new cliffhanger finale that, thanks to our attachment to the character, was arguably more impactful than the original. When Loomis, relieved at Michael’s destruction, witnesses the previously sweet girl we’d come to identify with, root for, and view with a protective mindset as if she were our own family standing at the top of those steps, his despair is frightfully renewed.
Apparently possessed by the same unknown evil that transformed Michael, poor Jamie leaves us on a somber note that The Shape will survive presumably as long as Michael’s bloodline does (It could just as easily be written to overtake someone unrelated, which would give this force an exponential edge more in the vein of The Evil Dead‘s Deadites). This was the only instance where I valued the family subplot.
Unlike in Halloween II, the twist served as a means for someone new to follow in Michael’s footsteps (at least until Parts 5-6 ruined that and killed Jamie off after a pathetic attempt at reintegrating the cult conspiracy idea that originated from Season of the Witch). This concept was revisited through Zombie’s incarnation of Laurie in the 2009 film’s Unrated Director’s Cut ending with a heavier emphasis on mental illness, to a far inferior result in my opinion.
Killing Michael Myers Isn’t Compelling Anymore
Seeing the respective antagonist of any story get their comeuppance after having spent the majority of the experience torturing the protagonist is usually instinctively satisfying when done well. It evokes that catharsis of a weaker character built up for us to invest in overcoming a more powerful villain or force.
People often ask, “Why is the public so often welcoming or at least accepting toward positive endings where the conflict is conquered? It’s so overdone, so commercial, yet most keep lapping it up. Why are happy endings the standard?” This discussion could be a whole blog in itself but the short, simple answer is:
Positive endings work. They have since the dawn of when humanity was first capable of structuring storytelling. All entertainment is in some way tied to a primal-high human beings seek in life. Sports and games are tied to competitive physical and/or mental coordination. Reading, writing, theatre, and movies are all often tied to emotion before logic as a means to help forge a connection with the consumer. They each provoke something we naturally crave.
As unforgiving as reality can be, there may be no greater escapism than visual media. It transports us to other worlds where anything is possible, good can overcome, and everyone can get what they deserve in spite of adversity. In horror, this is typically most capitalized upon through Slashers and Creature Features. In one of the most famous examples, Spielberg made clear during Jaws‘ production how he wanted audiences on their feet screaming & cheering at the finale!
Jaws: Shark Explosion
By the same token, when Loomis shows up (in the original) at the last moment to save Laurie after her struggle just narrowly surviving Michael and unloads those six shots, an exhilarating sigh of relief is warranted. The catch is, the more often you cycle this loop with the same or similar characters in any franchise, the less powerful the effect will be over time as the catharsis becomes familiar and therefore diminishes. Killing Michael Myers at this point is like Mario defeating Bowser and saving the Princess or Link and/or Zelda besting Ganondorf.
It can still be enjoyable, sure, but you know what you’re getting from the beginning. While the cycle may last longer in gaming, as all games by their nature are repetitive to varied extents once you’ve mastered your skills to complete them, movies in which we’re strictly observers do not allow for such interactivity to increase replay value. Bottom line, you can only watch the same killer or monster die in so many different ways before the payoff dulls.
Limping into the Barn
In retrospect, this topic makes me as a longtime Halloween fan not angry but mostly sad. A movie or franchise that left you underwhelmed, frustrated, bored, or even laughing at how bad it was is always better to me than a movie that disappointed you because you saw how much more it could have been. This is my most often experience whenever I reflect on the Halloween series beyond Season of the Witch. I haven’t sat down to re-watch any of the sequels or remake in years, not because I hate them but because I just have so little left to give.
Modern horror in general is a testament to the age-old lesson humanity seems consistently slow to learn, that sometimes the best way to demonstrate admiration & respect for something we love in entertainment from any medium is by knowing when best to LEAVE- GOOD- THINGS- ALONE. The courage to take chances, to treat films as more than money, to invite the new rather than distance oneself from it because that’s safer or easier, has regrettably been neglected in our media climate today and perhaps no genre has suffered more for it than horror.
Granted, we are seeing a comeback in recent years as more up-and-coming creators make their way into the business with a minority of modern classics but the damage from the horror stagnation directly contributed to by the 80’s still has a long road ahead to be healed. Meanwhile, too many pioneers of the Slasher have been rendered decrepit relics because of this.
I almost envy those who not only genuinely enjoyed the later Halloween films but aren’t nearly as bothered by their flaws as the majority (hence, art’s subjectivity). There’s something to be said about not letting an issue with content prevent having fun. I wouldn’t necessarily generalize that as “ignorance is bliss,” it’s merely to point out that some individuals’ tastes just make them better suited for these movies. Nonetheless, it didn’t have to be this way. Season of the Witch is possibly the perfect instance of looking a gift horse in the mouth. It offered so much beneath a slew of perceived flaws in a standalone film, but we squandered it.
This movie was an opportunity to expand the reach of what the Halloween series could mean to a wider scope of people. It has become so special to so many over time more because of what it represented than what it was on its own. Regardless, the fans spoke loud and clear that they wanted more Michael Myers. Whatever may have been on the other side of the door Halloween III opened, that door has been long since closed. The people didn’t want something new. They wanted something reliable, nostalgic, an experience that would place short-term satisfaction first and foremost. This begs the question, when are fans “wrong”? How are creators or studios expected to tell when it is most appropriate to deliver on expectations, to give the majority what they say they want?
Like many obstacles in business, there is no simple answer. The ongoing problem with following the “majority rules” guideline has always been and will continue to be that, as much as this may bruise people’s egos, the majority do not always know best. Nobody always knows what they want, nor can every individual’s desire be pleased. While there are times when we are right to complain and should make our voices known, the sad truth is that crowds can just as often make bad decisions.
Enjoying quality material and knowing what makes it quality are two very different things. As much as we chastise Hollywood and its suits for serving crap on a silver screen, we share direct responsibility for that. We keep paying for derivative continuations of what was already successful until it eventually isn’t. As in every business, executives follow the money. It’s rarely just one side at fault. We cannot keep enabling these trends and then cry when movies follow them.
This goes back to my earlier point in Playing Devil’s Advocate of balance. Don’t deal in extremes when it comes to horror or anything in life. Don’t let a creator do whatever they want but don’t restrict them too much from acting upon their passion and creative experience. Listen to what people want but don’t blindly follow the majority off a bridge and never think for yourself. Challenge expectations for more of the same and let the past inform you of possibilities for the future rather than refusing to move on. Generations grew up fearing & adoring Michael Myers, so it’s perfectly understandable to not want to lose him or give him up. Like the aging beloved family pet, however, this can’t be put off any longer.
As Robert Downey Jr. so accurately put it in the Avengers: Endgame trailer, “part of the journey is the end.” Whatever our feelings, the evidence is clear: We can’t save Halloween as it currently is. Season of the Witch was our chance and you can’t rewind time. Even if we tried retreading that with another shot at a Halloween multiverse + veteran actors returning in new roles & plots ala American Horror Story, we can never erase the positive and negative impacts left by Myers’ legacy. It’s far too late. If we have any warmth left in our hearts for this revolutionary head-tilting masked mechanic impersonator, I can’t imagine a greater expression of that than to finally give him the rest he’s deserved and let him go home. Maybe then, at long last, we can take the lessons gained from our odyssey with him to heart?