Season of the Switch
By Joshua Lyon
For decades after the 1982 release of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, it was considered pretty uncool to admit liking the film. But despite its woefully low Rotten Tomatoes score, the stand-alone is finally evolving from one of the most maligned franchise follow-ups into a cult classic must-see.
Long before Ryan Murphy turned anthologies into a cultural phenomenon, John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted to move away from the Michael Myers mythology. They had the brilliant idea to release a different Halloween-themed movie every year, with each film exploring new characters and a new plot centered on the holiday. The only problem was, nobody told audiences about this new direction. Fans arrived at theaters expecting a slasher, and instead got androids and a druid using tiny bits of Stonehenge to melt children’s heads via micro-chipped Halloween masks in an effort to usher in a new era of witchcraft. You can’t blame ticket-buyers for feeling cheated.
In order for the nefarious plot to work and disintegrate as many kids as possible, the villain Conal Cochran uses his cover company, Silver Shamrock, to whip up a marketing frenzy for his death-rigged products — jack o’ lantern, witch, and skull masks. Nonstop television ads marked the countdown to Halloween with an earworm jingle to the melody of “London Bridge,” instructing everyone to tune in Halloween night, when Cochran planned to release the trigger signal over the airwaves.
Too bad Universal didn’t do the same sort of media blitz for the new anthology idea. Theatergoers had no idea what was going on, the film bombed, and several years later Myers returned to slash his way through several sequels and remakes.
Thanks to cable television and VHS rentals, Season of the Witch slowly grew a loyal following, and now occupies a soft spot in many genre-lovers’ hearts. (This writer even formed a horror movie club in the fifth grade called Silver Shamrock). The conventional wisdom goes that if Season of the Witch not been saddled with the Halloween name it would have been much more successful. The movie has genuinely horrifying moments — an errant mystical laser blowing a woman’s face off, a creepy animatronic knitter, and a young boy who dissolves into a mass of insects and snakes that then kill his parents. Not to mention that wiping out hundreds of thousands of children is way scarier than offing a handful of horny teens.
The film’s trio of masks has become iconic in their own right, and a horror Easter egg favorite — they get a brief wink in the new Halloween, make an appearance in 2015’s The Guest, and regularly pop up in Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights mazes. If you’ve missed (or dismissed) the film in the past, put this one on your need-to-watch list. It’s worth it for the Silver Shamrock song alone.