Mass-Produced Fear: A Look at 'Halloween Iii: Season of the Witch'
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a movie that is less known for its content and more known for simply being a black sheep in the Halloween franchise of horror films. This third installment was released in 1982 and was not met with much fondness, neither critically nor in terms of box office; it was considered too strange, too convoluted, too tedious. And, of course, it features no Michael Myers or any other semblance of continuity with the previous two films. The original Halloween even plays on TV within the film, making it fictional within the context of this story! I do think, however, there is value to this movie despite all of this. In particular, it reflects horrors that were prevalent at the time and still remain relevant today.
The film follows two protagonists, Dr. Chalice and Ellie Grimbridge, slowly uncovering a hidden conspiracy around a novelty company called Silver Shamrock. Their latest product are heavily-advertised Halloween masks, advertised constantly on television and radio with a jingle counting down to Halloween, a "Horrorthon," and the "big giveaway at nine," set off by the mysterious murder-suicide of Ellie's father, a toy store owner who visited the Silver Shamrock factory and seemingly uncovered a terrible secret.
The conspiracy is, frankly, insane. The charming CEO of Silver Shamrock, Conal Cochran, is putting pieces of a stolen monolith from the Stonehenge into his masks, that, when triggered by a flashing pumpkin image on TV—the big giveaway at nine—causes the wearer's head to literally rot into mush, spawning venomous snakes and insects that kill anyone nearby.
Cochran claims this is merely a return to form for the Halloween season, a season he stressed must embrace its roots in witchcraft, vaguely explaining that the alignment of the planets require the sacrifice of children. What great evil will occur if this is not done is not ever clarified, nor is it made clear if there even is one, beyond the ritual of mass murder.
The movie takes so many opportunities to hammer in the relation between contemporary technology and this ancient magic. A spell is being cast through television, a mass-produced Halloween mask contains the mystical power of bygone Pagan societies, and Cochran's workers are robots that seem to simultaneously run on some kind of magical fluid. This pre-Christian, clearly evil magic must return, must return for a sacrifice! "The hills ran red with the blood of animals and children," Cochran says.
So, it is clear that the anxiety this movie reflects is centered around two things: first, the public hysteria around Paganism and Satanism. This was the time of Dungeons and Dragons stirring up a lot of pearl-clutching in the Christian fundamentalist groups at the time, with scare-mongering programs and articles published every which way. It makes sense, then, that the movie would focus somewhat around the idea of spell-casting demonic forces, a hot topic at the time, though obviously not make any clear connection to any actual religion, more the vague notion of "witchcraft" and its destructive nature.
Second, and more interestingly to me, the movie focuses on a more reasonable anxiety: the fears related to technology, especially on children. "Step away from the screen, you'll ruin your eyes!" a mother says to her child, who watches the Silver Shamrock program eagerly, eyes obscured behind his jack-o-lantern mask. It was not just his eyes that were ruined, of course.
All this worry of a televised, live color assault on children reminds me of the Momo urban legend back in 2018—a character that supposedly targeted children, convincing them to harm themselves or others, hiding itself in harmless YouTube children's videos. Supposedly, one moment Peppa Pig could be frolicking around screen, and the next, a bulge-eyed, grinning, half-bird monstrosity tells the audience to slit their wrists. Of course, these rumors were largely untrue, save for a few mock-ups of what these videos might have looked like floating around the internet. But that fear—that fear that entertainment could hurt our children, that there are bad people who want to gain the trust of, and ultimately harm, our kids, is well-founded.
What a meaningful fear! What a rational one, too, on some level, as it's true that the internet—and television before it—can have profound effects on children. So many urban legends are focused around these things. Remember that one about the kid that jumped off a cruise ship to meet Spongebob?
In the beginning of the movie, as the credits roll, we get to see a picture of a pumpkin generated on a computer system line for line—the same pumpkin that triggers a spell to kill America's children all at once. We see this smiling jack-o-lantern, a vague remnant of tradition, constructing itself atom by atom, ready to launch its wicked assault. Similarly, at the end, we see Dr. Challis call and plead to TV station to pull the program from the air. He succeeds on the first two, but the last station doesn't cut the program before the film ends, and the credits roll, and we see a girl in a witch mask watching the pumpkin.
The fear of a masked intruder coming into your house is one thing, but the idea that the murder comes from within the house, from the television program that promises to entertain and distract your children, is, I argue, much more frightening. Beyond the gory deaths (many of which are frankly rather silly), the true horror comes from this nightmare of televised hurt.