John Carpenter’s Halloween Movies: Still Mostly Great


“Happy, Happy Halloween—Halloween—Halloween. . .” Sung to the tune of “London Bridges,” that’s the insinuating jingle accompanying the TV ads for Silver Shamrock masks, and once you’ve seen Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982) you’ll never get that blasted melody out of your head.

John Carpenter’s original Halloween (1978) was a resourceful low-budget indie breakout that caught the attention of Universal Pictures when it earned $47 million stateside on a $400,000 budget. Universal then funded Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 sequel, in which mental ward escapee Michael Myers is killed off, and when it too was a hit, the studio tentatively agreed to Carpenter’s idea of extending the franchise as an anthology—offering a different, unrelated story every year. Season of the Witch tanked, however, so Carpenter’s plan was scrapped, and Myers revivified. As a result, Halloween 3 became the orphan of the series. And yet unlike any of the subsequent lame sequels (we’re talking about you, Josh Hartnett) Season of the Witch is deserving of reappraisal.

Nominally directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, Halloween 3 should in fact be considered an apocryphal Carpenter film (and let’s remember that at that time the director of Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live was at the height of his powers). Not only is the movie’s atmospheric lighting the work of his regular d.p., Dean Cundey, but Carpenter—who takes a producing credit—contributes one of his signature electronic scores. Moreover, it’s pretty clear that Carpenter’s unique sense of cheeky humor has rubbed off on Wallace.

Those Silver Shamrock masks, you see, are the product of nefarious toymaker Conal Cochran (played by Dan O’Herlihy, aka Twin Peaks‘ Andrew Packard). Cochran has installed each mask (the kids have the choice of witch, skeleton, or jack o’lantern) with a microchip containing fragments from a stolen 5-ton piece of Stonehenge (take that, Spinal Tap). On Halloween night, when children across the country all dutifully tune in to the final Silver Shamrock commercial. . .well, we don’t want to ruin anything for you. Just take Sound of the City’s word for it: Halloween 3 is the antidote you need to counteract the crass commercialization of this once sacred pagan holiday. Now, if Carpenter would only do something about Christmas. . .—Benjamin Strong