A delirious man runs frantically down the night roads towards a garage and gas station, narrowly avoiding the sharp-suited figures pursuing him, crushing one of them between two scrap cars, and is later found wandering the streets whereupon he is taken into a local hospital where he tells the doctor (Tom Atkins) treating him that someone wants to "kill us all" before passing out. After being left alone, the man is murdered by another of the men and the doctor is drawn by the man's daughter (Stacey Nelkin) into a deadly conspiracy that involves the popular Silver Shamrock Halloween masks that are constantly being advertised on television...
Instead of following up the previous Halloween films with yet another "Michael Myers on the rampage" story (you had to wait for the subsequent sequels if you wanted that), producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill turned to British science fiction and horror veteran Nigel Kneale to write an original screenplay, the purpose being to create a new story each Halloween. But Kneale was unhappy when his script was altered and so the credit goes to the director, Tommy Lee Wallace, an old friend of the producers who had been instrumental in the 1978 original's success, here getting the chance to helm a different kind of horror movie - according to him, a substantial amount of Kneale's work survived, but even the great author's vision was too dark and moody for what they had in mind.
Halloween III was possibly the first significant Hollywood movie to make the most of the sinister side of Celtic folk legend since Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People. But more than that, it's a cruel joke on those who buy into the commercialisation of seasonal holidays (and by extension, pervasive big business) - when Atkins asks a barman to turn off the annoying Silver Shamrock ad on TV, the barman admonishes him: "Don't you have any Halloween spirit?", as if the festival of supernatural scares was Christmastime. And the main impetus behind the diabolical plot was to make people take the event more seriously, much as Christians decry the commercialisation of their festivities.
The acting honours go to Dan O'Herlihy as the evil genius behind the scheme to cause a mass sacrifice to bring back the true meaning of Halloween; he offers a fine performance of avuncular menace and is one of the more relishable bad guys of the era, if only that era hadn't been favouring brute force over keen intellect in its shockers. He is a wicked toymaker who has gone as far as creating clockwork henchmen, who dress like door-to-door salesmen (or door-to-door Jehovah's Witnesses). He has also turned the town of Santa Mira (a name aptly taken from Invasion of the Body Snatchers) into his company town, apparently influenced by the sort of people who create Irish theme pubs. For our heroes, Atkins and Nelkin are likeable enough, with the hard drinking doctor facing additional guilt that his estranged children might be victims, too.
There are enough clever ideas to make this worthwhile, and despite Kneale's protestations, the more lurid scenes give the film a certain edge - although it's not exactly a gorefest, there are at least two or three setpieces which are memorable purely because they take that inherent goofiness and pull back the curtain to reveal a genuine bile and nastiness. Perhaps if it hadn't used the series' "brand", Season of the Witch would have a better reputation today, but as it was instead of being a megahit that would be expected from the first two franchise entries, it was just too much of a departure for the use of the Halloween title to be justified. Nevertheless, quality will out (well, some of the time) and a small but loyal cult has grown up around it, which something this offbeat could hardly have avoided when there were so many chances for a flop to be rediscovered, especially in this genre. One bonus is there's no cop out ending, either. Synth music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Watch for the authentically creepy variation on the pumpkin opening titles.