Monday, 20 October 2014

Thoughts on Season of the Witch

I caught Season of the Witch this weekend and that fulfills this Horror fan's contractual obligation to watch a Halloween film for October. About halfway thru the film, my wife wandered in and asked me what I was watching, to which I shrugged my shoulders and replied "just some horror movie". Not to condescend Tommy Lee Wallace's film but to explain that this was a Halloween picture would have been far too...complicated. After this screening I can definitively claim the film to be my favourite sequel of the series, and I hope I'm right in saying that the reputation of this much maligned misfit is finally turning. Despite my love for Halloween II (and, I suspect, a badly judged soft spot for the fourth film), I feel it a shame that the series didn't develop into the Twilight Zone style anthology that Season of the Witch promised. I wonder would the film had found a more appreciative audience had it not been released at the height of the slasher boom ? As much as I enjoy Halloween II's great opening scenes - those eerie steadicam shots of Michael Myers stalking the back lanes of Haddonfield, Season of the Witch almost immediately trumps its predecessor with a terrific opening 20mins, culminating in a sequence where a sharp suited gentleman enters a hospital and crushes a man's skull before casually dousing himself with petrol and setting himself alight. It's tremendously self-confident stuff and there's a rather brazen clip of the original Halloween, previewed on a TV set, just to dispel any hopes Myers might put in an appearance. Unfortunately audiences voted with their feet and series producer Moustapha Akkad shamefully arranged a belated recovery for Michael Myers for film number four.


Still, it's fascinating to speculate on how the Halloween franchise might have developed as a series of stand-alone films. Revisiting Season of the Witch, the film's meshing of sci-fi and horror elements put Prince of Darkness in mind and disregarding the Hallowe'en pivot of the projected series, I could almost imagine Carpenter's film as a future installment - if the series produced a film a year, perhaps there might have been Halloween 7: Prince of Darkness. Interestingly, Carpenter's self-penned screenplay for Prince of Darkness was credited to Martin Quatermass, a reference to Nigel Kneale who wrote the original screenplay for Season of the Witch, and later disowned when it was revised to amp up the gore. Consequently Kneale had his name removed from the final film but much of his spirit remains, like the Silver Shamrock company's manufacturing plant which has a neat correlation between the large industrial complex of Quatermass 2. Incidentally, I must disagree with New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby's presumably tongue-in-cheek assertion that the film is "anti-Irish". Being Irish myself I rather enjoy Dan O'Herlihy's Irish toy maker druid recounting tales in his finest Wexford accent of the old country running red with the blood of sacrifice... something I find terribly romantic...


7 comments:

  1. I wish this one was on the slate for my 2014 October (and of course it could be - but I'm trying to watch mostly new stuff.) Haddonfield will put in an appearance at my Crazy Movie Weekend in four days - but we're up to Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers - so you understand my pain. Luckily - by next year I might have the giant Blu-Ray box set - which will give me a high def version of the Producer's cut of Halloween 6 - which I finally saw a few years ago thanks to a pal's bootleg VHS - the only time I'm comfortable with film piracy, by the way. I thought the Producer's cut - while still a lesser Halloween sequel - greatly improved on the godawful theatrical release. (When reviewing 6 for the local entertainment guide back upon its release - I ended the review with something like: "And now we're left with the true curse of Michael Myers - that he'll be back for an equally terrible part 7.") Of course, I was proven wrong there - as 7 was pretty good, especially considering it's a part 7!

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  2. Craig, your sign off on the Halloween 6 review perfectly sums up my feelings on the endless sequels. I must admit, I've seen all the Elm Streets, and all the Paramount Fridays, but I've never felt drawn to the Halloween movies in any special way. I haven't seen any sequels beyond Return of Michael Myers so there's a whole raft of Halloween films (and similarly with the Hellraiser films) that I have yet to see... I should qualify that by saying I don't necessarily include the Rob Zombie films when I consider the franchise... Is 7 a lucky sequel number ? I thought The New Blood and Wes Craven's New Nightmare were pretty good as well - as you say, better than they had any right to be at least...

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  3. Wes, fully agreed here - the film is fantastic, and has rightly been reassessed in the last decade or so and the horror fans are starting to come around on it. So much to like about it; a really spooky October vibe, some lovely imagery (the kid with the rotting pumpkin head mask is an iconic one) and one of the best scores in the genre since the original film.

    Great point on Prince of Darkness, another highly underrated film, the two definitely belong together and I can't believe I never noticed it before. Good call on the series, too, myself and Craig were discussing the same thing recently regarding what 'could have been' with the franchise if this film had of been a hit... oh well...

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  4. John, this will sound very ratty but I feel the audience that hated the film for what it was, deserved the crummy Halloween sequels that followed... I was just commenting on your fine piece on Deadly Blessing, mostly complaining about that ludicrous ending, so it would be remiss of me not to mention Season of the Witch's gaping plot hole about the fact that the North America continent has 4 main times zones which would create certain difficulties for Silver Shamrock's 9pm televisual holocaust. But the film just about gets away with it for all the reasons you mentioned above, and in particular the great score which is up there with The Fog as one of the great sinister synthesizer soundtracks...

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    1. Fully agreed with you there regarding the crummy sequels! Yikes, every now and then I get asked to partake in a Halloween marathon, but I usually try and fall asleep by the end of the 4th film...

      ha, never even thought of that regarding the time zones, but I guess, who's going to believe a crazy story like that if someone tried to stop it, especially on Halloween night?? Besides, in a pre-internet/mobile phone era, it would be even more difficult...

      I'm half tempted to pick up the Death Waltz release of the soundtrack, it really is great. I actually have it on my MP3 player and have been listening to it the past few weeks when out walking. The Fog is another excellent score that needs a nice re-release...

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    2. I was just checking out that Death Waltz edition and it's a beauty. The picture on the sleeve, of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth working amid racks of systhesizers is just fantastic. I'm a huge electronic music nerd and one of the pleasures of watching early 80's Horror films is hearing all those cheap-jack synthesizer scores - I mean I could hear the cues from Don't Go In the Woods and date the film just by their sound. If I was making a film I would absolutely have to have an electronic score - strings and orchestras are so damn corny...

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    3. I tend to agree there, regarding scores - I just love the squelchy sound of a good synth. I think every type has its own place, though, but I do like to see a film maker thinking outside the box and not going straight for the strings...

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