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Tommy Lee Wallace believes it's time he aired out the old Silver Shamrock masks. The director of Halloween III: Season of the Witch bears all in a new book (on sale from BearManor Media later this month) exploring the film's production, its troubled release, and the significant cult following it has gained over the last four decades.
"I really wanted this to be a kind of truth-telling," Wallace tells SYFY WIRE over a recent Zoom conversation. "There are various myths and stories attendant to this project, especially regarding Nigel Kneale and the original script [he wrote] for the movie. I wanted to give all that a good airing out and tell the truth, as I know it, about what went on and how we changed Nigel’s script to the degree that he felt he needed to take his name off of it. 'We' being [producer/composer] John Carpenter and I doing two separate rewrites on it. But since John didn't ever put his name on it, I wound up with a sole writing credit, which is a ridiculous credit because it's just so inaccurate."
Released in October of 1982, Season of the Witch threw die-hard Halloween fans for a loop, owing to the fact that it had absolutely nothing to do with Haddonfield, Laurie Strode, or Michael Myers (the subtitle of Wallace's book aptly proclaims: Where the Hell is Michael Myers?). Of course, that was the intention of franchise co-creators, John Carpenter and Debra Hill, who wanted to leave The Shape behind and turn the series into a Twilight Zone-esque anthology centered around the spookiest holiday on the calendar.
"I don't think Universal or any of us prepared the audience adequately for the idea that, ‘Hey, this is not going to be Michael Myers. It’s not gonna be The Shape, the big knife, Jamie Lee, etc. So get ready for something new and different,'" Wallace admits. "None of that really quite happened the way it might have. And as a result, we had a lot of disappointed fans and backlash. Cut to 40 years later, all that's part of the past, it’s really a popular movie, and seems to be picking up fans all the time. Probably because it's really and truly about Halloween."
A friend of Carpenter's since childhood, Wallace served as production designer on the 1978 original, creating the iconic Michael Myers mask (fashioned out of a bleached Captain Kirk mask) we know and love. When a direct sequel was green-lit, Carpenter and Hill offered him the chance to direct, but Wallace turned them down for one simple reason: he didn't much care for the script. "It seemed like the anti-Halloween," he explains. "We'd done such a classy job on the original and this just seemed like a slasher gore-fest kind of movie. I just couldn't get behind it. It felt like John and Debra deserved a director who was enthusiastic."
Rick Rosenthal ended up steering the ship on Halloween II, which was supposed to put a cap on the Strode-Myers story. Wallace then signed on to helm the third installment "because it was going to be completely different," he adds, describing Hill's elevator pitch as "Witchcraft meets the computer age." The end product was a completely bonkers conspiracy tale involving killer androids and evil Halloween masks powered by a stolen piece of Stonehenge. Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) anchor the story, investigating the shady Silver Shamrock Company, which is headed up by the enigmatic Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy).
"Honestly, we didn't have time to worry," says Wallace when asked if he was ever concerned about so many disparate elements coalescing into a coherent narrative. "I threw in everything but the kitchen sink into the script. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have had to be concerned about the script at all. I would have just taken this perfect script and done my job as director, getting the cast and crew together, getting locations, and so forth. But, of course, the way it worked out, I was having to spend quite a bit of time sitting at the typewriter and knocking out this script, hoping that it would work. So honestly, [there was] not that much time to second guess myself. You just really had to say, 'Okay, throw the dice. I hope it works. Here we go.’ Do it with great conviction and believe in the whole thing."
Wallace's most notable contribution to the piece was the creation of the infamous "Silver Shamrock" jingle, an earworm born out of necessity, given the fact that the production couldn't afford to pay for music royalties. "What is absolute guaranteed public domain? 'London Bridge!'" exclaims Wallace, who paired the old nursery rhyme with the "Spinning Song" (a piano exercise for beginners) and his own sped-up voice, à la Alvin and the Chipmunks. "I will take credit or blame depending on how much you love or hate the jingle."
While many characterize Halloween III as a dud and oddity when placed within the larger context of the mainly slasher saga, Wallace made a rather shocking discovery when he went back to crunch the box office numbers. "It didn't do really badly," the director says of his findings. "It was okay, about $16 million that first weekend. And to date, it's made well over $50 million dollars. So this whole myth about it being a loser and being the black sheep of the family has eventually fallen by the wayside because the fact of the matter is that most people think it's a pretty damn good movie."
Even with solid ticket sales, audiences in 1982 simply couldn't wrap their heads around the anthology concept, which quickly snuffed out the idea of more disconnected chapters bearing the Halloween title before it could properly take root. A gonzo plot that felt too out of left field didn't help engender much goodwill among audiences and besides, Carpenter had plenty of trouble on his plate with the critical and box office failure of his remake of The Thing four months prior. As a result, Season of the Witch became an aberrant footnote and Michael slashed his way back to the big screen six years later in The Return of Michael Myers (the walking embodiment of pure evil has fronted the franchise ever since). Still, one can't help but wonder what the Halloween brand might look like to this day if the anthology blueprint had been a rousing success.
"I wish I could tell you that, ‘Oh, yes, we spun out 17 great tales of the future.’ But it really wasn't that way," Wallace says. "John was mostly dealing with The Thing at the time ... He was dealing with the aftermath of that and our hands were full just getting Halloween III into release. So we didn't have any discussions about other movies. I'd like to say, there are certainly plenty of possibilities, even today. After all these years, a lot of people have used Halloween as the backdrop for their movies ever since. But the field is fertile and it's still a million-dollar idea to do an anthology on the season. I'm shocked that someone hasn't jumped in there and taken up the cause because there are plenty of stories out there. But no, we honestly just didn't have time to consider much beyond what was right in front of our noses."
There is also plenty of debate around Halloween III's ambiguous ending, which Wallace says was meant to be a bit of a middle finger to studio mandates that call for happy endings to be tacked on at the last minute (that's exactly what happened on Season of the Witch, but he refused to neatly wrap things up as Dr. Challis helplessly shouts into the phone "STOP ITTTTTTTTT!!!!!" before the screen cuts to black. Was he able to stop the third broadcast?
"My personal feeling is that maybe he didn't," muses Wallace. "Maybe Connell Cochran succeeded on some level. Of course, he didn't destroy all of mankind, but it might have been a devastating hit nonetheless. You get to interpret it for yourself, which is what I liked about the ending."
Halloween III: Where the Hell is Michael Myers? The Definitive History of Horror's Most Misunderstood Film goes on sale from BearManor Media later this month.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is now streaming on Peacock alongside the just-released Halloween Ends.