GUEST POST: Edward M. Erdelac

Halloween III: Season of a Witch: The ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ of the Halloween Season

The Christmas season has always had a massive catalog of holiday-themed movies and TV specials catering to nearly every taste, from Frank Capra sentimentals and whimsical Claymation musicals to raunchy comedies and in recent years, actions films and even Christmas-themed horror. The canonical Christmas classics are so ingrained that just reading this paragraph you’ve probably conjured up one or two old stand-bys. Ask ten people what their favorite Christmas movie is, and you’ll see a lot of the same titles turn up a couple times. It’s A Wonderful Life. A Christmas Carol. A Charlie Brown Christmas. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (my dad’s favorite).

The Halloween season has always had a decidedly less than universal pantheon of movies and specials, mainly because I think when you ask somebody what they watch on Halloween they tend to tell you their favorite horror movie. People equate the season with watching horror, and there are more horror movies under the sun than there are hairs on a black cat.

When I ask this question, I impose two requirements that I find whittles down the plethora of general horror responses.

1 It has to take place during the Halloween season.

2 It should comment on the holiday or depict its traditions in some way. Even if its just pumpkin carving.

This will generally yield a more manageable set of titles in terms of trying to suss out what ought to be considered the classics of Halloween. I won’t try to list them all, but some good recurring examples include It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, A Nightmare Before Christmas, The Halloween Tree, Trick ‘R Treat, Boys In The Trees, The WNUF Halloween Special, Garfield’s Halloween Special, Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Hocus Pocus, The Midnight Hour, etc.

You’ll even find a couple of Halloween ‘bleed’ movies like Arsenic And Old Lace (Frank Capra!) this way.
Of course the Halloween franchise counts, and while I’m not a big Michael Meyers fan at all, there is one outing in the series that in my opinion counts as the quintessential movie of the Halloween season. The It’s A Wonderful Life of All Hallow’s Eve. The Miracle On 34th Street of October 31st. The Christmas Carol of Samhain.

That is, without a doubt, 1982’s Halloween III: Season of The Witch.

I’ve been singing the praises of this flick since I first saw it, and have been shouted down by Shape-heads for decades. It was notoriously panned for years as an unwelcome departure from the Laurie StrodeMichael Meyers storyline and criminally dismissed by a lot of horror fans. The premise has nothing to do with the rest of the series. It’s a one off.

Shout Factory’s description for the upcoming 4K release on Amazon says “A murder-suicide in a northern Californian hospital leads to an investigation by the on-call doctor, which reveals a plot by an insane toymaker to kill as many people as possible on October 31st through an ancient Celtic ritual and deadly Halloween masks.”

Not a masked killer in site. Instead, killer masks. The tagline, The Night NOBODY Came Home.

So, just forget Michael Meyers exists. It’s easy for me (I’m a Jason Voorhees nut). Take Halloween III out of the title. Let’s talk about a little movie from 1982 called Season Of The Witch (no, not Romero’s 1973 movie either. That’s Hungry Wives. Stop interrupting!).

The earliest memories of Halloween I cherish are of the smell of close latex and burning candles, heaps of candy rattling around in bright orange and green buckets, the scrape of a spoon in a hollowed out pumpkin and the slip of wet orange innards strung with seeds on my knuckles, leaves crackling underfoot at night, and a swirling array of half-glimpsed costumes both harrowing and gaudy, tacky and inappropriate.

Halloween. It’s chintzy, it’s spooky, it’s glorious. It’s a magical, pseudo-pagan night of anonymity, a night of festive abandon. A night of pranks and tricks and perhaps a subterranean current of unease, for some of us, in our celebrations of spirits and ghosts and goblins are flirting with the idea of oblivion and shaking ourselves wantonly under the nose of death. But Death’s a good sport about it. On this night, anyway.

And Season of The Witch encapsulates all those things for me.

Let’s start with the George Bailey of this movie, our sweaty, boozy divorcee protagonist Dr. Dan Challis, played with sleazy aplomb by Tom Atkins. Was there ever a more appropriate Halloween hero? Most of the time he acts more like a lecherous teenager in a white coat than a doctor. Challis is the bleary-eyed guy who answers the door on Halloween night with a can of beer in his hand and gives the sexy nurses and devils a little too much candy. While he gamely answers the call of adventure posed when a man murders one of his patients and self-immolates in the parking lot, leaving nothing behind but cogs and springs, like the underage drinker in the letterman’s jacket tagging along to take his best girl’s little sister out for candy, he’s really more interested in scoring Stacey Nelkin, which he invariably does, using the excuse of tracking down her missing father in a toy manufacturing factory way out in remote Santa Mira to ‘slyly’ get a one-bed room at a crummy roadside hotel and a six pack of Schlitz. He lures his companion to bed like an anxious teen who swears he can’t get the car to start. He’s a scuzz, as hilariously phony as a plastic knife in the head. But, he does uncover the terrible secret of Silver Shamrock Novelties, the makers of this year’s runaway Halloween fad, and he does do his damndest to thwart them.

And what a secret it is! If you’ve never seen this movie, here there be SPOILERS:

It’s the central ‘trick’ of Season Of The Witch that makes this movie so utterly perfect to me. Dan O’Herlihy’s puckish, ultimately sinister antagonist Conal Cochran sums it up in his villainous monologue as “a trick played on the children.” A mass sacrifice, enacted via a chip of Stonehenge embedded in a microchip in the logo of each Halloween mask, triggered by a television signal set to go off during ‘the big giveaway’ on Halloween night, during a showing of the movie Halloween.

Yes, it’s totally absurd. The death of millions of kids on Halloween night, perpetrated by a catchy jingle and the nebulous promise of a can’t-miss-it big giveaway. And not just normal old brain melting microwave beam death, but techno-science ray death by bugs and snakes popping out of your face. O’Herlihy sells the whole thing magnificently with his measured, ominous speech about the true meaning of Halloween (I don’t care that he mispronounces Samhain. Everyone does.). To this villain it’s a religious obligation, but he’s a gag-maker by trade, so it’s also a joke. You have to marry your work with your passions for a happy life.
And yet….speaking from experience as a kid in 1983, let me tell you, the plot of Halloween III would have totally got us. Or me, anyway.

The pre-eminent Saturday horror movie host of the Chicagoland area was and still is Rich Koz, The Son of Svengoolie. In the summer of 1982, Svengoolie promoted a special 3-D broadcast of Revenge Of The Creature on his show. It was the first attempt at a 3-D broadcast in Chicago. You could go to a 7-11 and get one of four limited edition cardboard 3-D glasses for 69 cents. Then, as long as you had a color TV set, could sit six feet away from the screen, and tuned in at the correct time, you’d be treated to a black and white 1955 movie in three dimensions. Yep, no big giveaway needed. I was all set to spit crickets just to watch a forty year old movie. But remember, VCR’s weren’t really widespread at that time, so if you were a fan of a movie, you scoured the TV Guide and made time for the broadcast or you missed your chance, and I was a big Creature of The Black Lagoon fan at that age – had no idea there even was a sequel. I guess the 3-D actually didn’t end up working correctly. I somehow missed the broadcast, even though I remember being really stoked for it. I probably fell asleep.

Another thing Season Of The Witch gets right about 80’s kids was our ravenous susceptibility to fads. Even before we induced our parents to duke it out in the aisles of Toys ‘R Us over Cabbage Patch Kids, in October 1980 there was another fad eerily akin to the Don Post masks of this movie that arrested the kids of Saint Andrew The Apostle in Calumet City, Illinois; Kooky Spooks.

Kooky Spooks came and went and a lot of people don’t remember them, but I was crazy to get in on it that Halloween. It was basically a bagged costume consisting of a plastic poncho, some reflective tape and makeup, and an inflatable character that sat on top of your head. There were nine variations. Wunkin Pumpkin, Wobblin Goblin, Scaredy Cat, Howly Owl, Spacey Casey, Wonder Witch, and Bone Head. The commercials were as ubiquitous as the Silver Shamrock jingle and they made me desperate to plunk down my parents’ money.

I was a Scaredy Cat. I was five or so, so I don’t know if I’m misremembering this entire thing and I was actually the laughingstock of my friends and not the envy. I have this one photo of my great grandmother disapproving of my get-up (including blackface), and my ma remembers it as being hysterical. I think the headpiece deflated and drooped over my face halfway through Halloween night.

Anyway the point is, I totally would have begged for one of those pumpkin masks (and I eventually did get one as an adult – Buddy Kupfer Jr. is my go-to Halloween costume when I take the kids out).

It could be all these elements of my own childhood Halloween experiences combined to prime me perfectly to enjoy Season Of The Witch, but a glance at blogs and lists around the internet tells me that I’m not as alone as I once was.

Season Of The Witch, for me, is the Halloween movie that perfectly encompasses everything I enjoy about Halloween and I closeout the holiday every year with a late night watch after we’ve brought the kids home from trick ‘r treating.

Don’t forget to watch the big giveaway….and wear your mask.


Boo-graphy:
Edward M. Erdelac is the author of thirteen novels including the acclaimed Judeocentric/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider, Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian Mythos, Conquer, Monstrumfuhrer from Comet Press, Terovolas from JournalStone Publishing, and Andersonville from Random House/Hydra.

Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and a bona fide slew of kids and cats.

Conquer
In 1976 Harlem, JOHN CONQUER, P.I. is the cat you call when your hair stands up…the supernatural brother like no other. From the pages of Occult Detective Quarterly, he’s calm, he’s cool, and now he’s collected in CONQUER.

From Hoodoo doctors and Voodoo Queens,
The cat they call Conquer’s down on the scene!
With a dime on his shin and a pocket of tricks,
A gun in his coat and an eye for the chicks.
Uptown and Downton, Harlem to Brooklyn,
Wherever the brothers find trouble is brewin,’
If you’re swept with a broom, or your tracks have been crossed,
If your mojo is failin’ and all hope is lost,
Call the dude on St. Marks with the shelf fulla books,
‘Cause ain’t no haint or spirit, or evil-eye looks,
Conjured by devils, JAMF’s, or The Man,
Can stop the black magic Big John’s got on hand!

Collects Conquer Comes Calling, Conquer Gets Crowned, Conquer Comes Correct and four previously unpublished stories – Keep Cool, Conquer, Conquer Cracks His Whip, Conquer And The Queen of Crown Heights, and Who The Hell Is John Conquer?

Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against the Lovecraftian Mythos
“The oaths of secrecy she [Zora Neale Hurston] swore, and the terrifying physical and emotional ordeals she endured…left their mark on her, and there were certain parts of her material which she never dared to reveal, even in scientific publications.” – Alan Lomax

ZORA! She traveled the 1930’s south alone with a loaded forty four and an unmatched desire to see and to know. She was at home in the supper clubs of New York City, back road juke joints, under ropes of Spanish moss, and dancing around the Vodoun peristyle. Her experiences brought us Their Eyes Were Watching God, Mules And Men, Tell My Horse, and Jonah’s Gourd Vine. But between the lines she wrote lie the words unwritten, truths too fantastic to divulge….until now.

LEAVES FLOATING IN A DREAM’S WAKE, BEYOND THE BLACK ARCADE. EKWENSU’S LULLABY. KING YELLER. GODS OF THE GRIM NATION. THE SHADOW IN THE CHAPEL OF EASE. BLACK WOMAN, WHITE CITY. THE DEATHLESS SNAKE. Eight weird and fantastic stories spanning the breadth of her amazing life. Eight times when she faced the nameless alien denizens of the outer darkness and didn’t blink.

ZORA! Celebrated writer, groundbreaking anthropologist, Hoodoo initiate, footloose queen of the Harlem Renaissance, Mythos detective.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Edward M. Erdelac

Meghan: Hey, Ed. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Edward: Taking my three kids trick ‘r treating.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Edward: At the end of the night we head to our favorite pizza joint (Joe Peeps on Magnolia in Valley Village, CA), order a couple of pies, and then head home. The kids swap candy on the floor and I close the night with a rewatch of Halloween III.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Edward: It’s been my second favorite since as long as I can remember but as I grow older it’s beginning to bump Christmas out of the top spot, I think because I’m much more the father than I am the kid these days. Christmas is really for kids. Halloween is an equalizer in that I think my kids and I both enjoy it on the same level. We all love horror movies and spooky stuff, costuming and decorations. I love the enthusiasm my kids put into it, love getting them ready, getting their costumes put together, love spending the time walking the neighborhood at night with them, checking out costumes. I like renewing my Shudder subscription for the month and just delving into old and obscure horror movies. I try to get in as many first time watches as I can and as horror movies are pretty much a neverending crop, there’s always something new to see. It all starts the weekend after Thanksgiving when I crack open the decorations box, which has smelled of paper and old fog machine juice since a jug of the stuff spilled in there years ago. We put up the paper witches and cats, dig out the Bela Lugosi figures and the electric props and we’re off to the races.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Edward: I grew up Catholic and have a very mystical mindset, but I don’t think I subscribe to any of the classic supersitions about ladders and black cats and umbrellas indoors, etc. I do have a thing about doing whatever fridge business I’m doing before the door open warning chime comes on, but it’s probably just because I find the sound annoying.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Edward: Of the classics I dig The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and The Invisible Man in that order. Modern, I’m a big Jason Voorhees fan.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Edward: John ‘Wheat’ Carr, who in 70’s Yonkers was a suspect in the Son of Sam case and mentioned by name (John Wheaties) in one of the letters from the killer to the press. He was the literal son of Sam (Carr) and David Berkowitz’s neighbor, owner of the infamous dog that supposedly told him to kill. Berkowitz admitted to having been at the scene of the Son of Sam killings but said he wasn’t necessarily the trigger man every time. There were wildly different suspect descriptions throughout that summer, and a lot of people suspected multiple shooters. John Carr fit the tall eyewitness description of the tall blonde that was seen more than a few times. In later years in North Dakota, John bragged about being in a cult and having had trouble with the police in New York. He used to draw the Son of Sam symbol idly in the margins of books. He was murdered in 1978 and his brother Michael died suspiciously in a car accident a year later. I don’t necessarily believe all of the Maury Terry conspiracy stuff, but I do believe there were multiple shooters and that John Carr probably was one. If Berkowitz was in prison, then somebody else connected to the shootings probably did Carr in.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Edward: There was a book I had as a kid, Reader’s Digest Mysteries of The Unexplained which had an illustration of The Jersey Devil that used to really unsettle me. Tall, gaunt body and unwieldy head, like Yak-Face from Star Wars. The burning hoof prints found going up walls and over rooves was a creepy signature.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Edward: Difficult to say ‘favorite’ in respect to his victims, but the ingenuity and diabolism of druggist H.H. Holmes fascinates me. During the Chicago World’s Fair he rented out the rooms of what was later dubbed his murder castle to tourists. They would find themselves gassed in locked, soundproof rooms and dropped through floors into acid vats. Holmes would disassemble his victims in a surgical room in the basement and sell the organs and bones, then cremate the rest. He hired a bunch of contractors to build each of these contraptions and install them, firing and hiring them liberally so that nobody ever got a clear picture of what he was building. He confessed to 27 murders.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Edward: I have no idea how old I was, but as a kid in the Chicago suburbs I used to tune into Son of Svengoolie every weekend, and devoured the Universal classics, Godzilla/Gamera and Hammer horror movies he showed. The earliest I can remember seeing and being really entranced by was either Black Lagoon or Hammer’s Brides of Dracula. Both stuck with me in a big way. Brides, probably for that ‘midwife’ scene where the crazed servant coaxes the fledgling vampire out of her grave as if she’s being born, and for Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing. The various anti-vampire tricks he employed. The shadow of the windmill and flushing his cauterized bite wound with holy water. Then there was the singular look of the Creature From The Black Lagoon, the way he stalked and breathed…and probably Julie Adams in that bathing suit.

The first horror novel I read….probably Simon Hawke’s adaptation of Friday The 13th Part 6: Jason Lives. It was also probably the second no-illustrations, non comic book I ever read. I wasn’t allowed to see rated R movies as a kid, so I’d get the novelizations. I read a lot of Alan Dean Foster. But F13 Pt. 6 I read in one sitting, absolutely flabberbasted by the graphic descriptions of violence and the horrific backstory Hawke gave Jason. He also delved into Jason’s POV a couple times, and it blew my mind that a book could be so revolting and blood-soaked. It threw open the window of my imagination and I went blowing out on the wind. It was kind of instrumental in me becoming a writer myself.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Edward: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I read it trying to overcome my unreasonable fear of the movie (see below) and it wound up keeping me up at night, as did the sequel, Legion. I would sit up till 3AM thinking about it and trying to bring myself down bingeing Three Stooges shorts as a sort of buffer.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Edward: When I was way too young I was at my great aunt’s and my dad was sitting in the living room in the dark watching TV. I crept in to see what he was watching and it was The Exorcist. I entered the room just as Regan’s neck crackled and her head turned around. I looked from the screen to my dad, and, his face only illuminated in the blue glow of the TV screen, he grinned at me and waggled his eyebrows. I shrieked in abject terror and had to be coaxed out from under the kitchen table. I was in high school before I was ever convinced to watch another modern day horror movie (The movie that brought me back in the fold turned out to be the criminally underseen Exorcist III).

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Edward: I was the Michael Landon Teenage Werewolf one Halloween. That was one of my favorites. My mom sewed me these werewolf hands with hair and long fingernails and I wore a rubber mask and one of those letterman jackets. I won a costume contest in my town Halloween parade going as a Tusken Raider from Star Wars. My mom and my cousin made the mask out of papier mache and my dad welded me a gaffi stick out of parts in the garage….those were my two favorites.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Edward: Josh Ritter’s The Curse. It’s about The Mummy. Go on Youtube and watch the video. It’s all done with marionettes and it’s amazing.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Edward: I love peanut butter cups and hate candy corns, which my Uncle Jim told me tasted like McDonald’s cheeseburgers as a kid to induce me to try them. I was severely disappointed. They sorta look like McDonald’s cheeseburgers too.

Meghan: Thanks for stopping by today, Ed. Before you go, what are your go-to Halloween movies?

Edward: OK so Christmas has its old seasonal standbys. For me, the absolute essentials of the Halloween season, the five movies and shows that best incorporate the holiday somehow are It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, The Halloween Tree, Garfield’s Halloween Special, Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, and Dark Night of The Scarecrow. I watch them every year without fail. They’re A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, It’s A Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol Halloween equivalents for me.


Boo-graphy:
Edward M. Erdelac is the author of thirteen novels including the acclaimed Judeocentric/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider, Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian Mythos, Conquer, Monstrumfuhrer from Comet Press, Terovolas from JournalStone Publishing, and Andersonville from Random House/Hydra.

Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and a bona fide slew of kids and cats.

Conquer
In 1976 Harlem, JOHN CONQUER, P.I. is the cat you call when your hair stands up…the supernatural brother like no other. From the pages of Occult Detective Quarterly, he’s calm, he’s cool, and now he’s collected in CONQUER.

From Hoodoo doctors and Voodoo Queens,
The cat they call Conquer’s down on the scene!
With a dime on his shin and a pocket of tricks,
A gun in his coat and an eye for the chicks.
Uptown and Downton, Harlem to Brooklyn,
Wherever the brothers find trouble is brewin,’
If you’re swept with a broom, or your tracks have been crossed,
If your mojo is failin’ and all hope is lost,
Call the dude on St. Marks with the shelf fulla books,
‘Cause ain’t no haint or spirit, or evil-eye looks,
Conjured by devils, JAMF’s, or The Man,
Can stop the black magic Big John’s got on hand!

Collects Conquer Comes Calling, Conquer Gets Crowned, Conquer Comes Correct and four previously unpublished stories – Keep Cool, Conquer, Conquer Cracks His Whip, Conquer And The Queen of Crown Heights, and Who The Hell Is John Conquer?

Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against the Lovecraftian Mythos
“The oaths of secrecy she [Zora Neale Hurston] swore, and the terrifying physical and emotional ordeals she endured…left their mark on her, and there were certain parts of her material which she never dared to reveal, even in scientific publications.” – Alan Lomax

ZORA! She traveled the 1930’s south alone with a loaded forty four and an unmatched desire to see and to know. She was at home in the supper clubs of New York City, back road juke joints, under ropes of Spanish moss, and dancing around the Vodoun peristyle. Her experiences brought us Their Eyes Were Watching God, Mules And Men, Tell My Horse, and Jonah’s Gourd Vine. But between the lines she wrote lie the words unwritten, truths too fantastic to divulge….until now.

LEAVES FLOATING IN A DREAM’S WAKE, BEYOND THE BLACK ARCADE. EKWENSU’S LULLABY. KING YELLER. GODS OF THE GRIM NATION. THE SHADOW IN THE CHAPEL OF EASE. BLACK WOMAN, WHITE CITY. THE DEATHLESS SNAKE. Eight weird and fantastic stories spanning the breadth of her amazing life. Eight times when she faced the nameless alien denizens of the outer darkness and didn’t blink.

ZORA! Celebrated writer, groundbreaking anthropologist, Hoodoo initiate, footloose queen of the Harlem Renaissance, Mythos detective.