Was “Halloween III” the “American Horror Story: Asylum” of its day?

As American Horror Story: Asylum gets under way tonight, with a well-earned sense of excitement and anticipation — I’ve seen the first two episodes, they rock — I can’t help but think of Halloween III.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch posterMight seem odd, until you consider the similarities between the two undertakings. Creator Ryan Murphy envisions AHS as an anthology series, with each season unspooling a different tale with a (largely) different cast each time out. That’s pretty much the plan John Carpenter had for Halloween, but there were a couple of problems with that idea: 1) He made (or allowed to be made) Halloween II, which was a direct sequel to his slasher masterpiece, and 2) He didn’t bother to tell anybody his plan. So imagine you’re a moviegoer in 1982 — long before the Internet made every movie production an open book — and you buy your $2.94 ticket expecting to see the next installment of Michael Myers killing baby sitters and their lecherous boyfriends. Instead you see an old guy who is decidedly not Donald Pleasance running around with some hot chick who inexplicably likes him trying to stop a toy company from selling Halloween masks that will melt kids’ faces.

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The intent was to release a different Halloween movie every year with a different story, cast, etc., bringing the concept of The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery to the big screen. The public didn’t think it was such a neat idea, with ticket sales lukewarm and critical reception much colder. (Although Roger Ebert seemed to have a thing for star Stacey Nelkin.) And I’m not here to say any of that isn’t deserved. Halloween III, which for some reason is subtitled Season of the Witch, is not a good movie. It is, however, enjoyably bad, which is more than can be sad for most of the slasher genre. Seriously, go back and actually watch a full Friday the 13th movie. A full 70 percent of the running time consists of an unknown actor walking around going, “Steve? Is that you? … This isn’t funny!”

Knowing that it was intended as an anthology tale makes sense when you consider the bad-guys-win ending. How many Twilight Zone episodes can you remember with happy outcomes? Also, there was no sense that any main characters had to be saved for the sequels. They all either die, are revealed to be cyborgs, or some other ghastly fate brought to you by cheesy special effects.

So 30 years hence, let’s call Halloween III: Season of the Witch a noble failure, a movie that was ahead of its time in form if not quality. If the thinking was that all the drama had been wrung out of the Michael Myers story, and that we didn’t need yet another horror franchise whose sequels stretched into infinity, it’s a shame it wasn’t more successful. Instead all it did was delay the inevitable until 1988, when Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers came out.

So while you’re enjoying Asylum, try to save a soft spot for one of its misguided ancestors, and just try to keep that darn Silver Shamrock song out of your head.

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