This Friday's release of Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween has got me thinking about that bastard child of the franchise, 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I'm going to say something now that may shock, anger and make you fear for my very soul: I like Halloween III. There, I've said it, and I'm glad. Let the melee commence. I feel like Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas when it comes to defending this movie. "It's not a bad little 80s terror flick. All it needs is a little love (and maybe a beer or two to wash it down)."

For those not familiar with the film, H3 is the only entry in the series that does not deal with masked slasher icon Michael Myers. Feeling that the second film had brought Michael's story to a conclusion, John Carpenter (who served as producer and not director this time) sought to take the series in a new direction, producing a new horror movie each year tied in to the Halloween season, but completely separate from the previous films. Of course, that idea died when H3 tanked at the box office in 1982. When the series finally returned with a fourth installment in 1988, Michael was back and hacking away.

A very frightened man named Harry Grimbridge is running from a group of men, all dressed in identical charcoal gray suits. There's something not quite right about these guys, and the first time I saw Agent Smith and his cohorts in The Matrix I was reminded of them. Grimbridge makes his way to a hospital, clutching a pumpkin-faced Halloween mask and muttering "they're going to kill all of us." He's at least partially right, because one of the men pursuing him soon makes his way into the hospital and crushes Grimbridge's skull with one hand. Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) pursues the assailant into the parking lot just in time to see the man in gray douse himself with gasoline and blow himself and his car to smithereens.

Dan is deeply shaken by the experience, and he agrees to help Grimbridge's daughter Ellie (the lovely Stacey Nelkin) investigate her father's death. Grimbridge ran a toy store, and the last thing he did before turning up at the hospital, was to pick up an order of Siver Shamrock Halloween masks (the same type of mask he was clutching at the hospital) at the factory in Santa Mira, a creepy little company town that is obviously harboring its share of secrets. A wino who tells Dan a little too much gets his head torn off by the men in gray and a woman messing with the circuit board in one of the masks gets a face full of laser beam, leaving her mouth an open crater from which a very large insect scuttles. I don't want to give away too much here, because what I remember most from my first viewing of this movie is the sense of "what the hell is going on?" that held my attention until the end, and the pay off is pretty good.

The film has a handful of interesting quirks. The synthesizer score and state of the art graphics (for 1982) that play under the opening credits both immediately date the film and set a nice eerie atmosphere.Tom Atkins was something of an 80s horror star, having appeared in The Fog, Creepshow and Night of the Creeps. The fact that I don't quite buy him as a doctor -- he was always more believable as a cop or blue collar type -- strangely makes his performance more memorable. Likewise, the romance between Dan and Ellie that seems to drop out of the sky is all the more memorable because it's wedged into the story like a square peg into a round hole. And of course there's that interminable Silver Shamrock jingle ("Eight more days to Hall-o-ween, Sil-ver Shamrock!") that annoys the audience just as much as it does the characters in the film.

Nope, it's not a classic, but it's a fun little horror flick with a story that keeps you guessing, and if nothing else there's that scene of Stacey Nelkin coming out of the shower (what George Costanza would call "side-al nudity). I've heard this film being bashed frequently over the years. Had H3 been released without any attempt to tie it into the Halloween franchise, I bet it would be fondly remembered as the enjoyable B flick that it is.