Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

What can I say to defend HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, except that I love it? The plot makes no sense, the ending is pretty crappy, and it has nothing to do with the first two HALLOWEEN films whatsoever. Yet I can't resist its insane charms.

John Carpenter, who wrote and directed the original HALLOWEEN and produced the second, served as a producer and composer on HALLOWEEN III. His idea was to do a HALLOWEEN feature every year using completely unrelated stories and characters. After SEASON OF THE WITCH (there are no witches in the film) failed to become a success, executive producer Moustapha Akaad decided to bring back Michael Myers (who had burned up in HALLOWEEN II) for the fourth entry, and Carpenter washed his hands of the franchise.

Blessed with a sturdy performance by Tom Atkins (THE FOG) as an alcoholic physician and solid direction by first-time helmer Tommy Lee Wallace (who had been the editor and production designer on John Carpenter's THE FOG and HALLOWEEN), HALLOWEEN III comes across these days as an extremely silly but fun little thriller...but only if you don't ask too many questions and don't take it very seriously.

HALLOWEEN III opens very well, with a long shot of a frightened man running from a carload of business-suited pursuers and attempting to hide in a junkyard. After fighting off one of his stoic stalkers, the man finds help at a nearby gas station, and is taken to the hospital where Dr. Challis (Atkins) is on call. The man, toy store owner Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry), seems hysterical, clutching a Halloween mask and babbling, "They're going to kill us all." Challis dismisses these rantings, until Harry's skull is ripped apart by a murderer who then blows himself up in a car parked outside the hospital.

Mystified at this strange behavior and curious about the mask, which is manufactured by a company called Silver Shamrock, Challis meets Harry's daughter Ellie (cute Stacey Nelkin), who's convinced something happened to her father on his recent trip to Silver Shamrock's factory in nearby Santa Mira. The two drive up to this sleepy Northern California company town, where all the residents seem a bit, er, odd in that INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS pod person kind of way (Don Siegel's 1956 INVASION was, in fact, set in Santa Mira, California--an obvious in-joke on writer Wallace's part).

Up to this point, HALLOWEEN III is a neat little mystery with several intriguing questions. Who was Harry escaping from? Who's going to kill us all? And how? And how does the Silver Shamrock plant tie into everything? Some of those questions are answered after Challis and Ellie meet Conal Cochran (ROBOCOP's Dan O'Herlihy), owner of Silver Shamrock, and the film's tone switches into full-blown comic book mode.

It seems Cochran has a mad plot to take over the world using the Silver Shamrock masks, which have seemingly been purchased by every kid in the U.S. at least. Cochran and his robot army of business-suited henchmen have stolen one of the five-ton slabs of Stonehenge and transported it to his factory, where he has used its power to manufacture deadly microchips and implant them into each mask.

At 9:00 pm on Halloween night, the maddening Silver Shamrock television commercial, snippets of which are played at regular intervals in the film ("Happy, happy Halloween...Halloween...Halloween...Happy, happy Halloween...Silver Shamrock!), will activate the microchips and turn the heads of the children wearing the masks into beetles and snakes!

The how ("You'd never believe it.") and why ("Do I need a reason?") of Cochran's plan are amusingly ignored in Wallace's plot, but I admire his brashness at creating such a ridiculous and laughable idea. To be fair, if this story appeared in a Dr. Doom Marvel comic, no one would blink an eye, but in the context of this film at least, it only inspires plenty of unintended laughs. After a decent and relatively restrained setup, HALLOWEEN III degenerates into a completely implausible climax, which includes Atkins battling a detached robot arm and a very lame special effect of a burning building.

Character actor Atkins does very well in a rare leading role, but he was 47 at the time, and his love scenes with the very young-looking Nelkin (UP THE ACADEMY) raise a few eyebrows. Oddly, this film is gorier than the first two HALLOWEENs, with makeup man Tom Burman providing a spurting severed head and other grisly effects. SF author Nigel Kneale (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) reportedly wrote the initial screenplay, but removed his name because of the high gore content.

As silly as it all is, I still think HALLOWEEN III has to be the second best HALLOWEEN movie ever made.

12 comments:

Kanno K said...

Big points for a song that you will never forget. NEVER!

Chicken said...

yeah. Ulgh that SONG!!!! GYAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

Emily said...

I couldn't agree more. It's an extremely messy film, but the ending is super, Atkins is gold, and the whole idea feels fresh in a wacky way. It's a shame this film didn't succeed. As a result, we got a slew of mediocre-to-dreadful slasher films that brought absolutely nothing new to horror.

J.D. said...

I love this film too. It is also my fave HALLOWEEN film after the first one.

There is something about Cochran's creepy goons that always gets me. Like how they emotionlessly dispatch folks. But the scene that always does it too me is when Cochran subjects a family to the Halloween mask commercial and they all die horrible deaths.

Jeremy Richey said...

"I love it? The plot makes no sense, the ending is pretty crappy, and it has nothing to do with the first two HALLOWEEN films whatsoever. Yet I can't resist its insane charms."

Couldn't have said it better myself...great post.

Anonymous said...

The ending is not crappy. It is AWESOME.

utter_scoundrel

Booksteve said...

The first HALLOWEEN is one of the best made horror films ever but this one, the third, completely unrelated one, is the ONLY one that ever really creeped me out!

Robert H. said...

I also have some fondness for this film, but the stupidity really goes all out to undermine it -- having seen some of Kneale's television plays, I just wish that Carpenter had nutted up and decided to leave his script intact and ditched the unnecessary gore.

Richard Harland Smith said...

This is the one that prompted the wife to say "I've had scarier things fall out of my butt."

Loopingstar / Kev G said...

One of my all time favourite movies , I just love
the creepy atmosphere - great John Carpenter
soundtrack too !

Anonymous said...

Nice to see so much love for this great film and not the usual "I hate it, where's Michael" crap that is on most messageboards. I've loved the film for years, and agree that you shouldn't ask too many questions about the plot, and suspension of disbelief is a must. John Carpenter's {uncredited co-writer on Halloween III} comment about how logic was never something he was interested in, in films, pretty much explains everything. PS: I love the ending!

Alison said...

I think you wife was scared Richard and too embarassed to admit it! After watching the incredibly unscary Halloween II was a breath of fresh air. Great review btw!