Friday, 10 December 2010

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Don't you hate those assholes who leave their
halloween decorations out until Christmas?

After the box-office busting Halloween and the pretty decent follow-up Halloween II, John Carpenter decided that they'd taken the story of Michael Myers as far as it could go. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, directed by Carpenter's frequent collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace, was intended to reboot the franchise as an anthology series, with each entry being a completely unrelated story centered around the titular holiday. I can only imagine the watermelon-sized balls it would have taken to strip the series of Michael Myers, Dr. Loomis and everything else that people loved about it, but as you can imagine it did not go down well and the film was loathed by fans and critics alike.

Like any film that spawned such hatred it's built up a rabid cult following, although I'm not sure it's warranted. It's not the worst film in the series, in fact it's probably better than most of the films that came after it, but that doesn't mean it's good either. One of the big problems is that it's too complicated. The fear of being chased around our house by a crazy, unstoppable maniac with a big knife is a something we can all relate to. It's a simple idea, but there's something primal and instinctual about it. On the other hand, the fear of Irish immigrants using killer robot assassins and the power of Stonehenge to create killer Halloween masks, that's something a little less universal. That's a niche fear at best.

Tom Atkins plays a Dan, a doctor (not from the same hospital from Halloween 2 I think) who is on call when a crazy old man is brought in, ranting about how they are all going to die. He stays overnight for observation, and during the night a creepy guy in a suit sneaks into his hospital room and kills him with his bare hands, then calmly walks out, gets into his car, douses himself in petrol and sets himself alight. Atkins witnesses this, and subsequently teams up with the victim's daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) to figure out what the fuck is going on.

At the heart of the mystery are Silver Shamrock masks, a brand of locally-made latex masks that are the hot ticket item for the coming Halloween. They come in three flavours; skull, witch and jack o'lantern, so I guess if you want to go as something other than those three things then you're shit out of luck. There's an unbelievable amount of advertising behind these things, literally every time someone turns on a TV there's an ad for Silver Shamrock masks with an annoying jingle reminding everybody how many days it is until Halloween.

Dan and Ellie head out to Santa Mira, California, the small town where the masks are produced. It seems to be deserted and full of suspicious locals, but as soon as they pull into a hotel about half a dozen other characters arrive as well so I don't know what the fuck. That night in the hotel, like Jaime Lee Curtis before her, Nelkin succumbs to Tom Atkins raw animal magnetism, a moment that stands out as unbelievable even in a film about killer Halloween masks.

The man behind it all is the owner of Silver Shamrock novelties, Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), and entrepeneur who is obsessed with clockwork toys and novelties. His great plan is to distribute his Silver Shamrock masks to as many children as possible. Then, when they watch a special TV transmission under the guise of a televised giveaway, a special chip in the masks is activated which melts their faces and cause insects and reptiles to pour from every orifice in their head. I don't know how it works, but it's got something to do with druidic magic and one of the standing stones from Stonehenge, which they stole somehow. It also has some wicked anti-tamper features; one woman tries to mess with the badge and it melts her face off with a laser beam.

If all of this sounds like it doesn't make any sense it's because it doesn't, but it's clear that making sense isn't on the list of priorities. When discussing how they moved the standing stone to the laboratory Cochran says "You wouldn't believe how we did it!" with no elaboration, and when asked the motive behind his ridiculous plan he responds "Do I need a reason?" I can appreciate the ballsiness of lines like that, it's basically the writer flipping the bird to the audience with both hands, but it doesn't help make the movie, you know, good.

If that weren't enough silliness it's also revealed that Cochran's creepy assassins are actually clockwork robots. One of them is sent out to kill a forensic pathologist who is investigating the self-immolation that begins of the film. When she examines the remains all she finds is gears and wires, but eventually she seems to have an epiphany and mouths "Oh my god!" while reaching for the phone. She's killed before she can get through to the Sheriff, but I thought it was pretty funny because the implication is that she was thinking "Of course! The killer was a robot! I've got to alert the police!"

I kind of like the ending though, which is it's own special brand of ridiculousness. Dan and Ellie manage to kill Cochran, destroy his laboratory and escape, but with Cochran's special transmission still scheduled to go on the air Dan calls up the local TV station, demanding that they pull the ad. For some reason they actually believe his crazed ranting, but he only manages to get it pulled from two out of the three channels, leaving things ambiguous as to whether a bunch of kids are going to have their heads melted Raiders of the Lost Ark style. I especially like the final shot of the film, with Atkins sweatily screaming into the phone as the Silver Shamrock theme plays in the background.

I could probably enjoy this ridiculous bullshit a lot more if it were under any other title, but I love Halloween and Halloween II as genuinely scary, well-crafted movies. After they brought back Michael Myers for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, but it wasn't the same. The damage had been done. I think maybe this one is worth watching, as sometimes it manages to create an creepy atmosphere and it's definitely unique, but it's almost impossible to take seriously.


Anonymous said...

Halloween II is a genuinely scary, well-crafted movie? Don't make me laugh! It's a grade z B-Movie, as bad as all the other Halloween clones that followed the original. If any movie is overrated Halloween II is.

Dave said...

It's not as good as Halloween (you'll note I only called it a "pretty decent follow-up") but I stand by my opinion that it's well made and has its moments. I like it a lot more than the later entries, although I remember thinking H20 was pretty good.

Ty said...

Always wanted to see this sequel.

Thanks for the reminder. Will watch it soon!