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Movie Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal, 1982)
Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

A lot of people really hate the shit out of this film. When I’ve asked various people in the past why they dislike it so much, the most common reason is that it has nothing to do with Michael Myers. Fair enough. In most people’s minds it would be like having a James Bond film without Mr. Bond and his martinis. I sometimes wonder how many people that say it sucks have even seen the damn thing however.

After the box office success of Halloween II, the studio was ready for another sequel, and they wanted it to come out a year later for Halloween. John Carpenter had no interest in directing, but he had an idea of turning the series into an anthology of sorts that if done correctly could give them a film each year for however long it pleased the suits. It would be an eighties version of Saw if you will: “It’s Halloween, Then It Must Be…Halloween?” Instead of following the continuing adventures of Michael Myers, they would instead tell a different scary story each year set at Halloween, and therefore could reasonably keep the same title. After a disaster at the box office (the film only made a little over 12 million domestically), this idea was quickly canned. In fact, the series didn’t resurface for another six years, and for obvious financial reasons, Michael Myers got put back in the game.

Halloween III is one of the strangest films you are ever likely to see. The film centers on the small, fictional town of Santa Mira, California. Santa Mira got it’s name on the map due to its famous toy factory, Silver Shamrock, run by the very sinister looking, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). Cochran is also in the business of making a popular line of generic looking Halloween masks (a Witch, a Skeleton, and a Jack O’Lantern) that apparently everyone is wearing. Cochran is also considered the creator of the gag gifts: Fake vomit, whoopee cushion, etc., and this Halloween he has decided to play the biggest practical joke of them all.

Cochran has implanted the masks with devices that activate through subliminal messages he will insert into a commercial on Halloween that he is calling the “Big Giveaway” in the hopes to have a lot of kids watching. Once the subliminal messages take effect, the masks kill the kids, how we’re not really ever told, but we see their heads dissolve into the masks and a bunch of bugs and snakes emerge from the debris.

Hoping to stop Cochran are Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge (Stacy Nelkin). Ellie’s father went missing shortly after visiting Silver Shamrock and then was killed by a strange assassin wearing a three-piece suit while under the care of Dr. Challis. They venture to Santa Mira to find out what the hell is going on, and when they do, it’s off to save all the children of the world.

Like I said, a very strange film any way you look at it. And while it is “ridiculously retarded” (I’m going to copyright that phrase), in a strange way I kind of love this film. Cochran is a great villain. Some people that I know have actually seen it get annoyed by his lack of motive, but isn’t Michael Myers lack of a motive in the original film one of the things that makes it so damn creepy? Can’t Cochran just be some sick bastard who’s tired of his life and decides to start killing a bunch of kids because he can? The killing of kids also gives the film a lot of balls; even in the early eighties you didn’t see too many horror films where kids ate it.

The overall insanity of the picture is something I’ve always treasured on every viewing as well. You’ve got an evil toymaker, robot assassins who, like terrorists, douse themselves in flames to avoid capture, Halloween masks that crush kids’ heads and produce insects, and even Stonehenge plays into the film at one point. That’s right! Stonefuckinghenge is a major plot point in the film’s climax. I ask you, how can you not love a film this in love with how ridiculous it is?

The B-movie acting is also pitch perfect. Atkins, a Carpenter favorite (He was also in The Fog), is a lot of fun. The thing I most liked about his character is that the only reason he seems to want to initially go to Santa Mira is to get Ellie in bed, which is a quest he succeeds at admirably, I might add. But once the sex is over with, he knows its time to kick some ass, and he does so quite efficiently. O’Herlihy hams it up just perfectly as Cochran; apparently Paul Verhoeven thought so as well because he cast him as the villain in Robocop five years later.

Tommy Lee Wallace got the directing gig, and he also wrote the script. Wallace was an editor on the original Halloween. While he doesn’t capture Carpenter’s essence quite as well as Rick Rosenthal did with Halloween II, he does an admirable job. And his writing is all over the place as you can tell from my plot description, but thankfully he never allows the film to take itself seriously enough for you to care. Wallace also does a great job of not letting up at the end giving us a very dour outcome that I was not expecting at all.

There are quite a few nitpicks that are hard to overlook. I couldn’t quite figure out why it was necessary to show a subtitle of the day and date throughout the film. Who really cares if Halloween is falling on a Sunday? I also couldn’t buy that Cochran would become such a celebrity for making toys and Halloween masks. Not only that, but I don’t buy that masks as generic as these would sell like hotcakes; judging from the film every kid in America had them on. There is one sequence where it shows all the kids in different cities running around in these masks even though they have different costumes on the rest of their bodies, like ballerina and clown outfits. And one scene is so infuriatingly funny; it kills me every time. Atkins is creeping around the factory, and at one point he looks into in a window. The “Casio Keyboard” sound effect chime comes up and Atkins reacts as if he just heard the overlaying soundtrack. That is what I call, PRICELESS!!!

The Doc has never been one to buy into the idea of a “Guilty Pleasure.” I also don’t like the theory of “It’s so bad, it’s good.” In the end, you either like a film or you don’t. I’m not guilty for one second to talk about any film that I like. But if there was a guilty pleasure out there, then Halloween III comes as close a call as I’ve ever seen. Who cares? I love the damn thing; take away my reviewing card. But if not for anything else, watch the damn thing to see how Stonehenge fits in, and then tell me you didn’t have a great time. I dare you.

Follows: Halloween II

Next: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers


Sam Loomis


Comment from The Projectionist
Time: October 18, 2007, 9:55 am

You know, I tried to look at this movie with the same eye you did, and I agree the movie is pretty ridiculous, but for me it falls on the side of just too bad for words. For instance:

The robot assassin who breaks into a lab and goes through a whole bunch of nonsense about finding a weapon, and staying unseen, when he could just go in and kill. It’s not like when we look at Michael Myers and say, “Well he could just go in there and kill the babysitters,” because he would stalk them first. There was always a bit of peeping tom in ol’ Mike.

Then the sex scene. Not once was I buying that Ellie was ready to sleep with Challis after a day or so. They hadn’t really ramped up any tension between them or had them drink any alcohol. It was just, bam, it happens. With sex so arbitrary, you’d think you’d get some nudity, too, but you don’t.

Plus, I know commercials are like this, but the Silver Shamrock commercial breaking in probably about 10 times throughout the movie. Maddening.

I liked the idea of them trying to go in a different direction, but this had Mystery Science Theater 3000 written all over it. At least for me.

Comment from Sam Loomis
Time: October 18, 2007, 12:19 pm

I think this is a movie you can go either way with; most people go the loathing route, and like I said, I can understand that. The sex scene is ridiculous, but it plays well with the tone of the rest of the movie, and like I said in the review I found it funny because I could see no other reason why the doctor would even go to Santa Mira. The way he so easily ditched his kids, he never struck me as a very sympathetic character. The commercial is annoying, but at the same time kind of charming.

The funniest thing about the film that I completely forgot to mention was the title, “Season of the Witch.” What the hell does that have to do with anything going on in this film? God, I love this movie!

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