Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Boo!
Boo!

Everyone ignores this Halloween sequel, and why shouldn’t they? I’m guilty of it myself. Why should we waste our time on something called Halloween that’s not centered around one Michael Myers? Besides, it’s written and directed by the man who’s puerile “mind” vomited up Amityville II: The Possession: Tommy Lee Wallace.

Not that I hold that against him. Sure, Tommy participated in a classic Dino De Laurentiis land grab, writing the screenplay for a film the De Laurentiis Group had no right to make. Sure, Tommy began his screenwriting career by slandering real-life murder victims, telling a story that absolved their killer of any responsibility by straight-up ripping-off The Exorcist. Sure, all that is horrible human (and, more important for me, writerly) behavior…but does being a horrible person mean you have good horror movie in you? We’ll find out tonight, won’t we? Yes.

Season of the Witch opens with a white man in northern California enjoying a nice, quiet evening evading pursuit. Must be a pot farmer on the run from Ronald Regan’s DEA. By the way, vote for all the statewide measures you want, the Feds will still come after you. Attorney General Holder already said so…

Our poor maybe-pot-farmer stumbles into a auto yard. Nobody home, but his frantic hiding allows his pursuers time to draw closer. They’re not cops, and as they drive away we wonder, Who the hell are they, then? Hmmm…four minutes in and already we have a conflict and a question. Oh cripes, they’re ominously backing up…and ominously pulling into the yard. Now shit’s getting real!

Turns out they’re not Feds, but they are well-dressed men in suits, ties…and gloves, for God’s sake, universal sign of eee-vil ever since the SS made them de regur sometime in the middle 30s. One of these sharp dressed fellows surprises our maybe-pot-farmer, choking him to the ground. MPF escapes by crushing the Well Dressed Man between two cars. There’s some crunching involved and, too busy to feel remorseful, our MPF escapes. Cue ominous thunderstorm.

Cut to a Token Black Dude manning a gas station ONE HOUR LATER (as the BIG WHITE TITLE CARD informs us). The Plot-specific News Network says someone’s been nicking stones from Stonehendge. Could it be Carmen Sandiego? I’d love to see one of her R-rated adventures. Screw Lara Croft: Carmen stole whole monuments, irreplaceable wonders of the world. She could nick the five-ton “Blue Stone” PSNN talks about before breakfast…and still have time to “enjoy” the annoying commercial for a latex mask company named Silver Shamrock that follows our News Break. Enter the MPF, who falls into the arms of a Token Black Attendant, pulling a Halloween mask from his pocket and warning that, “They’re coming to kill us all.”

halloween-3_4He repeats the warning to Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) once the TBA ferries him safely to Where-Ever-This-Is Memorial Hospital. Dr. Dan orders our MPF tranquilized, leaving him defenseless in the face of continued Well Dressed Man persecution. After crushing the poor schlub’s skull and evading Dr. Dan’s pursuit, the Well Dressed Murderer sets himself, and his car, alight in the hospital parking lot. None of that pussy silenced-pistol-and-cyanide-pill crap for these guys. No. It’s all public head-crushing and self-immolation for this evil Conspiracy…and I couldn’t be happier.

Confused, scared, and in the doghouse with his ex-wife, Dr. Dan finds comfort in the neighborhood bar…and the proposal of our MPF’s hot daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). Having gone to the Nancy Drew school of amateur detective work, Ellie’s turned up her now-dead dad’s last known location: Santa Mira, California…home of Silver Shamrock, the the “largest” costume and novelty business you’ve never heard of. Ellie’s dad owned his own novelty shop and he traveled out to Santa Mira for a shipment of production. The fact that he returned clutching a Silver Shamrock mask and ranting about “they” who are “coming to kill us,” gives Ellie and Dr. Dan all the excuse they need for little road trip (complete with that most-necessary of travel supplies: a six-pack of Miller High Life).

Hell, Nancy Drew would have this mystery all sown up in five minutes. Even the stoned pilots of the Mystery Machine would only need thirty before they cracked this excuse for a case. Ellie and Dr. Dan are too busy falling in Movie Love (that is, lust) to really get down to business…but at least they get to Santa Mira’s little Inn before they start smooching and making the beast with two backs.

"A yellow coded curfew is in effect..."

Dr. Dan describes this as a “company town,” taken over by Silver Shamrock after the company’s half-legendary founder Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) moved in almost forty years ago. There’s an undercurrent of The Village of the Damned…a vague scent of Stepford floating all around. Conal Cochran himself show up to increase ambient spookiness levels once Dan and Ellsie’s neighbor a few doors down the Inn dies under mysterious circumstances.

Mysterious to Our Heroes. We the audience, of course, got to “enjoy” scenes of Marge Guttman (Garn Stephens), another small business owner, toying with the back end of a tag that fell off one of Silver Shamrock’s masks. The extremely technical, circuit-board-stuffed tag…that blasts her full in the mouth with a blue, cartoon laser beam, leaving a gaping hole that Wallace’s camera (of course) lingers on…until a mysterious bug crawls out. Go figure.

Dan and Ellie figure the best way to get behind it all is to pose as a married couple and tag along for a guided tour through the Mr. Cochran’s factory. Cochran makes for an affable figure, reminding me of the Old Man he’d play five years later in Robocop. Unbeknownst to our heroes, he’s got the whole town locked down in a web of surveillance to rival the Norsefire or Ingsoc regimes. How exactly are they planning to fight him again…?

: Jason Overslept

Ah, yes, I see: poorly.

The first thirty-odd minutes of Halloween III set up impossibly high expectations. Like Dr. Dan, we spend so much time wondering just what the hell’s going on that our imagination takes flight. I spun at least three plots out of the first third of this film in the time it took to establish itself, its characters, and its final location. Don’t bet on the police following up a damn thing if they can chalk it up to “drugs.” In 80s horror movies, doctors (who’s duties mysteriously ceased once the plot needed them to) and avenging family members got everything done, while regular cops got bent in half…or caught claw hammers with their faces.

Atkins and Nelkin make a decent enough crime fighting duo…it’s their personal relationship that seems perfunctory. I know he’s a doctor and all…but c’mon, lady…your dad just got his septum splattered by an Agent of the Matrix. And, hey, Doc: next time, ask her age before you both get naked. It’s like someone flipped a switch on these two. Once they’re shacked up in the hotel pretending to be married it’s as if they both decide,  And now, naked time!

The whole thing stinks like a movie pulling desperately against the prevailing currents of American horror film. The Slasher movie haunts Halloween III to its determent and ours. Why else would the cast suddenly swell thirty minutes into things? It’s an emergency cannon fodder drop, bringing us Mrs. Guttman, a drunken Santa Mira local (the only one we meet, outside the hotel owner), and the family Krupfer (Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, and Brad Schacter) all of whom exist only to die. And why are all the deaths so elaborately gory? We get a crushed skull, a decapitation (with squirting blood that looks like the last trickle of a thirsty lawn sprinkler) and, in the best cuts of this film, a lingering close-up of Mrs. Guttman’s yawning, post-laser mouth: obvious gross-out shots. Signs of pure desperation. Of a writer/director desperate to out-do other, more profitable, horror franchises of the time in the coveted Gore department. Because according to Tommy Lee Wallace-logic, that’s all it takes to make a “good” horror film.

Wallace wins creativity points…but just look at the competition. In the kingdom of slit throats the spurting neck-hole is king. And while most of gore is well-done but needless, there is one bit involving snakes and locusts that I shall not go into any further under penalty of death. Except to say that it would make Indiana Jones piss his pants.

As our leading man, Atkins is surprisingly likable, exuding a hard-boiled energy that, four years later, would help make Detective Ray Cameron a household name and hero of B-movie fans everywhere (provided they’ve seen Night of the Creeps). It’s nice to see him straddle the line between Freaked-out Everyman and Action Hero, even if he has to fall off about half way through and land ass-up in Batman country. Once the Evil Capitalist ties you to a chair and starts to Monologue at you in true Bond Villain-style, there’s fuck all else to do but McGuyver your way to safety.

At least he’s in a horror film, the one genre left on earth where happy endings aren’t a sure bet. Where you can still be rewarded for toughing things out just to see where the the story goes with its crazy, damned, fool self. In this case, it’s nowhere that makes sense…but for some reason, I don’t hold that against Halloween III as much as I probably should.

That reason’s name is Dan O’Herlihy. More than a fine Irish actor of stage and screen with a career stretching back to the 1940s, O’Herlihy is an actor with the ability to exude menace. Like Donald Pleasence before him, he could turn drek into Shakespearean sonets if given enough time and the right motivation. Unlike Pleasence, Dan the Man gets to play out and proud Evil in this series, which is always fun…and his delight is infectious. When he starts going on about the ancient sacrificial rites of Samhain (going so far as to actually pronounce it correctly, praise King Someone Knows the Truth) you sit up straighter and listen, hypnotized by that low, dread voice…

Once O’Herlihy’s stolen the show the movie slits it own throat whenever he leaves a scene. This allowed me more than enough time to realize I’ve heard the fucking Joker come up with more rational Evil Plans. What exactly is our Villain out to accomplish, other than a bit of ritualistic mass murder and his own financial ruination?

The real problem is, I feel any pay-off would’ve been a letdown after the film’s slightly-silly-but-nonetheless-strong opening. It’s better than Halloween II by virtue of being an actual film, rather than a slavish, imitative, Slasher cash-in…but that’s like saying starships are a faster way to get through space than standing on your back porch, looking up at the moon, and farting. Halloween III poured some good ideas into a bucket, stirred up the mess, dumped everything back out, filmed the results, and shipped it to theaters with fingers crossed.

The result is still a pile of crap, but at least it’s a interesting pile of crap, nicely acted, with a director that only gets in the way when he’s distracted by squirting fluids. If the script hadn’t flushed its meds half way through, Halloween III might’ve been a classic. As it is, it deserves to be better known than it’s namesakes…and not remade, thank you very fucking much.

GGG

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4 thoughts on “Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)”

  1. Never mind who wrote the screenplay, the original story was by Nigel Kneale, the man who invented Bernard Quatermass. I found the Silver Shamrock jingle quite catchy, in a repeats-and repeats-in-your-head-until-you-want-to- scream way: “One more day til Hallowe’en … Silver Shamrock! Tick, tick tick…” The villain didn’t need those ( really crappy) masks – he could have driven the world to mass suicide just by putting that jingle on a continuous loop

    1. You know, now that you mention it, I can definitely see the skeleton of a Knealian story poking out of the film, behind all the gratuity. The professional protagonist, isolated from society, who, despite having no idea what the fuck’s going on, is still Heinleinian enough to keep his wits about him in a world where Crazy’s been priced to move and everyone else has already bought their share. The film’s pace, stuck on Slow Boil, also seems rather British, and if my memory of Joe Bob Briggs old show holds true, a few strategic edits makes the whole thing indistinguishable from a the kinds of TV serials Kneale built a career on.

      None of which helps the store make any more sense…but it’s nice to know the production’s pedigree really is just that far above the rest its co-sequels. It’s a damn shame Moustapha Akkad backed out of his plans to make Halloween a continuing series of self-contained stories. With talents like Kneale dreaming up their stories, they’d almost have to be better than Halloween 4-8…or Rob Zombie’s remakes.

  2. I wanna read Nigel Kneale’s original screenplay. I’ve heard it’s quite different from the finished film. Like, no gore, no Stonehenge, no robots… sounds fantastic!

    1. Seriously. Instead of Halloween III: Season of the Witch we could’ve had Halloween III: The Year of the Sex Olympics. And it would’ve been awesome.

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