Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Halloween III Season of the Witch (1982)
Directed By: Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part 2, Vampires: Los Muertos)
Starring: Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps, The Fog), Stacey Nelkin (Yellowbeard, Get Crazy), and Dan O’Herlihy (The Last Star Fighter, Twin Peaks)
Written: Tommy Lee Wallace (Amityville 2: The Possession, It), John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Fog), Nigel Kneale (Quatermass and the Pit, The Abominable Snowman)
Release Year: 1982
Review By: Andy Taylor
Halloween has always been my favorite time of year, and one of my favorite aspects of the holiday are the costumes, specifically the masks. Every year on November 2nd, I go to whatever Halloween superstore is in the area and purchase a discount mask because I am far too cheap to pay full price. This strategy has netted me a great collection of creepy, humorous, or disgusting Halloween masks. I’ve got cinematic favorites, scary monsters, and twisted psychos galore, and yet my creepiest mask by far is a large, rubber judge mask that seems to scare everyone who has seen it, judges being terrifying enough without having warped, elongated faces. One mask I’ve never been able to get, and one I would love to own, is the pumpkin mask they put out as promotion for the release of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. They do have recreations you can get for around a hundred dollars, but if I’m paying that much for a pumpkin mask, it better have a real piece of Stonehenge in it like the ones in the film. My face might get melted off and some nasty creepy-crawlies might come pouring out of my head, but at least I’ll die a horrifyingly memorable death. Though I’m not sure Doctor Challis or the victims of Silver Shamrock would agree with the sentiment.
The third film in the Halloween franchise begins with a terrified man running from danger, a danger not represented by The Shape, but by well dressed men looking to strangle him. Though the man makes it to the relative safety of a hospital, one of his pursuers is able to track him down, crush the man’s skull, and set himself ablaze before anyone can arrive to ask questions. The series of events leaves the doctor on staff, Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), immensely disturbed. Not only did he witness the killer’s self-immolation, but before the terrified man, now identified as toy store owner Harry Grimbridge, was murdered, he whispered to Challis that “They were going to kill us all.” Wanting to do more but unable to figure out where to start, the alcoholic doctor does what he always does and heads to the bar where he’s found by Harry Grimbridge’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). Ellie has a theory that her father’s murder has something to do with novelty company Silver Shamrock whose Halloween masks are the hot item of the season. Needing answers to this bizarre series of events, Challis and Ellie head to the company town of Santa Mira where Silver Shamrock head Colan Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) built his company’s factory. What the pair find is a conspiracy involving robots, Celtic magic, and an insane man’s plan to sacrifice the world’s children.
I’m going to say something that might be controversial, I really like Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. I didn’t used to. When I was younger, I was firmly in the “Screw That Movie for Not Having Michael Myers” camp, but upon giving it another chance, I enjoyed it as much as some of the ones that came later. It’s not the greatest film, I’ll give the detractors that, but it is a very entertaining movie that showcases some interesting, if confusing, plotlines. The original idea was to turn the franchise into a Halloween anthology where every film showcased a different theme or idea, but upon Season of the Witch doing so poorly, the studio decided to bring Michael Myers back. Sure, he’d been shot in the head twice and then blown up in the previous film, which ended with his burning corpse melting into goo, but money needed to be made. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the three films that came after, with Part 6 marking the last time I enjoyed a Halloween film, but I would have liked to see the anthology idea come to light. It could have been an amazing series of movies, or it might have gone nowhere and ruined the franchise further. “What Ifs” are never good to dwell on, but I’ll always wonder what could have been. Still, at least we got this one, and for all its problems, I enjoy it, but I can understand why others might not.
I think the biggest problem is the nonsensical plan of the film’s villain Colan Cochran, a man far more evil than The Shape could ever be, more so because it seems as if his plan amounts to murdering children for no real reason at all, like a corporate version of Freddy Krueger. As always, spoiler warning, so skip ahead if you don’t want to hear it, not that it makes any sense anyways. Cochran’s evil scheme is to get the children of the world to watch a Silver Shamrock commercial that will melt their heads while simultaneously conjuring a horde of insects, arachnids, and reptiles to form in the spot where the child’s brain used to be. This is accomplished by using a microchip implanted with a small piece of Stonehenge and lasers because lasers are the natural evolution of ancient stone monuments. The purpose of this is…something, I couldn’t tell you what. Cochran claims it’s for the purpose of a ritual sacrifice like those done three thousand years prior, but what the sacrifice if supposed to accomplish is beyond me. He says something about witchcraft in a mumble, mumble kind of way, but it just brings up more questions than it answers. Like if they had access to ancient Celtic magic, what do they need lasers for or why kill off your entire profit margin as having lots of money is about the most powerful you can get in our world? Seems like it would have been a better idea to sacrifice a few kids no one would miss and keep raking in the dough, but Cochran decides it’d be better to kill them all off for whatever he hopes to gain. I can make assumptions of course, maybe the sacrifice would have given him immense magical powers or something, but the film never designs to say.
There are quite a bit of these “We’re not going to explain it so you might as well just accept it” moments. I understand that movies in general, and horror movies especially, aren’t required to explain everything that happens. Afterall, it’s not like the previous films ever fully explained why Michael Myers was so determined to kill his sister, or why he hated dogs so much, and that was a huge part of why I loved them, but at least you knew where Myers stood. He was going to kill things because he killed things. There was no complicated plot, no crazy plans, he just killed because he killed. With Cochran, there’s no telling where he stands, he might have a purpose to do what he does, or he might simply be insane and murderous. Even co-writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace knows how little this film makes sense. When someone at a convention asked him to explain Cochrane’s villainous plot a little better, Wallace could only respond by telling the audience it was magic and leaving it at that. As much as the nonsensical plan of the film’s villain bothered me, there were two things that bothered me more, the weird sound effects and characters being much too quick in their willingness to become involved.
The sound effects for Halloween 3 can be a little cartoonish which makes it hard to take some of the death’s seriously. I never thought a man getting his head ripped off could be so funny until I watched it happen to the sound of someone sticking their hand in a mayonnaise jar. As for characters being too quick to action, it’s mainly Tom Atkins’ Challis and Stacey Nelkin’s Ellie. I can absolutely understand Challis being so disturbed about what he witnessed in the hospital. I can’t imagine watching someone set themselves on fire is a pleasant thing to see, but I can’t imagine just jumping into an investigation so quickly either. That’s not the worst though, the worst would be the sexual innuendo and actual sex between Challis and Ellie. It seemed so forced and awkward, like someone was desperate for there to be a sex scene. I know a lot of horror movies feel like the have to have a sex scene, even more so in the 80’s, but they probably should have left this one out. It seemed entirely unnecessary and somewhat comical, even starting off with a line that could have easily been in an old porno flick. When Challis asks Ellie where he should sleep, she turns to him and says in a husky voice “Where do you want to sleep Dr. Challis” like he was the pizza delivery boy in a 70’s porno. It was already weird enough, but then they had to go and take it up a notch with Challis asking Ellie, after they’ve already had sex mind you, if she’s old enough or if he has to worry which was maybe something to consider much earlier. You did get to see Tom Atkins’ ass at one point, so I guess that’s a plus. Speaking of Tom Atkin’s…
Now that we’ve got the bad out of the way, I can get on with the good, and Tom Atkins, despite his creepy behavior, definitely belongs in the good category. I might be a little bias because I adore Tom Atkins. He’s the perpetual detective type and looks to have stepped right out of a 1930’s noir novel. Night of the Creeps, Maniac Cop, The Fog, all great movies that are much better for his presence, and even when he isn’t a detective, he still comes across as one. Doctor Challis sure jumps into the investigation of Harry’s death like a detective, making him perfect for the role. Stacey Nelkin, who had never watched the previous two Halloween films before starring in this one, does a great job as well, but where you really get to see her shine is at the end. I don’t want to ruin it for the one person reading this who hasn’t seen Halloween 3, but she is very capable of going from one extreme to another emotion-wise. The standout actor though is easily Dan O’Herlihy playing villain Conal Cochran, whom I never realized before this watch also played my favorite character in one of my favorite movies of all time, Grig from The Last Starfighter. The man is a very creepy gentleman who oozes slime behind his obvious sham charm. He’s jovial, polite, and possibly one of the most evil men in the world, someone capable of buying you the best meal you’ve ever had and stabbing you midbite. Those are the three main characters, but there’s a few others you should watch out for as well.
The suited businessmen that seem determined to kill everything that gets in their way are a good example. None of them play a big part, just mainly popping up to kill or be killed, making them Halloween 3’s red shirts, but they had an eerie presence onscreen every time. They are blank slates with no discernable emotions or desires, and the actors portraying them do a great job showing them as robots. This is because *SPOILER* they are robots since Halloween 3 tries to throw everything it can at the plot, but robots or not, I enjoyed them as the emotionless henchmen they were. They reminded me of better formed Autons from Doctor Who, and the Autons always kind of scared me as a blank face seems so much scarier than an evil one. They aren’t terrifying mind you, but they are very creepy.
There are also a few tributes to previous films in the Halloween franchise you should watch out for, like the trio of friends that once went up against the holiday’s worst Jim Kirk impersonator. First up from the trio, there’s a voice you’re going to hear every now again, on intercoms or as a phone operator, and it’s a voice you might recognize as one Jamie Lee Curtis who played Laurie Strode. Next up is Challis’ ex-wife Linda, a name that should be recognizable as another member of the trio, and while the actress playing her isn’t Lynda’s original actress, P.J. Soles, she is played by Nancy Kyes who rounded out the trio as Annie. Lest we forget who was determined to end their young lives, the original Michael Myers, Nick Castle, is on a television screen in the bar Challis is visiting as an advertisement for Halloween. There’s also a minor reference to the second Halloween, one I would have missed had I not looked through the credits of Halloween 3, in actor Dick Warlock, the man behind the mask for Halloween 2. He plays one of the robotic henchmen in the film, eventually dying at the hands of Tom Atkins. Also, keep an eye out of a young Joshua John Miller in his first role as Challis’ young son. You might remember him from another of my reviews, the forever-a-child vampire from Near Dark.
The effects in Halloween 3: Season of the Witch aren’t spectacular, nor are they frequent, but they are good. For instance, there is a woman at one point in the film who gets a little too close to the truth and receives a laser blast to the face for her trouble. The Celtic laser blast not only melts a chunk of her head and peels her lips back, but it causes a bunch of creepy crawlies to come slithering out of her face. The effect is very disgusting. It doesn’t look amazing or anything close to real, but it was still very gross. Most of the effects are like that, they aren’t amazing or realistic, but they are gross, and I’m okay with that. I do somewhat wish I’d been able to see more of what was going on behind the mask as it disintegrated people’s skulls, but I assume it looked like what happened with the lady and the laser to the face. Besides, it was most likely creepier because you couldn’t see anything, our imaginations being able to conjure much worse than any special effect. The only thing I didn’t get was why the film went out of its way to make crickets scary. All manner of creepy crawlies come pouring out of the victim’s face, snakes, spiders, beetles, and crickets, lots and lots of crickets, so many that they cover the floor of a room at one point. I understand the snakes and spiders, most people find them to be fear inducing creatures, but the crickets were an odd choice. I’m sure there are people scared of them because there’s always someone scared of an animal most people don’t find frightening (for me it’s horses, horses are terrifying), but I think another creepy crawly should have been considered.
This next thing is going to make me sound like a hypocrite since I just spent an entire paragraph complaining about it, but as ridiculous as the story is, I kind of liked it. Though it was dumb, disappointing, and distracting, it does the most important thing a movie has to do, it was fun. It’s true that I always spend a significant chunk of the movie trying to understand what’s going on, but it does present some interesting ideas and it leads to a few rather unsettling deaths. I wish they’d cleaned up the story a little, maybe cut some of the more ridiculous bits, but it’s a fun story for a horror film, in a horrifying sort of way, and I think that’s what turns a lot of people off. Horror movies can be fun, but they should at the very least have some tension to them, and about the only tense bit is Challis and Ellie walking through the company owned town of Santa Mira. I can’t say I necessarily blame them for how it came out after reading through the script’s evolution. The original screenplay was written by screenwriting extraordinaire Nigel Kneale, the maestro behind Alan Quatermass. The man was a very talented writer, but maybe not the right person for a Halloween film, at least that’s what John Carpenter thought as he rewrote the original treatment causing Kneale to sue for his name to be removed as he felt the new story was too violent. Not to be outdone, film director Wallace added his own touches to Carpenter’s retouch and the film as we know it was born. Rewrites are a common thing for film scripts, but I feel like maybe the rewrites led to too many different ideas coalescing into a weird plot that never fully makes sense. For the most part though, I enjoyed it. I’m a huge fan of both Halloween and Halloween masks, and this touched on both those loves.
Despite this being one of Roger Ebert’s most hated films, I like it. Sure, it’s missing a shapely addition in the form of Michael Myers, but there’s much worse movies staring the maniac than the one without…like everything made since the sixth one. If you haven’t already seen it, give it a shot. Let me just give you this warning, you will be singing the Silver Shamrock commercial jingle, sung in the tune of London Bridges Falling Down because it was free to use, for days after hearing it just once, so please ask your loved ones for a little understanding.
Andrew Willis Taylor lives in St. Louis, MO with his wonderful girlfriend who doesn’t mind his lengthy diatribes on why Benjamin Sisko was the greatest captain. When he isn’t writing or turning old junk into usable household items, you’ll find him exploring new areas, volunteering downtown, or plopped in front of a television watching Doctor Who and Star Trek. He also has a weird aversion to writing short bios that leaves him unable to figure out what to put down. I think he likes puppies or something too.
Check out Andy’s review on Prince of Darkness (1987)
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