Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

And now for something completely different…

Although Halloween II was a bit of a box office disappointment by the standards of the original film, lost amid the glut of early 80s slasher films, it was still very profitable, and therefore talks on continuing the series were almost immediate. John Carpenter was adamant that Michael Myers had died at the end of the second film, and that his story was over. To continue the film series, Carpenter had the idea of a yearly series of movies set around some aspect of Halloween but independent of each other, an anthology series on a grand scale. This would begin with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which would have little or no connection to the first two films, at least in terms of story. Carpenter chose Tommy Lee Wallace, art director on the original Halloween, to direct the movie, and commissioned a script by Nigel Kneale, the British writer of the Quatermass films.

A businessman is chased by mysterious figures, clutching a Halloween mask and saying “they’re gonna kill us all.” He collapses and is taken to the hospital, where he is placed under the care of Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins), who continues in the Halloween movie tradition of drunken doctors. After one of the pursuers follows the man to the hospital and kills him, Challis for no good reason begins to investigate the case himself, with the man’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). The trail leads them to Santa Mira, California (no fake leaves this time) and the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask company, run by kindly Irishman Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). Except Cochran isn’t so kindly. He has created an army of robots to do his bidding, and, as a follower of the ancient Druid religion has stolen Stonehenge and shipped it to America (!). A chip from Stonehenge is in each of his Silver Shamrock masks, and when the wearer hears the Silver Shamrock jingle while wearing the mask, he will be killed. Thus millions of children will die, and the ancient Druid gods will be appeased. Or something.

It was a bit of a troubled production. Kneale didn’t like the amount of violence being added to the movie, so he sued to have his name removed from it. John Carpenter did a rewrite of the script, and so did Wallace, although Wallace gets sole credit for screenwriting. The plot demanded several special effects shots and the tiny budget ($2.5 million) just wasn’t enough to do a good job. The effects in the climactic scene are particularly cheap looking. The movie was savaged by critics. Appropriate, since there is an apocryphal story that carpenter wanted to do the film because Rex Reed had said he would resign as a film critic if they made a Halloween III.

Still, Atkins, Nelkin, and O’Herlihy do a good job with their roles, and the anti-corporate message was ahead of its time. There are too many problems to call it a really good movie, but it isn’t the complete waste critics railed about at the time. Oh, there is a connection with the first two, as footage from the original film is shown on a television set in the background.

The movie took in less than half the receipts of the previous one in the series. While profitable, this decline killed the concept of a Halloween anthology series in its infancy, leaving future entries in the “What Might Have Been” category. When next the series returned, we would learn Michael Myers wasn’t all that dead after all.

1 comment:

Kealan Patrick Burke said...

I watched this last night. Dumb as hell, but I still watch it around this time every few years. Having a lot of the HALLOWEEN folks involved (particularly lensman Dean Cundey), gives it that dark flavor unique to movies of that era. And it does have Carpenter's fingerprints all over it. A guilty pleasure, for sure, and one that, despite its loony premise, is still watchable.