Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Fresh off the success of Halloween 1 and 2, producer John Carpenter had a crazy idea: what if the next Halloween movie doesn't have Michael Myers? He dreamed of a world of annual "twilight zone" tales of the macabre without a total dependence on a monster in a series of worsening films. Shockingly, it turned out even worse than my spec-script for "Saw 7" about a haunted house (with no Jigsaw or saws of any kind).

Thanks for the vital data, JJ Abrams!

Instead, we follow Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) as they investigate the bizarre death of Ellie's father. The trail leads to the corporate headquarters of Silver Shamrock, a Halloween mask company that is conveniently located a few miles outside of town. Their whopping THREE brands of mask, combined with a brain-infecting jingle-based advertising campaign, has granted them a near total monopoly on the holiday. The town is full of Irish-accented rustics for some reason, but they eventually meet Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy of RoboCop), the CEO who cares. Cares about murder! We eventually discover his sinister scheme involves using Stonehenge shavings and microchips to make masks that turn children into bugs. Of course, it's so simple! Will our heroic doctor and his inappropriately aged partner save the day, or will they be killed by robots?

The villain's evil plan is completely dependent on all children wearing one of these three masks.

In a lot of ways, this total mess can be viewed as producer (and composer) Carpenter's first effort to convey the themes of They Live. It's got insidious technology, bad guys in suits, an evil 80s guy CEO, etc. But for some reason the villain's plan has nothing to do with greed: he just wants to make a big sacrifice to a piece of Stonehenge. The town is named after the town featured in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the original writer has stated his intent was to make a more psychological Halloween film. Somehow that turned into microchips that shoot lasers and seizure-inducing pumpkin signals thanks to some intervention from Dino De Laurentiis at Universal. But as dumb as the plot is, and as little as it has to do with the Halloween franchise that surrounds it, I can't help but wish it had been more successful. Yes, this movie is pretty awful, but I think I would enjoy a more varied "scary movie" concept rather than every Halloween movie after this one. For those that haven't seen it, the original Halloween is actually pretty solid and worth checking out; it really helped create the modern American horror genre (mostly by taking the Hitchcock + gore formula that giallos had been doing and adding unkillable guys in weird masks).

Do it yourself laser dentistry! Possible side-effects include death and turning into insects.

My favorite bit of bizarre narrative awareness: Silver Shamrock sponsoring a primetime TV showing of... Halloween.

Cochran has the decency to put on a better Halloween movie to help pass the time.

Arbitrary Rating:

1.5 virtual pumpkins out of 4

Memorable Quotes:

Ellie: Irish Halloween masks?
Challis: In California, you never know.

Challis: Why Cochran? Why?!
Cochran: Do I need a reason?

Cochran: From an ancient, sacrificial stone: Stonehenge! We had a time getting it here! You wouldn't believe how we did it! (this is never addressed again)

(During a sex scene)
Challis: Wait a minute. How old are you?
Ellie: Relax. I'm older than I look.

Cochran: It was a part of our world. A part of our craft.
Challis: Witch-craft.

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