Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982)
Continuing the exploits of that iconic, unstoppable killing machine Michael Myers, as he remains determined as ever to slaughter any remaining member of the Strode family until – wait a minute… that’s not what happens. At all. Halloween III spins off the rails into this bonkers, moody (well, in that colorful 80’s American genre film way, which is more cool then thoughtful), violent (in that 80’s in-your-face Carpenter kinda way) supernatural-ish, iffy sci-fi tale that starts with the slightly boozy, middle aged and kinda womanizing small town Dr. Dan Challis (Carpenter favorite Tom Atkins) witnessing the grizzly murder of an older patient brought in from the pouring rain (in perfect horror movie style) screaming of terrible things and clutching a current popular Silver Shamrock Halloween mask, which culminates with the emotionless murderer (almost as if he was like, I don’t know, one of a series of robots or something… hint, hint) burning himself alive in the parking lot. So our good doctor (and, let me be clear, I approve of his methods – it’s called living vicariously) ends up shaking off all kid duty responsibilities, hanging up the phone on his shrieking ex-wife, and heading off with a six pack under his arm (and he’s driving – man, what we all used to get away with in the 80’s) and Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) riding shotgun, the very young (take comfort, the twenty five year age difference between them is exactly the same as between Woody Allen and her when he dated Nelkin in real life, so clearly you know it’s okay) grieving granddaughter of the just-murdered man, up to the isolated California town of Santa Mira to uncover what the hell that shady corporate businessman Conal Cochran (the brilliantly scene-chewing Dan O’Herlihy) is getting up to with those Silver Shamrock Halloween masks that have suddenly become so popular… and, of course, to willingly give Ellie a shoulder – and a few additional body parts — to lean on in her grieving (I have to say, as much as I loved those iconic 80’s American horror guys like Carpenter, Craven and Romero, they never were much for sex, so I remember being thankful for that barest glimpse of Nelkin’s exposed nipple before we cut out of the sex scene).
All to say, I finally got back to continuing my revisit of the franchise (including my intention of even catching the Rob Zombie red-neck two-film reboot of the franchise eventually), with my daughter in tow, and, after reviewing the brilliantly composed original and its even more-pumped up and exciting sequel, it was time to get around to saying hello again to this strange, yet satisfying diversion off-road from the exploits of young Michael, the maniac who defined a genre. This was the one where original Halloween director John Carpenter, along with his comrade-in-arms, the late great Debra Hill, somehow astoundingly managed to convince the studio and the financiers to continue the franchise (that part was easy, of course, after the massive success of the first two)… though this time with nary a narrative sign of the knife-wielding Myers creation that Carpenter had grown bored with (a bit of a tougher proposition).
That it was agreed upon is more than mildly surprising, especially as the ambitious concept was to bring out a new, entirely stand-alone Halloween movie each year (an idea already rendered problematic by the fact that the first two were already linked… but then perhaps that’s just me revealing my mathematical background). And while the initial reaction (and box office) was lukewarm (leading to the franchise re-embracing Myers back into the fold for the next and remainder of the series), the initial disappointment of the fans has slowly fallen away and Halloween III has become more appreciated for the fun, enjoyable and even kinda (mildly, on the level of a good “Tales from the Darkside” episode) ambitious project the film is (and that I always thought it was, from the first few times I watched it on its loop run during the early pay-cable TV days).
The opening credits with the slowly creating carved Halloween pumpkin image created from a series of (now very archaic) line-pixilation on a television screen is cleverly tailored to represent the personality of this new sci-fi-oriented effort, where the previous two entries each zoomed out of a simple carved pumpkin against a black screen (with Halloween II, true to its larger, more-is-better approach, endearingly having a skeleton exploding out of it). The presence of the original Halloween playing on numerous televisions, from an advertisement including the familiar suspense music even momentarily becoming the score as our captured main hero Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) attempts to break out of his prison cell (with the television on next to him) provides a nice, satisfying touch (even if the presence of Mr. Myers being reduced to a tangential TV gag might have felt like rubbing-in-the-face to many of those initial “Halloween” devotees who rushed out to see the film upon its release).
The score itself, by Carpenter and Alan Howarth, his collaborator from the second entry (which even improved upon that unforgettable propulsive stalking theme from the first we all know and love), is nicely evocative (with some really brilliant touches along the way, including one of my very favorite, most resonant Carpenter pieces, “It Will Be Morning”) and that by now familiar fantastic darkly colorful widescreen cinematography by Dean Cundey makes it all feel (similar to the second one, which was directed by another handpicked Carpenter choice, Rick Rosenthal) as if Carpenter himself directed it and not his previous editor Tommy Lee Wallace (though, of course, it’s common knowledge Carpenter went back in on both sequels and shot additional welcome juicy kill scenes, to the bemusement of at least Rosenthal, but who cares about him – with his lackluster output, the guy should just be happy to have a directing career at all).
I’ve seen Halloween III so many times, it’s allowed me more than ample time to ponder all sorts of thematic possibilities going on in it; starting with, of course, an anti-corporate statement, which is most certainly there (and makes sense coming from Carpenter, the guy who would soon after bring us the entertainingly bonkers aliens taking over the military-corporate complex fun ride, They Live – a film which gets about as deep politically as Carpenter can go, which doesn’t exactly give Noam Chomsky a run for his money), as the nefarious Cochran’s Silver Shamrock company not only ultimately destroys the life of a small town (while managing to get complete buy-in from his Pavlovian propagandized distributors), but nihilistically desires nothing more than the destruction of the entire human species, but… eh, that one’s a bit easy, to my latest consideration — the idea that the entire film operates as a fantastical struggle within Doctor Challis between id and ego– on one hand, Cochran and his Silver Shamrock company act as Challis’ unchecked id, his uncontrolled desire for the entire annihilation of the nuclear family as the thing that holds him back from complete sexual freedom and lack of any responsibility, while on the other, he himself acts within the psycho-drama as his own ego and superego, both resisting his lot in life, yet fighting off against his own uncontrolled id, recognizing that life is about more than just his own desire to be free.
While I’m not sure any of that thematic stuff adds up and Carpenter will never be the most intellectual of filmmakers, Halloween III remains a resonant and pleasurable ride. Perhaps by accident, enough remnants of thoughtful matter float around amongst the juicy bits of fun to keep it worthwhile, even if it doesn’t really add up. Whatever it is, it works. It’s hard to believe the money people allowed it to happen, but thankfully they did. Though I must also admit, when I asked my daughter, who I’ve been watching these “Halloween” films with, what she thought of this iconoclastic side trip, she said she liked it but then asked, somewhat hopefully, ‘does the next one have Michael Myers in it again?’