Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

31 Days of Horror
So.  The infamous Halloween III: Season of the Witch, AKA "The one without Michael Myers."  Yes, I was aware of what H3 was, but I decided to watch it anyway.  Over the years, I've heard a lot of things about this movie, with the most optimistic being, "It's not one of the worst movies ever made.  If you know the story behind it, it won't make you all that mad."  Quite the endorsement.  The story behind Halloween III, just in case you were not in the know, explains why it makes the jaw-dropping-in-retrospect choice to omit the main character of the series from an entire film.  I've read a few different explanations for this, but it boils down to John Carpenter and Debra Hill (co-creators of the franchise) being tired of Michael, and the idea of continuing his story felt like it would be too ridiculous to take seriously, as the future sequels would prove.  But the studio wanted to make more Halloweens, so Carpenter and Hill said that they would be involved in the project, but only if Halloween was transformed into an anthology title, where every film would have a different subject.  It's actually a pretty amazing idea, if they had gotten the talent to back it up.  Can you imagine a successful Halloween anthology franchise, where up-and-coming horror directors could go nuts and get widespread exposure?  Too bad they didn't go that route, eh?

Halloween III: Season of the Witch begins exactly as you think it would: with computerized graphics and a title screen that must have taken literally seconds to produce.
Looks like the entire budget was spent wow-ing the audience with the opening credits
Dr. Dan (Tom Atkins) goes to pick up his kids for the weekend from his nagging ex-wife, and he brought them a present: Halloween masks!  Because children love being told by their parent what they're going to be for Halloween.  It doesn't matter, though; mom had already gotten them the cool masks, proving once again that Dr. Dan is a terrible parent.  Dr. Dan represses the instinct to punch everyone in the house and instead responds to a call from work.  Apparently, Dr. Dan is the only doctor that works in his hospital, because he was brought in on a case of exhaustion.  Some bum passed out while clutching a Halloween mask and muttering something about people out to get him.  Shockingly, the paranoid guy was right.  Somebody was after him, and once they killed him, they committed suicide.
The suicidal man, showcasing the average emotional range of these actors
How could a guy who "looks like a businessman" do such a thing?  After all, people wearing suits are incapable of violence or evil.  Dr. Dan decides to investigate, and sexually harasses/flirts with the assistant coroner until she will help him.  What do we find out from the coroner lady?  The suicidal businessman must have been pretty strong, since he tore his victim's skull apart.  Meanwhile, Dr. Dan spends time drinking and watching the same Halloween commercial over and over again.
I'll be completely honest with you: that is what you take from this movie, more than anything else.  I hate that song SO MUCH right now.  Anyway.  Luckily, Dr. Dan is saved from the torture of spending time with his awful chidren and nagging ex-wife when he runs into the murder victim's daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin).  She also thinks there is something strange about her father's death and is determined to get to the bottom of things.  Together, they leave town and go to Ellie's dad's failing toy store.  There, Ellie finds her dad's appointment book and determines that his troubles began when he went to the Silver Shamrock factory, which makes these stupid Halloween masks that all the kids are wearing.  Meanwhile, Dr. Dan is acting kind of pervy and creepy toward Ellie.
"Do you think your father would mind if I took that 'Free Mustache Rides' shirt?"
When they arrive at the factory, they take advantage of a very convenient case of mistaken identity to get a tour of the factory from the owner, Mr. Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy).  Why would the owner of a company run a brief and detail-free tour?  How can a mask company be tied into a murder plot?  And how do killer robots and witchcraft come into play?  And what does "Season of the Witch" refer to, anyway?  Some of those questions --- but certainly not all --- will be answered (poorly) if you choose to watch Halloween III: Season of the Witch!
Still not convinced?  I don't blame you

What can I say about the acting in Halloween III: Season of the Witch?  Well, Dr. Dan probably says it best in the film's final scene: "STOP IT!!!"
Tom Atkins was pretty horrible in the lead role, taking a role that needed sympathy and heroism and filling it with creepiness and a complete lack of motivation.   Dan O'Herlihy was a little better as the closest thing this movie has to a titular witch, but looking mediocre next to the rest of this cast is no big deal.  Stacey Nelkin was also halfway decent, if you like vacant stares and 80s hair. 
...and/or random lingerie appearances
Her part was pretty horribly written, but there was one scene that I just can't let go of.  So, Ellie and Dr. Dan have finally succumbed to the complete lack of sexual tension between them, and had themselves some sexy time.  In a post-coital embrace, Dr. Dan asks, "Wait.  How old are you?"  Her response is, "Relax.  I'm older than I look."  Just so everyone is clear, our hero had a sudden pang of conscience and worried that he had just committed statutory rape (very hero-like), and her response does absolutely nothing to clear the matter up.  If Nelkin had delivered the line with an eyeroll or a rib-jab, I would have taken that to mean that she is over eighteen.  Saying it in a breathy voice, however, makes her sound like a child prostitute: "As young as you want me to be."  Gross.

The less said about Tommy Lee Wallace's direction and co-writing, the better.  Let's just call it annoying and incompetent, and leave it at that.  Well, I guess that's where we can leave the direction.  The writing is pretty terrible.  I'll have to come back to that.
"Ah, yes, the joy on a child's face when he sees the same damn thing over and over again..."

How gruesome can a movie about Halloween masks and seasons be?  Actually, there are quite a few death scenes in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.  I would argue that there are more kills in this film than in any other Halloween, if you count the killer robots as victims.  Speaking of killer robots, did you know that normal humans can punch right through them?  It's true.  Hell, you can even decapitate them with little effort, provided the robot has the form of an elderly woman.  Halloween III also has some fairly unusual deaths in it.  My favorite, by far, is the laser-to-the-mouth kill.  There are no lasers anywhere else in this film, but poking the wrong thing with a paperclip takes you from bored and frumpy...
Luke Skywalker has had enough of her crap herpes-tacular in a matter of seconds!
Cold sores are disgusting
Halloween III is also one of the few horror movies I have seen where child murder is a large part of the story.  I'm not talking about a Mystic River type of story, I'm talking about a movie where the villain's stated purpose is child murder on a large scale.  What makes the child murder even more unusual is the form it takes.  The masks that are so prominent in the film kill the kids.  They go from having a headache... spontaneously shooting out bugs and snakes out of their skull remnants.
Tommy needs a bath
On the one hand, holy crap that kid just died and his head turned into bugs and worms and shit!  On the other hand, this is a movie that kills children?  That's surprisingly dark, given the Silver Shamrock's 8-bit oompah soundtrack.  Judge for yourself:

Oddly enough, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is not remembered for being oddly gruesome or having a darker tone than most other horror movies.  It is remembered for being spectacularly bad.  Why?  Maybe because this horrible, wretched song is replayed at least fifteen times in the damn film.  Maybe it's the lack of Michael Myers.  Or possibly the shitty acting.  Or maybe because the public reacted poorly to child murder.
Nah.  These punks are asking for it.
I'm going to place the blame squarely on the writing.  Well, the writing, and the Silver Shamrock song.  How bad is the writing?  The entire premise of this film is based on the idea that all children want to wear the same nasty-ass, petroleum-smelling Halloween masks.  Remember that time in elementary school where you decided to dress up as exactly the same thing as your best friend?  No?  That's because it doesn't happen.  The Jack-O-Lantern mask is the last refuge of the poor kid in class that doesn't take baths.  In that video above, most of the kids aren't even dressing in costume for Halloween --- they're just wearing their masks.  I love the fact that some of the pumpkin mask owners have added snazzy flair, like a witch hat or a Revolutionary War-era hat.  Of course, this plot also ignores logic.  I'm not going to bother dismissing the Stonehenge angle, because that was handled in such a matter of fact manner that I nearly wet myself.  I'm not going to touch upon the magic phone number that a civilian can dial to get multiple TV channels to not air a specific commercial.  No, I'm talking about the notion that a company that specializes in cheap seasonal masks would A) have television commercials B) have television commercials on nearly every channel C) update their commercials on a daily basis and D) hire vans with speakers to drive around neighborhoods, telling kids to go watch TV on Halloween.  Any one of those ideas at the core of a horror movie would make the film laughable, but when you combine them into one movie, the stupidity reaches such giant proportions that your brain starts to shut down.
Oh, I get it.  TV rots your brain.
And that's the worst thing about Halloween III: Season of the Witch.  There is simply too much stupidity in this film, so your brain becomes numb in an effort to keep from oozing out of your ears.  If the film was halfway competent, this would be howlingly funny, but it's just too much of a bad thing.
Oh, suck it up.  YOU read the script.  YOU know.

But does Halloween III: Season of the Witch truly deserve its place among the worst movies of all time?  I don't think so.  It's definitely bad, but there are worse movies, and there are movies in this franchise that I've hated more.  I think the notoriety surrounding this film is due entirely to it being the sole Michael Myers-less entry in this franchise.  If it was just called "Season of the Witch," it would be a bad movie, perhaps even a forgotten movie, but it wouldn't be notorious.  There are actually some elements here that I genuinely like.  I really liked the villain's motive, and I liked that he scoffed at needing a reason to do terrible things.  I liked that this movie took on the (fairly) taboo task of killing children in the story, and I was impressed with the implications of the ending.  Yes, it's a pretty amateurish effort and deserves to be mocked by all that see it, but there are some core elements here that could ("could" being the operative word) make for a truly frightening horror movie.  As a legit film, Halloween III receives a fairly generous:
 However, for the truly bold and sarcastic, Halloween III: Season of the Witch has enough pleasure and pain to make Pinhead happy.  I recommend jaded friends, Rifftrax, and/or a large bottle of rum.  Because scotch should be enjoyed.  Lefty Gold score of...


  1. So... where do the killer robots come in? I have never seen this installment, due to its very noted disdain. It is interesting that it is not completely deserved. It sure was an interesting choice to choose a director who never directed to take over a successful franchise and transform it. Was John Carpenter hedging against its success?

    1. Since Carpenter helped produce H3, I'm guessing he would have preferred a hit. I think he saw a movie that was not much more ridiculous than some of the films he directed and gambled on the stupidity of American audiences.

      The killer robots are (obviously) created and controlled by the guy who claims to be a witch. Because witches control robots all the time. The robots are close to the most nonsensical thing in this film, but the inclusion of Stonehenge was pretty spectacular, too.