Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
“Witchcraft enters the computer age, and a different terror begins.”
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy
Synopsis: A large Halloween mask-making company has plans to kill millions of American children with something sinister hidden in Halloween masks.
Apparently John Carpenter decided it was time for a change after the second Halloween movie, and decreed that future movies in the franchise would be unrelated both to the Michael Myers storyline and to one another. He commissioned Nigel Kneale, creator of the Quatermass TV series and movies to write the screenplay, but then allowed the movie’s director Tommy Lee Wallace to bowdlerise Kneale’s work to such a degree that the British writer demanded his name be removed from the credits. To be fair, I can’t say I blame him — I don’t know how much of Kneale’s original ideas remain in the screenplay, but Halloween III: Season of the Witch is such silly nonsense with which no self-respecting writer would want their name associated for fear of what it might do to their career. Of course, the movie bombed and Carpenter hastily abandoned his plan for a series of unconnected movies. It would, in fact, be another six years before the fourth movie — complete with Michael Myers — was released, and that was just as lame as this effort.
As the movie starts, we see a man (Al Berry) chased into a junkyard by a group of emotionless men smartly dressed in business suits. It doesn’t take them long to locate their quarry, and before you know it one of them has him pinned to the ground as he throttles the life out of him. Realising the chances of him extracting his neck from between the gloved hands of his would-be killer are pretty slim, the man manages to tug a chock from under a parked car which rolls forward and crushes his attacker. The man manages to wriggle free from under the dead man and make his escape, eventually pitching up at a garage. The attendant there is watching a news report about the theft of one of the stones from Stonehenge in Britain, and that, just five minutes into the movie, is where the first faint alarm bells started ringing. Was this supposed to be a comedy? A spoof? Apparently not. We really are expected to believe that persons unknown somehow managed to transport a gigantic rock weighing God knows how many tons from one of Britain’s biggest tourist attractions without being spotted, leaving the police with no clues — not even tyre treads — to go on.
The man, whose name we later learn is Harry Grimbridge, is taken to hospital where he grimly clutches a Halloween mask in his fist as he’s placed under the care of Doctor Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins). Quite why Atkins was cast in the role is something of a mystery. He’s a decent enough actor, but back in 1982 he looked like a blue collar worker rather than a doctor, and he never really convinces in the part — not that he’s exactly given much to work with, mind you. Challis is a man with problems. His marriage has just imploded, and he’s not coping particularly well, even though his wife is shrewish enough to make you think he’s well rid of her. To be fair, it’s the two kids that he misses. After having Grimbridge sedated, Challis stacks a few Z’s in the doctor’s lounge, but it’s not long before he’s awoken by a nurse’s screams. While he dozed, another of those well-dressed killers strolled into the hospital and killed Grimbridge by gouging out his eyes. Challis charges out of the hospital to confront the killer only to witness him setting fire to himself.
A few days later, Challis is approached in a bar by Grimbridge’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). If John Carpenter’s electronic music over the opening credits hadn’t instantly alerted us to the fact that we’re back in the 1980s, Ellie’s big hair and distressed denim jacket certainly would have. She tells Challis that, as the police are baffled by her father’s murder she’s decided to carry out her own investigation and would be grateful for his assistance. Because a young girl with no investigatory skills is sure to come up with clues a highly trained city police force have overlooked, isn’t she? Well, yes, actually; at least she is in a world in which the police don’t even think about checking the dead man’s business diary in order to retrace his steps in the days leading up to his death. Grimbridge’s last appointment in the diary was a visit to Santa Mira to pick up some Halloween masks from a company called Silver Shamrock. Now, everyone knows who Silver Shamrock is because adverts for their masks, played to the tune of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ seem to be on TV even more than ads for all those No-Win No-Fee ambulance chasers.
The amateur investigator is, like the creature from the black lagoon, an invention of the movie and TV industry, and yet we never seem to appreciate the mythical qualities of these home-made detectives who go making a nuisance of themselves under the noses of people who have already killed. If amateur investigators were a real world phenomenon the police would be even busier than they already are, because they’d be spending half their time investigating the murders of amateur detectives who got a little too close — or annoying — to the person they are hunting. Challis and Ellie would certainly be dead within hours of arriving in Santa Mira — which also happens to be the location of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers — because the town is like Bournville, sustained and reliant upon the owner of the factory which provides the town’s population with most of its employment. This is the kind of town where the locals stop what they’re doing to stare at any stranger who might drive through their little, self-contained corner of the world.
Undeterred, though, our intrepid duo book into a cheap motel, and a surreptitious inspection of the hotel register by Challis reveals that Harry Grimbridge stayed at the very same motel a week or so before. Meanwhile, Ellie makes friends with Marge, a trader like her father who has come to collect an order but is forced to stay overnight because of a cock-up at the factory. Marge, as you will have no doubt guessed, is one of those characters introduced into a movie for the sole purpose of being killed off in a way that will help our amateur investigators along in their amateur investigation. And sure enough, it’s not long before Marge is paying the price for fiddling with the little pendant that has become detached from one of the masks when she’s zapped in the face by some kind of laser that shoots from a microchip implanted in the pendant. Doctor Challis’s offer to help the stricken woman is ignored by the sinister men in white coats who take Marge away, never to be seen again. It’s at this point that we meet Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) the man behind Silver Shamrock, and that Challis overhears one of the men whisper to him that Marge’s accident was a ‘misfire.’
Before all this, though, something even more unsettling happens in Challis and Ellie’s motel room when the two of them get it on. I mean Tom Atkins is exactly twice Stacey Nelkin’s age and he looks like a blue collar worker, what in hell would a hot chick in her see in an old bloke like him, even if he was helping her to solve her father’s murder? But then, as you’ll have no doubt gathered from the synopsis, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a movie that doesn’t really give a stuff about realism. It is essentially a throwback to all those cheap mad scientist movies of the 1940s, and while the production values might have risen, the plot is no better than those earlier movies. At least those old flicks made an attempt to explain what the mad scientist was hoping to achieve by carrying out his crackpot experiments, but Cochran can’t even give a rational explanation other than referring to some ancient, unexplained ritual. Instead of marketing booby-trapped Halloween masks he should be directing his energies towards mass producing those lifelike robots he’s created.
I think what ticks me off most about Halloween III: Season of the Witch is the fact that — at the time it was made, at least — it had people with sort-of decent reputations behind the camera and the backing of a major studio. The budget was an estimated £2.5 million which, while not the biggest, was still pretty decent for a movie made more than thirty years ago. I could forgive the inanities of the plot and the lousy dialogue if the movie had been produced on a shoestring by some independent outfit, but it wasn’t; it was made by a major studio that was only interested in earning a big profit off the back of its previous successes, with no consideration for the quality of the product it placed before the people who it expected to provide them with that profit.
(Reviewed 27th September 2013)