Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is one laughable mess, a pitiful attempt to carry on the Halloween name without Michael Myers, the once terrifying masked predator who tormented babysitters and hospital staff in the first two films in this series. Having finally screened the movie more than 30 years after its brief run at the cinema, I now fully understand why the producers decided to resurrect him for number four. Having now seen every chapter in this franchise, this might be the worst one of them all.
The uncharismatic Tom Atkins plays a sleazy, divorced, alcoholic doctor in Northern California who doesn’t get along with his always angry ex-wife (she’s hard to tolerate but she’s right to be greatly annoyed with him) and, despite having zero charm or respect for boundaries, has no shortage of women interested in him (except the nurse he sexually harasses and gropes).
On the night of October 23rd, a good samaritan gas station attendant brings a troubled guy to the hospital. Troubled guy’s clutching a Jack O’Lantern mask and making the usual “they’re gonna kill us all” pronouncements. No one knows what the fuck he’s talking about. Shortly thereafter, some mysterious guy with very nice gloves hilariously gouges his eyes out right in his hospital bed. (Honestly, it’s a really cheesy moment, one of many in this debacle.)
While wiping his bloody gloves all over the divider curtain (how rude!), the nurse walks in wondering what the hell’s going on. Curiously, the killer just leaves. Then, in another hilarious scene that makes absolutely no sense, he douses himself with gasoline while sitting in his car and lights the match. The extremely compassionate staff take their time getting outside and just stand there watching the bizarre spectacle. No one brings a fire extinguisher. No one bothers to get him out of the fucking car. They all freeze in amazement. Topping it off, Atkins has a very silly “concerned” look on his face. He’s not concerned enough to do anything but stare like a big-eyed, useless dope, though.
Later on, after a couple of talks with the redheaded coroner’s assistant (they’re apparently seeing each other off and on), Atkins learns that there are no bone fragments or other identifying remains in the ashes that she’s examining. Before that, though, he meets the troubled dead guy’s beautiful daughter (Stacie Nelkin) who identifies his body in his hospital room. As Atkins leaves, he spots her weeping in the hallway. They lock eyes and Mr. Compassionate just walks away.
Later on, while having a brewski and complaining about the shitty TV he’s being subjected to in a bar, she arrives, introduces herself and thanks him for attending her dad’s funeral (not shown, by the way). She wants to play amateur detective and find out why he was killed. Horny Atkins is instantly sold. Any excuse to not have to deal with his pissed off ex.
After making a pit stop in her dad’s store, we learn troubled guy ordered a bunch of masks from a company called Silver Shamrock (they make the Jack O’Lantern mask he was holding at the start of the movie). His daughter wants to retrace his steps which means Atkins won’t be looking after his two young kids as promised. The ex-wife reams him out, as usual, over a pay phone. (She plays this same note over and over and over again. A terribly sexist caricature.)
Silver Shamrock has made a series of countdown TV ads hyping a movie “horrorthon” (the original Halloween is the only film advertised) for Halloween night. At 9 p.m. there’s going to be a “big giveaway”. Kids are instructed to buy one of three masks, the skull and the witch are the others, which they must wear for reasons that are never explained. For the purpose of the plot, they do as they’re told. In the real world, they certainly wouldn’t give a shit.
Of course, there is no big giveaway. It’s all a scam to kill them. Late in the film, Silver Shamrock’s old sideburned owner (Dan O’Herlihy) reveals himself to be some kind of witch who needs to make huge sacrifices because it’s been 3000 years already, the planets are aligning and, oh yeah, he needs to “control” his “environment”, whatever the fuck that means. He’s some businessman.
The Silver Shamrock factory is located in Santa Mira, a remote California town that has a 6 p.m. curfew, out-of-date surveillance cameras, bugged phones, an abundance of crickets and guys in suits who suddenly walk into the frame to remind you this is a horror film. (Stop stealing Michael Myers’ gimmick, assholes.) If you say or do anything remotely rebellious, like the drunkenly foolish, unemployed homeless guy, you either get choked out, eye gouged or beheaded by their bare hands. (Hilariously, homeless guy gets option three.)
Atkins and Nelkin pretend to be a married couple thinking of buying property in the area. Outside the local motel, Nelkin encounters a disgruntled woman who hates the place but the masks are big sellers apparently so she keeps placing orders. (Yeah, I’m really not buying this, guys.)
A doomed out-of-town family of three also arrive. The dad has sold the most masks in the country in the past year so they all get a personal tour of the factory with O’Herlihy himself serving as their gentlemanly guide. We learn O’Herlihy’s a big fan of practical jokes and gag gifts, the latter of which is how he made his supposed fortune. He even has a whole room dedicated to such nonsense. (I was surprised he doesn’t have a William Shatner mask in his collection.)
But the tour stops short of the room where the final phase of the mask making process takes place. (Huge red flag.) That’s a “trade secret”, you see. They don’t want you to know how dangerous their masks really are. (Innocent question: where do all those bugs, spiders and snakes come from?)
In the meantime, Atkins gets lucky with Nelkin (there’s a weird moment where they’re about to go for round two and he suddenly wonders if she’s underage) and the disgruntled saleswoman meets a grisly end in another unintentionally humourous scene. (Should’ve kept reading your book, toots.) When the weird guys in suits arrive to collect the body, O’Herlihy unconvincingly reassures a concerned and initially oblivious Atkins and Nelkin that she’ll be just fine.
We never see her again.
Atkins discovers that Nelkin’s dad stayed in their motel while both learn from a couple of Silver Shamrock employees that he did in fact pick up his mask orders. After walking away from the concluded factory tour, the fake married couple notice the guys in suits have his car. (We never do find out how Nelkin’s dad put everything together before his demise, not that it matters.) Atkins gets into a fight with one of them (more laughs) and learns a big secret. (Is that mustard?) Think replicant but far less interesting.
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is the first film in the series where the quality is almost nonexistent. It’s a sad state of affairs that the two clips shown of the original Halloween are the best parts of this movie. Oh, to be fair, I also liked a brief shot of a sunset and the jingle for the “big giveaway” promotion (even if the tune is set to London Bridge).
Other than that, it’s a real struggle to like anything here. By the time O’Herlihy explains why he wants to kill all his loyal customers and salespeople on Halloween at 9 p.m. you realize you’ve just wasted your time.
The superb music for the original Halloween (thankfully heard in those aforementioned TV clips) has been disappointingly replaced by a distractingly bad score (co-written and co-performed by John Carpenter himself) that feels like inferior outtakes from the fine Ennio Morricone arrangements heard in The Thing (a good scary movie). It’s just too similar and not at all atmospheric. And then there are the “scares” (almost all of which are weak and laugh out loud ridiculous) that are each accentuated by one off-kilter techno note. Dorky.
There is one minimally effective thrill in the film but it happens in an instant. While the suspicious coroner’s assistant is talking to a co-worker on the phone (after failing to get a hold of Atkins), one of those men in suits can be seen undetected entering the room from the left side of the screen. That’s it. What happens next isn’t scary, just gruesome but thankfully & mercifully restrained in its presentation, the only moment of horror that isn’t silly. (Despite the absence of gore, I still cringed.) Let’s just say I’m grateful for that strategic placement. I wonder if this was an unwelcome homage to The Toolbox Murders, a far more misogynistic pile of trash than this one.
Halloween III was supposed to inspire a series of one-off sequels each featuring a different story with new characters. But because this one tanked so badly (the third act, in particular, is filled with unplanned laughs leading to a bogus, indecisive ending), Carpenter and Debra Hill (I can’t believe they produced this) sold their rights to the franchise and as a result, seriously burnt Mikey Myers was preposterously brought back to life to stab, strangle and electrocute more unsuspecting victims again and again in one terrible sequel after another, not to mention two needless remakes.
My God, what a disaster this is. All these years later, I can’t believe it ever got a theatrical release.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, October 22, 2015