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Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Tonight's Feature Presentation

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy, Michal Currie, Ralph Strait

Written and Directed By: Tommy Lee Wallace

The Short Version

This sequel in name only has nothing at all to do with Michael Myers.

It’s not that great as a standalone horror flick, either.

Someone shut that damned commercial off, already!

There are a few decent scenes along the way, but…

Halloween III: Season of the Witch has a big, huge “Skip Me!” sign on its box.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

MISLABELED.

The package may have said you were getting Monterey Jack, but inside, you wound up with a block of American instead.  What a rip off!


Pairs Well With...

HARVEST MOON.

Blue Moon’s seasonal Pumpkin Ale, to go with the ubiquitous pumpkin masks and the omnipresent flashing pumpkin you see on half the screens in the movie.  I guarantee that the beer is better than the movie, and if you’re going to watch the movie, you’ll want to have the beer.

“Why, Cochran? Why?”

“Do I need a reason?”


In 1978, John Carpenter gave the world the best-directed slasher film ever made, Halloween, which in turn would become the prototype that all others afterward would follow.  Three years later, its immediate sequel, Halloween II, proved to be a very decent follow-up.  Surely, given this kind of track record, audiences could expect yet another treat the following year in the form of Halloween III, especially with John Carpenter and Debra Hill coming back as producers.  After all, there was no way that John Carpenter would let his baby get messed up, right?

Well…

Let’s face it, folks.  Most people wish they had the overall filmmaking prowess present in just John Carpenter’s left hand.  However, sometimes, even the best people make mistakes, and when it came to Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the mistake to which Carpenter agreed was a huge one.  Specifically, he decided that the Michael Myers story was over, and that instead, he’d let the Halloween franchise name be used to brand a different Halloween holiday themed horror movie every year.

Oops.

Whether the idea initially came from Carpenter himself or, as some have told, the man originally slated to direct Halloween III, Joe Dante, the end result was so unpopular that it would kill the franchise for six years, after which Michael was finally brought back.  [Interestingly, though, Halloween III: Season of the Witch may have been a failure with critics and most vocal fans, but it was not a box office failure.  It made triple its budget on its opening weekend alone, and over ten times its budget at the box office overall.  While this is a far cry from the first film’s returns, it was still a financial success even before the advent of home video, so in that regard, the hesitancy for any studio to pull the trigger again afterward in unusual and surprising.]

The story we do get (and which the original screenwriter, Nigel Kneale, sued to get his name removed from) starts off promisingly enough, as we see an old man we’ll later learn to be Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry, The Last Starfighter) run scared in the night from a pursuing car.  He manages to escape his pursuers, which aren’t quite human despite being impeccably dressed in pinstripe suits, and find a good Samaritan to rush him to the hospital.  Our man is in bad shape, though, and when question by the doctor on call, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, My Bloody Valentine), all he can do is babble about “They’re coming to kill us all!” while clutching onto a rubber Halloween mask.  A short time later, one of the inhuman assassins (Dick Warlock, who played Michael Myers in Halloween II and coordinated the stunts for both that film and this one; check out our interview) sneaks into Harry’s room and finishes the job of killing him.  Dr. Challis tries to catch the assassin before he can escape, but the assassin douses himself with gasoline and blows himself up inside the car he has parked out front.

Already a depressed alcoholic the way it was, Dr. Challis finds himself deeply affected by what happened, and when he’s approached by Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin, Bullets Over Broadway), he agrees to help her try to track down whoever it was that wanted her father dead.  It’s a trail that leads to the sleepy town of Santa Mira, home to the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask factory…

Let’s get the easy part out of the way first: allowing this movie to carry the title of Halloween III was a colossal mistake, and anyone with any brains can see that this flick has absolutely nothing at all to do with the series the made Michael Myers famous aside from having clips from the original appear on a TV that the characters are watching.  Hell, it’s not even a slasher flick.  Dumb idea, what was Carpenter thinking, yadda yadda, and so on.

With that part out of the way, how does Halloween III: Season of the Witch look as a standalone movie?

Still not so good.

For one thing, there really aren’t any likable characters in this movie, be they heroes or villains, and an already tepid script is brought down further by tepid performances.  Let’s start with the guy who’s supposed to be our ultimate hero, Dr. Dan Challis.  He’s a divorced, alcoholic lout who’s pretty much of a deadbeat to his kids and whose primary interests seem to revolve finding something new to attach his mouth to: bottle or girl, either one will do.  It is still possible to play such a character with some generation of sympathy – countless actors playing the “grizzled cop” stereotype have certainly done it well enough – but Tom Atkins really doesn’t seem interested in that kind of effort.  Indeed, he seems to be so into the barfly thing that one of the biggest suspensions of disbelief that the audience is asked to make is for the fact that somehow, Dr. Challis could even be bothered to give a shit.  The best theory I can think of is he figured there’d be some tail in it for him, and golly gee willikers, whaddaya know!

The “tail” in question comes in the form of Ellie Grimbridge, and out of all of our primary characters, she starts out as being written with the most potential to be likable.  After all, she is the grieving daughter trying to figure out what happened to her father.  Unfortunately, though, somewhere between actress Stacey Nelkin and writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part 2), Ellie gets significantly dumbed down.  For a woman who’s supposed to be inquisitive and smart and the spark that gets the whole heroic train in motion, Ellie sure seems to spend an awful lot of time looking hapless.  I know we were going to stop making comparisons to the first two movies here, but after Jamie Lee Curtis, one really has to do better than this.

With that said, though, despite the fact that the inevitable sex between our hero and heroine seems to happen more because the script says so than out of any real chemistry (though on the other hand, 1982 was the last year of the “Sexual Revolution”), their coupling actually results in the best moment of the entire film.

It’s not what you think, folks.  Trust me; it’s sad.

While our charming couple is going about their business in their motel room (no, you’ll never see anything explicit; sorry, guys), their next door neighbor starts poking around with something she found on the floor.  This poking results in her triggering a rather nasty mechanism that blows her face apart (probably the movie’s single best gore effect, actually).  The noise of this can be heard through the wall, of course, causing Ellie to pause for a moment and wonder what the sound was.  Dr. Challis, whose face happens to be buried between her breasts at the time (bad camera angle, though; sorry), reacts exactly as one would expect any red-blooded male to react and says, “Who cares?”  Ellie agrees, and they get back to what they were doing.

I admit, I laughed, and I kind of cheered, too.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t kidding; that really is the best scene in the entire movie.  I told you it was sad.

Beyond that, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is actually something of a chore to sit through.  Stepping aside from our two heroes, our villain isn’t really worth cheering for (even on that so-called “sick” level that has one cheering for the killer in a slasher flick from time to time), either.  He’s an old fart who runs a mask factory named Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy, RoboCop), and his dastardly plot makes no sense even when one manages to stay awake long enough to understand it.  He wants to trick as many children as possible into watching TV at the same time so that he can offer them up as a sacrifice to ancient Celtic gods thanks to the power of a stone he stole from Stonehenge, which he has taken tiny chips from to embed in his company’s Halloween masks.  Pardon me, but did I just step into the rejected script room for “Scooby-Doo” by mistake?  O’Herlihy himself is a fine enough actor, but even he seems to understand that his role is ridiculous, and when he’s laughing, it’s not hard to imagine that he’s actually laughing all the way to the bank.

The script doesn’t even allow the audience to feel sorry for the kids.  The only kid that people really get to see for any length of time is so obnoxious that the audience can be forgiven for being rather eager to see his head melt and bugs and snakes start crawling out from the stub of his throat.  By the way, if you are pinning your hopes on that, I have good news and bad news.  Yes, the scene happens, but unfortunately, like just about everything else related to this movie, the scene drags on for far, far too long.

This leads us to the directorial skills of Tommy Lee Wallace, who makes his debut in the Big Chair with this film.  It’s obvious that he wants to be John Carpenter; the mimicry of style being attempted is plain to see.  Unfortunately, though, he just hasn’t got the same touch, and the result is point and shoot boredom so tepid that even the occasionally crushed, drilled, or exploding head can’t make it exciting.  And that ending… was the audience supposed to feel some sort of urgency at that point?  Because if we were, I know I missed out on it.

And just don’t ask the script to make sense.  Really… don’t.  The Stonehenge thing is goofy enough.  If you start wondering where a certain robot came from, you’re just going to be asking for more trouble than this movie’s worth.

Speaking of trouble… I haven’t even mentioned the worst part of the movie yet.  That would be the commercial, also known as the G.D.M.F. Commercial (you figure out the letters, boys and girls).  This is the commercial for the Halloween mask company that plays incessantly throughout the movie to the single most insipid, annoying tune this side of “It’s A Small World After All.”  It will be stuck in your head for days, no matter how much brain turpentine you try to use to wash it out.  Who needs chunks of Stonehenge?  Just watching this ad play straight up for the number of times that it does during Halloween III: Season of the Witch is more than enough to make heads explode without any supernatural help!  And is if he’s trying to accept ultimate blame for everything, you know the voice you hear during the ad?  That’s Tommy Lee Wallace.  I’m sure that he’s a wonderful man in real life, but after sitting through this movie and listening to that ad over and over again, you just may come to hate his guts.

Of course, it doesn’t actually need to come to that, you know.  You could just skip the movie instead.  It’s not like it actually fits into a series or anything.

Bottom line, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is kind of like that high school chemistry experiment that went hideously wrong and made the whole building smell like a sulfurous fart for the rest of the day.  It has no real connection or relevance to any of the Halloween films before or after, and as a standalone horror flick, it’s also pretty bad.  I can’t even recommend it as background noise on a night where you want to have something on that you don’t need to pay full attention to, because once that damn ad starts playing, it will never, ever get out of your head…

Now that’s real horror for you.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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