Comments Off on Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Look, no one loves the “Halloween” series more than I do, at least until Busta Rhymes gets involved. The first film is an unimpeachable classic that defined a subgenre and entirely makes up for “Ghosts of Mars” and “John Carpenter’s Vampires” in the same way that the Beatles catalogue means Paul McCartney still gets to be a legend even though there’s that terrible Christmas song and “Kisses on the Bottom.”
But there’s one movie nestled among the chapters of Michael Myers’ seasonal quest to kill his sister/niece/sister again that does not belong – 1982’s “Halloween III: the Season of the Witch,” or The One Where He Didn’t Come Home. Nope, “Halloween III” doesn’t have Michael. It doesn’t have Michael’s final girl blood relations fleeing into narrow dead ends. It doesn’t have Donald Pleasance earning every bit of his paycheck and all the residuals in the universe as Dr. Loomis, foremost authority in the field of
abnormal EVIL child psychology.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill, who created ”Halloween,” its sequel, and produced III, envisioned the series going in an anthology direction after “Halloween II,” like a theatrical “American Horror Story.” But audiences hated “Halloween III” for not being more “Halloween III.” For years, even after I’d memorized Halloweens I, II, IV, and V, I still hadn’t even tried hate-watching III because everyone I knew spat on its clamshell. But you know what? Once I did give it a shot, it instantly became a favorite. Among the Halloween series – which, again, I have memorized, 4srs — I’d put it second in quality only to the first one, although I still watch it far more often. Let me tell you about it!
The movie starts out with an old guy running pell mell to escape what appear to be tax preparers or junior executives, maybe Mormon missionaries, a pretty sweet jack-o-lantern mask stuffed in his waistband. Seeking refuge in a junk yard, old guy manages to commit vehicular manslaughter on them, escapes, later to ruin the shift of a night watchman at a garage who’s just trying to watch a news report about Stonehenge. (Plot point! Plot point!)
Enough of that exciting stuff. We are transported to meet our real hero. Tom Atkins’ Dr. Dan Challis is instantly relatable, although partly because we meet him while he’s being sneered at by his killer shrew ex-wife and disappointing his kids by bringing them less awesome Halloween masks than mom got. (“They’re Silver Shamrock!” the children exclaim, singing along to the commercial for the very same masks at eye-ruining distance from the Magnavox. Get used to that hectoring singsong; it’s going to be a motif.)
Dan is your basic good guy caught up in terrible events; he’s a doctor, sure, but there’s definitely more Sears catalogs and Playboys in his place than medical journals. He drinks when he’s on call, has implied alcoholism, endures a bitter ex-wife with custody of their two kids, and pats the night nurse’s bottom with no fear of repercussion ‘cause he’s too OK to harass anybody. He is an 80s main character in search of a Stephen King novel. He’s a good — not perfect! — but good guy. And he has a sweet mustache.
By the way, bitter ex-wife Linda is played by Nancy Loomis, the same actress who played Annie, one of Laurie Strode’s less fortunate babysitter friends in “Halloween.” (Also her staring corpse in “Halloween II!”) Foul-mouthed and half-naked in “Halloween,” 5 years later, she accessorizes a grey wig with a dowdy shawl and 80% of her lines are yelled over the phone at Challis. Hollywood really is terrible for the aging actress.
Challis gets paged, and the scene can’t jump cut hard enough away from that domestic bliss. The garage night watchman has delivered the old guy to the hospital, still clutching that Halloween mask. (Yes, Silver Shamrock! How did you know?) As Challis asks what happened, old guy is summoned to consciousness by that obnoxious commercial for Silver Shamrock Halloween masks, gasping, “They’re coming to kill…ALL OF US.” Challis prescribes Thorazine, because death threats always look better after a good drug-induced snooze.
While Challis is sleeping something else off in the doctor’s lounge, another Botany 500 suit model stalks into the hospital like so much Michael Myers. This is, in fact, an even less populated and policed hospital than the one in “Halloween II.” He arrows in on the old guy and takes another page from the Michael Myers playbook with a brisk head crushing. The night nurse walks in on the end of it, but luckily for her, the killer doesn’t care, and like a bee that’s spent its one sting, proceeds directly out to the parking lot, douses himself with accelerant, and goes up in a suicidal pyre.
Challis gets to see the conflagration and is on hand the next morning when police reveal the body to a young woman, the old guy’s daughter, Ellie Grimbridge. She identifies the body, horrified and grieving, but also cute. Later, she tracks Challis down in a bar and asks whether her father said anything the night he died. Challis tries a comforting lie, but when that fizzles, he expresses an urgent desire to find out what’s going on. And an amateur sleuthing team is born! Cue the upbeat opening.
Challis and Ellie check out her father’s shop, where he has a conspicuous inventory of those Silver Shamrock Halloween masks, and decide to take a day trip to the mask factory, his last known whereabouts before what we saw in the first 15 minutes of the movie. Challis also asks a friend in the coroner’s office to do the autopsy on the old man’s murderer and pass Challis any fun, plot-advancing tidbits.
The Silver Shamrock factory is located in a Southern California company town called Santa Mira, populated by…Irish immigrants. OK, sure. Realizing it’s too small a town to snoop without a cover story, Challis and Ellie decide to pretend to be a couple, buyers from the factory like Ellie’s dad was, and book a room at the local motel. Luckily, Ellie also packed lingerie for her day trip to track her father’s last movements with the nice, strange doctor.
We also meet an angry woman staying at the motel, in town to pick up her mask order, and another buyer, Buddy, with his wife and truly obnoxious brat, who are so National Lampoon, guys, I’m not kidding. So a lot of the snooping comes to Ellie and Challis at the motel, and that’s convenient. We learn that the factory (and thus the town) is run by Conal Cochran, a famous maker of novelty gags, toys, and masks, and Challis risks all kinds of fun backwash sharing his brown bag o’ booze with a local deadbeat, who points out the video cameras monitoring the whole town and complains bitterly that the factory is staffed entirely with outside people, not local talent like himself.
The night wears on. Ellie’s lingerie goes on, and maybe off, but we don’t see that. This is pretty PG-13 here. The deadbeat is double head crushed by more tax preparers of the night. And angry lady toys with one of the Silver Shamrock masks, unleashing a beam that fries her face off and generates worms and bugs from the gaping face holes. Face obliteration is a pretty ironic thing for a mask to do, and it’s still a fairly good practical effect, trading blood for broken teeth and exposed sinews.
The next day, best Halloween mask salesman evar Buddy and his family are taking a tour of the factory, which Ellie and Challis manage to glom onto. Cochran tours them personally though the place, and we get a closer look at his legacy of successful clockwork toys (Plot point! Plot point!) as well as the mask making process – less the tantalizing “final processing,” which Cochran explains has to do with trade secrets and volatile chemicals. He doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.
Speaking of getting hurt, Challis spots some more of the menswear models of doom and recognizes their eerie resemblance to the killer what bonfired himself in the hospital parking lot. Ellie also spots her dad’s car, partially hidden under a tarp, although she’s prevented from getting close by more members of the Silver Shamrock Kraftwerk tribute band.
And then our heroes, with the proof that Ellie’s dad was there (which wasn’t really at issue, was it?) and the serious heebie jeebies, hear what the audience is yelling at them and decide to get the hell out of Halloweentown. But FIRST, Challis wants to call the cops. Dumb, dumb, stupid man. While Ellie packs her one tiny overnight bag, he goes to the motel office and finds all lines are routed to a wrong number recording. By the time he gets back to the room, Ellie’s gone, and the room is surrounded by blank-faced, sharp-dressed men. So Challis is off to the races.
For a while, he manages to kill rather than be killed, and soon realizes that the suited baddies in pursuit are automatons, super realistic killbot versions of the clockwork toys that helped make Cochran so successful. So are most of the people in Santa Mira. But if Challis were successful in escaping, we wouldn’t get a villain speech, and we do get one from Cochran, a splendid speech not just about his evil plan, but about Halloween itself and, unlike Dr. Loomis, he pronounces Samhain correctly.
Challis isn’t down for the count though. There’s more movie left, a big scary child sacrificing plot to avert, and a cute girl to save, too. I’m leaving out a lot of good stuff actually, like what happens to Challis’ coroner friend and Cochran’s demonstration of his evil plan for Halloween night. You should watch and see. …Probably not while wearing a Halloween mask though.
Watch the trailer to “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”