Must Be the Season, by Bob Connally

24 Oct

Since its release in 1978, John Carpenter’s original Halloween has been one of the best-loved and most imitated horror movies ever made. Carpenter and his producing partner, Debra Hill felt that there was nowhere to take the characters or the story beyond the first film. However, with Universal clamoring for a sequel, they reluctantly wrote the screenplay for Halloween II. Released in 1981, Carpenter- who did not direct this time around- was deeply dissatisfied with the finished product, declaring it, “an abomination and a horrible movie.” The sequel received poor reviews but performed fairly well at the box office. The film ended with Michael Myers seemingly burned to death after an explosion, as though Carpenter and Hill were telling the audience, “He’s dead now, so it’s over.” Halloween III would be a new beginning and set up a viable and very creative franchise for years to come. That was the plan anyway.

Beginning with “eight more days ‘til Halloween,” Halloween III: Season of the Witch gets straight into the action, as local costume shop owner Harry Grimbridge frantically runs for his life carrying a jack-o’-lantern mask. After narrowly escaping an attack by stone-faced men in business suits and passing out, he’s taken to the hospital where he’s treated by Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins). A manic Harry tells Daniel, “They’re going to kill us,” which is as vague as it is terrifying. A short time later with his condition stabilized, Harry is left alone to rest which gives his attackers the perfect opportunity to sneak into his room and murder him. His killer escapes to the parking lot where he proceeds to set himself on fire. Daniel witnesses the self-immolation and is understandably incredibly shaken as he tries to explain to his ex-wife that he can’t leave to pick up their kids right now. As Daniel is already an undependable alcoholic, his ex-wife is not as understanding as he might have hoped.

Alone in a bar a few days later, Daniel is approached by Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). Ellie can’t understand who could have possibly wanted to murder her dad and after a few minutes of going over the events of the last few days of Harry’s life with Daniel, the two decide to leave their northern California town to investigate the Silver Shamrock company that produces the popular Halloween masks that Harry sold in his shop. What they find is a small town where something seems amiss around every corner and a curfew keeps people in their homes the moment it gets dark.

Upon its release in October of 1982, Halloween III: Season of the Witch received mostly negative critical reviews, underperformed at the box-office, and was widely loathed by fans of the previous two Halloween films who were confused about why Michael Myers wasn’t there. Most seem to blame this confusion on Universal for poor marketing or for simply naming the film Halloween III in the first place. Nearly 40 years later, appreciation for the film has grown and there are many who lament that its failure to connect at the time cost us many years of inventive Halloween themed movies that could have varied in story, style, and tone. Instead, the Halloween franchise has repeatedly revived Michael Myers for 6 more sequels (many of which have ignored the previous sequels) along with a reboot and its sequel. 

Full disclosure: the only Halloween movies I have seen are the original, Rob Zombie’s remake (though I can’t remember why I did), and Halloween III, which I watched for the first time last week. Even as someone who doesn’t care for a lot of slasher movies, I like the original quite a bit. But nothing about Michael Myers suggests that he’s a character who needed to be in to date, 10 movies (with at least 2 more on the way). He works perfectly as the “boogeyman” in Carpenter’s simple and straight ahead 1978 film. Like the Xenomorph and the Predator, the less we know about Michael Myers, the better. Building a mythology around them makes them less effective. In fact, the makers of Halloween simply referred to Michael as “The Shape.” But in 1988 he returned to movie screens and he’s been coming back from the dead ever since. So if you have found that tiresome or if like me, you just don’t care to see him over and over again, the poor reception to Halloween III in 1982 really is a shame.

I’m not going to make the case that Halloween III is a misunderstood masterpiece. It isn’t. Much of its plot makes no sense when giving it any kind of thought. The villain’s evil plan (spoilers for a 38-year old movie ahead) is to sell masks to as many American children as possible and for them to all be wearing said masks at the same time on Halloween night in front of their televisions. These masks all contain a small piece of Stonehenge implanted in a microchip. (I’ll pause to allow you to read that sentence again.) When all of the mask-wearing children of America are watching TV at 9:00 PM, a commercial with a flashing pumpkin will activate the microchip which shall then cause the masks to turn on their wearers and murder them, after which snakes and insects will frantically emerge from the masks and attack and kill anyone else who happens to be in the room. This plan is concocted by the founder of Silver Shamrock, eccentric Irish billionaire Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). So where do we begin with this plan?

In terms of motivation, Cochran monologues something to Daniel about this mass murder of children being part of an ancient Celtic tradition in Ireland. It’s nonsense really, but O’Herlihy delivers it with such conviction and menace that it’s enthralling to listen to. Also, as someone who loves RoboCop almost as much as life itself, it tickles me to see “The Old Man” as the head of a company staffed almost entirely by robots. Cochran also sees this simply as a “joke on the children.” As far as how he expects this all to unfold is decidedly questionable. How many kids is he really hoping to kill here? 9:00 PM in California (where the film takes place) is midnight on the East Coast. Even if this isn’t a school night, how many kids will be up to watch that TV commercial in the eastern half of the country? The fact that it’s going to be your TV commercial activating your masks to murder potentially millions of people is going to instantly make you the only suspect in this mass genocide. Do you have an escape plan or are you just going to hang out in your office and ask the 200 FBI agents who break your door down 10 minutes later, “What took you so long?”

The thing about Halloween III though is that while it has more holes in its logic than a swiss cheese doughnut, it gets by on having fun with its premise and on solid performances by Atkins, O’Herlihy, and Nelkin. Writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace may not have penned an airtight script but it’s a well-paced film that doesn’t plod or overstay its welcome. It’s much more inventive than making another slasher film as well. The kills in Halloween III are decidedly creative and memorable. This is an entertaining movie that deserved a better fate not only for itself but for the future of its franchise. Just think of how many imaginative Halloween-themed movies we could have gotten in the years that followed. Surely some would have been better than Halloween III and some would have been worse, but they would have all been different.

So things didn’t work out the way Carpenter, Hill, and Wallace had hoped. The Halloween franchise has spent the past 30 years going back to the Michael Myers well again and again. But it’s nice to know that with time, Halloween III continues to gain fans. New fans like me who enjoy it, in spite of and a little bit because of its many flaws. It’s no classic but it’s unique and fun, which is all anyone could really ask a movie titled Halloween III: Season of the Witch to be. If you’ve been avoiding it, give it a chance this year.

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