Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review: HALLOWEEN III SEASON OF THE WITCH: THE NOVELIZATION (1982, Dennis Etchison)

Stars:  3 of 5.
Length:  228 pages.
Publisher:  Jove Publications, NY.
Tag-line:  "The night no one comes home.  The new screen shocker by Jack Martin based on a screenplay by Tommy Lee Wallace– a John Carpenter /Debra Hill production."
Back cover blurb:   "Do you know where your kids are tonight?  The streets are quiet.  Dead quiet as the shadows lengthen and night falls.  It's Halloween.  Blood-chilling screams pierce the air.  Grinning skulls and grotesque shapes lurk in the gathering darkness.  It's Halloween.  The streets are filling with small cloaked figures.  They're just kids, right?  The doorbell rings and your flesh creeps.  But it's all in fun, isn't it?  No.  This Halloween is different.  It's the last one."

Happy Halloween, everyone–  Poor Man's Carpy continues!

Using the pseudonym of "Jack Martin," Dennis Etchison brings us another John Carpenter-related movie novelization (he also did THE FOG and HALLOWEEN II) that's better than it needs to be.  In lieu of retreading old ground, if you need a little background on Etchison and his other Carpy-related work, see my review of THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION.  Also, if you're somehow unfamiliar with HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, allow me to fill you in:

After HALLOWEEN II, John Carpenter was getting sick of this Michael Myers guy, and envisioned the HALLOWEEN series as becoming a series of spooky flicks that merely shared the common holiday setting.  Therefore, he, HALLOWEEN co-creator Debra Hill, and crony Tommy Lee Wallace (who designed the original look for Michael Myers) teamed up to unfold the saga of an evil cult of killer-robot-manufacturing Irish people living in a small town in California who are hell-bent (literally!) on killing the children of America by way of rigged masks that will turn them into rotting piles of snakes and spiders. They are doing this so that people will take Halloween seriously again.  It leads to an absurdist, apocalyptic, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS-by-way-of-James Bond conclusion, and in its own way is one of the great, underrated horror films of the 1980s.

So what does HALLOWEEN III: THE NOVELIZATION bring to the table?  The language isn't quite as florid as in THE FOG, but it's a decently written palimpsest of the screenplay.  Let me give you the rundown– my ten favorite things about HALLOWEEN III: THE NOVELIZATION:

#1.  It begins with a Thomas Hardy quote.

 Remember him, possibly from English Lit?  JUDE THE OBSCURE, THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES, etc., etc.?  So let me say that again:  the HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH novelization begins with a quote by Thomas Hardy.
"If a way to the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst."
–Thomas Hardy
Is that a prediction of HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION?  Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.  (Also, I'd like to see Carpy do "TESS OF THE COUPE DE VILLES!)

#2.  Attempts to recreate how annoying the "Halloween Countdown song" is.

Anyone who's seen HALLOWEEN III will never forget the "Eight more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween... eight more days to Halloween..." Silver Shamrock song, set to the theme of "London Bridge is Falling Down."  Etchison, obviously, makes it an integral part of the novel.
"The insistent refrain, chanted inanely to the tune of 'London Bridge is Falling Down,' was for a few moments everywhere, even cutting into speakers which were set to carry only a steady drone of Muzak around the clock throughout the hospital and, it had seemed to Challis lately, the entire world.  But tonight he was feeling no pain.  '...SIL-VER SHAMROCK!'  At last the advertising jingle wound down, followed immediately by Madison Avenue's idea of an Irish jig."
#3.  Michael Myers fake-out.

Etchison knows that some readers of HALLOWEEN III: THE NOVELIZATION (specifically those who haven't seen the film yet) are going to expect to read about Michael Myers.  Instead of being up front with his audience about Myers' exclusion, he tries to fake them out for the first fifty or so pages.   I find this to be hilarious.

In a marked reference to "The Shape" being Myers' name from the credits to the first film, Etchison tries to fool us while he describes one of the Irish robots:
"It was not a bush that was moving.  It was the shape of a man.  ...He veered to the curb and cut his lights.  The shape was no longer there."
Furthermore, he specifically references the tag-line of the first film by naming the first section "The Night He Came Home Again." As you read on, you realize that this actually refers to "Challis" (the Tom Atkins character).  Additionally, the opening murder (which takes place less than five minutes into the movie) doesn't occur until 53 pages in to this thing!  It almost seems designed to piss people off.  I heartily approve, and find it well-deserving of a slow clap.


 #4.  Challis' (Tom Atkins') alcoholism.

In THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION, Etchison fills in a few gaps in regard to character development, particularly with Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), the tortured whisky priest.  Here, since Challis is the clear protagonist, Etchison's focus is not divided (THE FOG has an array of protagonists– you could even make the argument that the fog itself is the main character!) and he's free to explore his brooding and alcoholism in great detail.  We see a fair amount of it in the movie, but in the novelization, Etchison describes it quite well, alternating between grotesque Bukowskian flourish,  Raymond Carver-ish straightforwardness, and Amis-style panache.
"'Agnes, tell me you've got a beer stashed somewhere with my name on it.  You were just about to say that, weren't you?  I can tell.  My mouth feels like a bedpan.'"
"He was strangling the glass neck through the twisted brown paper." 
"The day after the funeral he had bourbon for breakfast."  
"He poured beer down his throat.  It tasted bitter, but he knew it would make him feel better in a few minutes."  
"Beneath the wide brimmed hat was an old face, covered with stubble and deeply creased from too many years out of doors and out of luck.  The expression in the eyes was rat-shrewd.  It was a look Challis had seen all his life, in bus depots and skid-row clinics in every city he had worked.  The face was no more than forty years old by the calendar.  But they had been forty long, hard years." 
And perhaps one of my all-time favorite sleazy 1982 sentences:
"Ellie's maroon Cutlass was waiting at the curb in front of the liquor store."

#5.  These sentiments extend to Challis' brooding, which is wonderfully bitter and even more enjoyable if you properly imagine it as Tom Atkins' internal monologue.
"Kids, he thought.  They don't forget– they're too young– and so they don't forgive.  They're the only truly uncivilized beings left on earth, a race apart, a primitive tribe and a law unto themselves."
"The evasions are over.  I thought I could get away.  But I couldn't.  Happy Halloween, he told himself, gunning the motor and roaring away from the house, his house, the house he had built and would continue to maintain forever, undoubtedly even unto death and beyond the grave, if his ex-wife and the lawyers had their way.  Trick or treat?  ...He knew the answer, and would never ask the question again."

#6. Big Ideas.

Etchison tries to work some Big Ideas into this mass market paperback...  and sort of succeeds!  He hammers the point home that men are becoming like machines, that our humanity is being lost as our society becomes increasingly mechanized and detached.  These have become stock ideas and it's nearly impossible to express them without hammering the reader over the head, but dammit– Etchison hammers 'em well:
"They survive, he thought, the slow and the stubborn, the old individualist misfit sons of pioneers who won't allow themselves to be folded, stapled, or spindled.  The revolutions come and go, nations are torn apart and rebuilt, the climate changes to make way for the next millennium; the snow on the wheel turns and the century ices.  Men like machines walk on the moon and machines like men remake the world in their own image; the iron dream rears its head again in a new age; the old tribes fade from sight in the long night of the human soul."
I never thought I would read about "the long night of the human soul" in any movie novelization, much less that of a much-loathed horror sequel written under a pseudonym.  Will wonders never cease?


#7.  A FOG reference?

Apparently Father Malone survived THE FOG and relocated to Santa Mira?
"A signboard reading 'Church of St. Patrick/Rev. Father Tom Malone' was hanging peeled and broken from one upright."

#8.  A Jamie Lee Curtis reference.

The robotic, Big Brother-ish voice which lords over the evil Irish town of Santa Mira is played in the movie by an uncredited Jamie Lee Curtis.  She even gets a shout-out in the novelization:
"'Going down,' said a sensuous female voice."

#9.  The book can also function as a robot-killing manual.
"The graysuit outside her room went into a sputtering death-dance at the first surprising thrust to its soft spot.  The same spot, where the diaphragm would be in a human being, an inch or two below the center of the ribcage.  Challis remembered well his latest anatomy lesson."

#10.  The closing lines of apocalyptic brilliance:
"'STOP IT!  STOP IT! STOP...'  Then there was only the sound of the rain outside in the endless blackness of the long night and, presently, the rising tones of a pitiful wailing within and without, spreading across the station, the town, and the land without end."
Simply fantastic.  That about wraps it up, ladies and gentlemen. Again,  Happy Halloween– and stay tuned:  Poor Man's Carpy shall continue through November!

–Sean Gill

5 comments:

Mike B. said...

Oh my! This sounds fantastic, indeed! Since I am one of the few (by that I mean the only) people I know for whom watching the movie Halloween III is simply not enough time spent in Santa Mira, I must read it! Because something must be wrong with me, I frequently find myself watching good old part 3 and thinking, "man, the middle third of this movie really should be blown out much longer!" And don't sell yourself short; while you're crediting Martin/Etchison for discussing the long night of the human soul in a novelization, you busted out the word "palimpsest" in a REVIEW of said novelization! That's good writin'! By the way, if you want to read another review of this book (and I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't!), I stumbled upon one years ago on a blog called Head Injury Theater and it's still there (http://www.headinjurytheater.com/article60.htm). He comes at it with pure vitriol, which is kinda blasphemous to a Halloween III aficionado like me, but it's downright spit-take-funny. As always, thanks for this, and I'll be looking forward to more marginalia!

Sean Gill said...

Mike,

I figured, with your love of all things Halloween III, that you'd get a kick out of this– glad you enjoyed! I checked out the Head Injury Theater review and found it to be extremely funny, especially his attempts to unpack the robot fluid eroticism and his musings on the valiant death of "Fatty the Dad." Ah, God bless Halloween III!

J.D. Lafrance said...

Damn! Now this sounds like quite the novelization. I've been meaning to pick this up and your review certainly clinched it. I love when the author decides to go for it and indulge in a few stylistic fluorishes. It must be such a grind to crank these out.

I still have fond memories of reading the novelizations of TRON and GHOSTBUSTERS as a kid.

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

Why thank you– also, I have to imagine the GHOSTBUSTERS novelization has the potential to be pretty great?

J.D. Lafrance said...

Heh, actually the GHOSTBUSTERS one isn't all that memorable. It has not aged well, but seemed pretty good when I was a kid as I was crazy about the film.