Friday, July 23, 2010

Film Review: HALLOWEEN III- SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Tag-line: "..and now the earth will run with blood again!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Tom Atkins (THE FOG, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, LETHAL WEAPON), Dan O'Herlihy (TWIN PEAKS SEASON 2, ROBOCOP), Stacey Nelkin (THE JERK TOO, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY), Michael Currie (THE DEAD POOL, DEAD & BURIED), Ralph Strait (THE BEASTMASTER), Joshua John Miller (TEEN WITCH, RIVER'S EDGE), Essex Smith (CUTTER'S WAY, STIR CRAZY), and a vocal cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis. Music by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Produced by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Moustapha Akkad. Cinematography by Dean Cundey (THE THING, JURASSIC PARK). Special Effects by Jon G. Belyeu (EXTERMINATOR 2, THE GOONIES, TANGO & CASH).
Best one-liner: "I do love a good joke and this is the best ever: a joke on the children."

Judging this movie as a legitimate sequel to HALLOWEEN would be like judging FRANKENFISH as a sequel to JAWS. That being said, HALLOWEEN III is a surprisingly enjoyable dollop of Carpenter-Lite. Though collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace is credited as writer/director, even the non-fan can see Carpenter all over the place here. Now, I don't mean to presume anything about Mr. Wallace's authorship of the film, but, let's look at the facts- Carpenter produced. Carpenter did the music. Carpenter did an uncredited rewrite of the script. The cast and crew are populated with Carpenter cronies (and was even directed by one), including cinematographer Dean Cundey, who had already worked alongside Carpenter on five separate occasions. As such, calling this a "Carpenter film" is not exactly a stretch, and I'd go as far as to say it's essential viewing for not only Carpenter fans, but fans of 80's horror in general.

In terms of the backlash, clearly it revolves around the lack of Michael Myers; and, if you believe the urban legends, it resulted in crazed fans attacking the screen and demanding refunds, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the day Buñuel and Dali unveiled UN CHIEN ANDALOU. But you can't really blame Carpenter for trying to shake things up- he was disillusioned by the looming shadow of sequelitis, and, instead of endless riffs on the same, already tired, in fact, deceased (Michael Myers) motif, he envisioned a series of films which he could outsource/return to when he pleased, the only common link being that they took place on Halloween. Unfortunately, this didn't quite work out for him– HALLOWEEN III was a critical and financial failure. But allow me to present to you now twelve reasons why HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH is worth watching:

#1. Carpy's synthesized scare-twangs. Used to great effect in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, there's so many of them here, it's as if a 5-year old hopped-up on smack was let loose at the sound board during post. The word 'insane' doesn't even begin to describe it.

#2. The theft of Stonehenge, pixelated pumpkin graphics, black-gloved killers, eye-gouging, skull-crushing, and a man setting himself on fire. And all in the first 15 minutes! No, this wasn't made by Italians. And, believe me, the lunacy is by no means confined to the first quarter-hour:

And I like the way he wipes those gloves on the curtains.

#3. Babe magnet Tom Atkins.

In Carpenter films (i.e. this, THE FOG), eligible young ladies are drawn to Mr. Atkins like moths to a flame.

They fight being consumed with desire for his sheer perfection, but in the end, they fall like so many waifish, smitten dominoes. Umm....what?! Not to knock Tom Atkins. I mean, I like Tom Atkins. I like him A LOT. But I don't think he should reside in Plato's cave as the quintessence of the male specimen. Atkins even gets a bare ass shot here. I have two words for you, Carpy: 'MAN CRUSH?'

#4. Tom Atkins' alcoholism. Tom Atkins plays Dr. Challis, an alcoholic... I guess. I suppose he probably drinks too much, but it's not exactly a textbook case Evidently the novelization delves deeper into his dipsomania, but I've yet to read it for myself. In lieu of nuanced characterization, however, HALLOWEEN III offers a few brilliant surface elements which would seem to suggest problem drinking. For example, characters say lines like "Sierra Mesa still makin' you drink your ass off?," he requires a sixer of Miller High Life before leaving for a road trip:

Then, despite still having the sixer, upon arriving in Santa Mira, he expresses his intentions to obtain more alcohol before it gets too late (for the record, it's like 5:00 PM):

And then later, after having obtained said hooch, he sighs with disdain when a homeless man inquires whether or not he could have a sip from his bottle:

#5. And why not- in a trifecta of sheer Tom Atkins panache: the way that he emotes.

And we're not talking 'bad acting' or 'poor directing' or any of that jazz. It's a return to a more demonstrative mode of expression, and I like it. (See also: the original TWILIGHT ZONE series.)

#6. Finally a movie that villainizes the Irish as a race. And I love that in their evil little Irish town, it's just a lot of nondescript buildings with freshly painted signs that say things like "Shamrock Savings Bank" or "Dublin Inn."

Let the Irish lilts commence!

#7. In the tradition of police state announcements in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (Debra Hill) and the automated chess game in THE THING (Adrienne Barbeau), Carpy gives Jamie Lee Curtis a voice cameo as the dystopian voice of Santa Mira which encourages its residents to follow the curfew and restrict their activities to indoors after dark.

#8. The villain's motive- he really just wants Halloween to be taken SERIOUSLY again. Well, this movie is certainly the perfect vehicle for that sentiment.


#9. Dan O'Herlihy. Maybe you remember him as the 'Old Man' in ROBOCOP, 'Grig' in THE LAST STARFIGHTER, or as 'Andrew Packard' on TWIN PEAKS. He's an unbridled, intense, exquisite Irishman and one of the best character actors of the 1980's.

When he reads a line, he's not doing it for a paycheck, or just to get to the next, more important line– his eloquence is in the moment, and as such, he lives for every last fiendish syllable.

As the final act of HALLOWEEN III slides into James Bond territory, he carefully takes us from point A to B to C with spiffy menace and practical jokery. It's solid stuff.

#10. Dean Cundey's genius cinematography. The man is talented. And even as a Carpenter apologist par excellence, I would say that he submits imagery that perhaps outshines the material, channeling a little Tonino Delli Colli here and a little Dick Bush there, to great effect.

It's fantastic.

#11. The Silver Shamrock TV ads.

You could make a drinking game of this at your own risk. Regardless, they're cloyingly asinine, set to the tune of "London Bridge is Falling Down," and, depending on how you choose to count 'em, play between 15 and 20 times throughout! Some things you just gotta see for yourself.

They even drive Tom Atkins to drink:

#12. The abrupt, nutty, 100% Carpenter-style finale that's extremely and apocalyptically satisfying.

-Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

Eight more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, eight more days till Halloween Sil-ver Sham-rock!

SFF said...

Great revisit. Say what you want about this film. Despite being completely detached from the original two Halloween films I recall being absolutely terrified as child. The film did its job for me and the neighborhood kids. You'd never see me put a pumpkin costume on for the rest of my life.
Cheers Sean.

Unknown said...

Awesome review and a fantastic defense of its merits!

Also, I love how the town's name is Santa Mira, a little nod to the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS where all the action is set. And, let's not forget Atkins' frantic declarations at film's end that more than a little invoke Kevin McCarthy's equally sweaty desperate pleas.

Time has been kind to this film and over the years horror fans have come to embrace this film as the misunderstood gem that it is. There might not have been as big a backlash back in the day if this had been HALLOWEEN II but since there were already two Myers films peole were expecting more of the same and not this weird trip of a film.

I also couldn't agree more on Cundey's awesome cinematography. As much as I love Carpenter, his films took a major hit, visually, when he stopped working with Cundey. Alto, Gary Kibbe's camerawork for later Carpy films is pretty decent.

Sean Gill said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic,

Ah, thank you! You kind of have to wonder what would have happened if Carpenter/Hill/Wallace et al had succeeded in 'rebranding' the franchise before HALLOWEEN III's release, because I really believe that with different (non-Myers) expectations, it could have been a success. I stand by it as a solid film. It probably would have evolved into an intriguing little franchise with Carpenter stepping in to direct/write/produce every once in a while instead of the grim, uninspired, Carpenter-free HALLOWEENS 4 thru H20 or RESURRECTION... I think I've lost track.


The BODY SNATCHERS nods were very welcome and likely lost on the "Where's Michael Myers!?" grunting throngs.

Totally agree re: Cundey. Kibbe's work is great but it lacks that extra touch of artistry that must've come so naturally to Cundey. Cundey's best shots just might be in THE FOG, though THE THING is certainly a close second. Kibbe's finest hour is probably IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, though his THEY LIVE work reminded me a lot of that great bland/prefab construction/deliberately overlit look like in Siegel's THE KILLERS.

Unknown said...

Agreed on Cundey and THE FOG. His compositions in that film are simply sublime. Good observation about Kibbe's work on THEY LIVE and how it evokes THE KILLERS. Hah, I hadn't thought of that! But I would say that his work on MOUTH OF MADNESS may just edge it out slightly. The use of color is incredible in that film - esp. towards the end, like when Sam Neil is being chased by that Lovecraftian whatsis.

GuyR said...

I was pretty skeptical about this film before reading your review.
You know : mass peer pressure.
But now that I've seen it, I gotta thank you, it was great!
It oozes Carpenter from every pore, it almost seems like a lost movie of his. Dan O'Herlihy is great, Tom Atkins uses disdain to the max, Stacey Nelkin is a real stunner!

And what an ending! (now who could have written that...seriously?)

Sean Gill said...


Agreed. I'm kind of wondering what Kibbe's been up to though- all he's done since GHOSTS OF MARS is a single episode of C.S.I. And Carpenter has worked since with Attila Szalay (basically the staff MASTERS OF HORROR cinematographer) and David Wain crony Yaron Orbach (THE WARD).

Glad you enjoyed it! It really feels like a lost Carpenter flick to me, too- and of course the ending has the same abrupt, quasi-existential, apocalyptic connotations of so many classic Carpenter finales.

Mike B. said...

Excuse me once again for commenting on something from long ago, but I've been using Halloween 3 as my go-to "background" movie pretty much since its last namesake holiday, and I felt the need to weigh in on a couple things. First, great review, I love this film so much that even the gigantic plot hole near the end (i.e. the evil robot Miss Grimbridge standing by and allowing Atkins to kill Cochran and blow up the factory) doesn't bother be in the least. Second, you've gotta love the skeevy way that Atkins tells Ellie that they'll pose as "buyers" and get "a couple rooms in that hotel," but when the innkeeper approaches, he's already switched his story to "my wife and I need a room," to better set up his seduction plans. Third, I absolutely love the factory tour scene. Notice how when Cochran says he'll give them a free replacement order, you hear Buddy Kupfer in the background say a delighted "ha!" and then Atkins mirrors it with a "ha!" of his own; it just seems like a wonderful acting choice. The factory tour makes me wish that the movie would just spin off into a complete non-sequitur in which Buddy Kupfer and Atkins become drinking buddies and everyone lives happily ever after. Which brings me to my only complaint about the film. I feel like I need about 20 minutes more "snooping around" after the factory tour and before Ellie gets captured. The whole sense of uncovering something sinister would be so sweet if it lingered a bit longer. The last act just comes so quick, notice that when Atkins tells Ellie to "pack" (their one bag) and runs to call the cops, it's still daylight, but when he comes back from the office, it's dark out. I wonder if there actually were a couple scenes cut out there. Anyway, that was way too long of a comment, and it's getting late and I could use a drink, but hot damn is this a fun film! Thanks for another great review!

Sean Gill said...

Mike B.,

No excuses necessary– I relish the opportunity to talk about HALLOWEEN III 24/7, 365! You make some delightful observations: I never really thought about Atkins' skeevy switcheroo before- that is truly amazing. I've always loved the factory tour, too, and a Buddy/Atkins spin-off would be damned welcome. And that is strange about the scenes that seem to be missing, though I doubt we'll ever get a comprehensive HALLOWEEN III special edition director's cut, at least not until Rob Zombie remakes it or whatever- yikes!