Once upon a time, there was a sequel to the successful “Halloween” franchise that did NOT star Jamie Lee Curtis or Donald Pleasance, did NOT have John Carpenter directing it, and, most crucially, did NOT continue the story of Michael Myers.
And that film was 1982’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch.
As you can probably guess, this Shape-less entry in the “Halloween” franchise–an attempt to turn it all into a type of rotating-story horror anthology–didn’t really do that well in the box-office. Because, well…people wanted to see Michael Myers and instead got a story about Stonehenge, robots, evil warlocks, and pumpkin masks that explode into a fetid pile of insects and snakes.
That being said—Halloween III is a excellent circa-Eighties horror movie whose biggest problem was being part of the “Halloween” series. In fact, it is sort of in “vogue” at the moment to champion this once scorned movie—and the film has more or less been proudly brought back into the official “fold,” if you will (at least in terms of licensing, etc.).
And the irony of all ironies is that…actually, there is a way that Halloween III could be considered part of the overall Michael Myers continuity. But more on that later.
The film opens with a very 80’s-tech glitchy feel that seems to almost anticipate retro VHS fetishism; a movie made for home video rental. And while Carpenter doesn’t direct this film, we do indeed get his trademark synth music (used to great overall effect). That said, Tommy Lee Wallace–who was a friend of Carpenter’s and even edited the first Halloween—did direct. And I don’t feel the tonal difference from Carpenter is that jarring. It’s not like they’re from two entirely different planets of moviemaking.
We find out that one of the monolithic slabs from Stonehenge has been stolen…does it have anything to do with the old man clutching a pumpkin mask being chased by sinister corporate bros? And where the heck is Michael Myers, anyway?
The old man ends up in a hospital, under the care of Dr. Dan Challis (played by 80s horror mainstay Tom Atkins). Unfortunately, one of the corporate bros tracks the geezer down and pulls his skull apart through his eye sockets. Meanwhile, Challis gets dressed down by his cliche shrewish ex-wife…who has apparently purchased Halloween masks for their children similar to the one the old man was clutching. Foreshadowing much?
In-between all this, Challis still seems to find enough time to grab an older nurse’s ass and apparently sleep with some of the hospital staff. Atkins plays him with that sort of left-over 70s heavily-mustachioed beefcake machismo–but, to his credit, leaves just enough vulnerability there to save the character from being a total asshat.
His patient murdered on his watch–and the corporate bro setting himself on fire with almost no remains–Challis decides something fishy is going down and that he is going to get to the bottom of it. And when the old man’s daughter comes around the hospital trying to find out what happened to her pappy…well, Challis buys a six-pack of beer and makes the ultimate sacrifice to spend the night with her in a hotel room (buuut, to Challis’ credit he DID originally offer to sleep in the car).
Now in a creepy “company town” called Santa Mira, the two investigate Silver Shamrock Novelties, makers of the masks. And we’re introduced to Silver Shamrock’s owner Conal Cochran, who is sort of like Willy Wonka-meets-Walt-Disney but with no sense of humor and a stone-cold satanic smile.
And Dan O’Herlihy—whom you might remember as playing a very similar evil mofo in the original Robocop—really does portray Cochran as pure, unadulterated evil. It turns out that he’s a high-level warlock from “the old country” who was secretly behind the theft of the Stonehenge monolith—and that the corporate bros are all highly-realistic robots utilizing ancient “clockwork” technology.
The conspiracy is thus revealed—Cochran has engineered a massive child sacrifice to the Old Ones on the sacred October 31st date. The kids all across the USA will put on the popular Silver Shamrock masks while watching a sponsored TV spot called “The Big Giveaway.”…the masks, containing a tiny bit of Stonehenge in a circuit, will use the TV signal to trigger off a type of occult event that will turn the children’s heads into rotting pinatas of creepy-crawlies.
Now, we’ve seen a similar type of story regarding the perversion of children’s iconography in another Tommy Lee Wallace movie: the IT miniseries. And tonally, those two fit together quite well. There is a sort of…genuine loss of innocence that comes through, even despite some of the off-the-wall plot points of Halloween III.
For example, there’s a scene where Challis has been captured by Cochran’s robots, tied up, & forced to wear a Silver Shamrock mask in front of a TV set to experience “The Big Giveaway” first-hand. And as ludicrous as all the proceedings are…you really do feel sorry for Challis; he looks like a beaten man, not just physically but psychologically. He knows all these kids are going to die–including his own. But he’s just one man against the System. And it’s a powerful moment.
That said, this plot with Stonehenge and an evil warlock and the clockwork robots and the killer masks (the scene with the bratty kid whose head implodes is probably the most famous of the movie)…I mean, it’s WILD stuff. But somehow, it works…and maybe that’s in part because of the underlying message regarding children’s exposure to the media.
Says a gleeful Cochran as he explains his plan to Challis:
“It was a way of controlling our environment…it’s not so different now. It’s time again. In the end, we don’t decide these things, you know…the planets do.”
There is a line of continuity drawn between the “old rituals” and the cutting edge of knowledge of “today.” The same evils persist…but just take different forms.
The finale has Challis doing his best Kevin McCarthy from the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as he tries to stop the “Big Giveaway” in a panic. And that’s probably the other really iconic scene from Halloween III…Atkins yelling “STOP IT!!!!” into the phone (but suddenly looking straight at us in a brilliant fourth wall-breaking moment).
Oh, and about how this film could possibly connect with the overall Michael Myers (sans Rob Zombie, that’s a separate topic) continuity? Well, as any true “Halloween” fan knows, the franchise suddenly segued into a whole black magic plot at the end of the fifth movie, continuing through the entire sixth. Now the series was about some druidic cult (complete with runes) using Michael Myers as a type of avatar of evil. I think that could have been easily tied-in with the story of Halloween III (though it might not explain the cameo the first Halloween makes twice in the film on different TV sets…breaking the fourth wall indeed!).