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February 15, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #163 - Halloween III: Season of the Witch

When I was a teenager, I hated Halloween III with a pretty solid passion. Or at least I said I did.  I think I always kind of enjoyed the completely nonsensical film, but I was a Michael Myers fanboy extraordinaire, and I was all "OH MY GOD, I can't believe they tried to make a Halloween movie without Michael! How dare they mess with the integrity of Halloween II! As if!"  I was kind of a mix between Alicia Silverstone in Clueless and WCW superstar Lance Storm at the time, because I used "As if!" and took things way too seriously. Then I kept getting older and I lightened up a bit.
Nowadays, I look at Halloween III: Season of the Witch and I just smile.  I don't have disdain, I don't even laugh at it. Because the thing that confused teenage me is one of the most perfectly abstract and ridiculously nightmarish horror movies out there. Sure, there are so many parts of it that don't make a lick of sense, but that's the beauty of Tommy Lee Wallace's bizarre addition to the Halloween franchise.
I suppose I should back up and clarify, in case there are some uninitiated folks reading this: Yes, Halloween III is in no way a sequel to Halloween II, nor is it related to Halloween - although the 1978 film actually has a cameo in this film.  John Carpenter and Debra Hill, now producers to the series, would only agree to make a third film if it was not a direct follow up to the previous films, which led them to hire Hammer Films veteran Nigel Kneale to pen a new kind of thriller. Unfortunately for Kneale, and most likely the film's chances of being taken seriously, big budget producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted more blood and more gore, which resulted in Wallace scrambling to rewrite the script and Kneale removing his name from the film.
If you've seen the film and didn't know any of the information above - just like I did when I was younger - you would probably still figure out that all the cylinders weren't firing in the right rhythm as this film was made.  The plot can't be explained without spoiling many of the film's twists - so anyone who hasn't seen it and REALLY wants to be befuddled should probably stop reading now and come back later - because the film just seems weird before we learn about the killer Halloween masks and robohenchmen and possible connection to druid rituals and star worship.  (And when I say "star worship," I mean Ursa Major-style, not Bruce Willis-style.)  These developments in the plot only make the film weirder, and attempts to clean up the story are dismissed as the antagonist says things like "a great magician never explains."  It's a jumble of bad ideas, but it's a darn fun jumble.
The plot is all over the place, but it's not a big deal because the film has so much fun with it. Things are taken very seriously, as the musical score by Carpenter and Alan Howarth (which is seriously one of my favorite horror scores ever) pulsates throughout, keeping pace with the tension of the mysterious plot. The first act is full on murder mystery, and I can't imagine being in the audience with a blind eye when this one was released. This had to be a Psycho style shock to the audience, if not in quality then at least in ridiculousness, because there really isn't anything like this movie's plot out there. Considering it was billed as the follow-up to two of the prototypes for the slasher film - which had become a booming industry in the past five years - there had to be more than a few viewers completely taken by surprise when the mystical mask murder plot became evident.
For me, it's almost impossible to look at Halloween III and not think "What they heck were they thinking?"  But I'm so grateful that this mistake of a masterpiece was allowed to be.  As the film becomes a bizarre showdown between the overly manly Tom Atkins and the sardonic Don O'Herlihy, it becomes more and more noticeable that the talents involved in this film far outweigh the script's difficulties.  Halloween III doesn't make a ton of sense - heck, it's subtitled SEASON OF THE WITCH and the only witch is a Halloween mask - but it's a well made mess (by the way, it's also one of the best looking horror films of the '80s) with great actors and that musical score that alone is worth the price of admission. I see why young me hated it, and yet I see why new me recognizes that young me was a doofus. And I'm fine with that.


Chris Hewson said...

I sure love this movie too! I even quoted Conal Cochran's evil speech for my halloween blog post back in october! haha!

I've got no love for Nigel Kneale though! He not only insulted this, but also Prince of Darkness, and John Carpenter himself, if I remember correctly! He comes across almost as prick-ish as Paul Morrissey! Not as much though, because unlike Kneale, I'd likely have no qualms about violently removing Morrissey's teeth Oldboy style!

fast ed said...

Good review. Always considered this a guilty pleasure that easily topped anything they could have done with #3. Impossible to improve on the original classic so why even try. This one was pretty good in it's own rite.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Stacy Nelkin (as the bird was in 1977 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Marvin the Macabre said...

I'm in total agreement about H3. I didn't even bother watching as a teenager because of the absence of Michael Myers. I watched it for the first time last year and had a great time with it.

I have to wonder in hindsight if the title is a blessing or a curse. It's possible that without the Halloween moniker, the movie could have become a cult classic in its own right rather than being seen as a conceptual misfire in an otherwise popular series. Then again, being associated with the franchise may have saved it from complete obscurity.

In any case, anyone inclined to read FMWL needs to give it a chance.