Countdown to Halloween: The Legacy of Michael Myers Part 3
In anticipation of the upcoming sequelboot of the Halloween franchise, in which every entry but the first are to be eliminated from canon, I decided to give one last look at the whole series before it is banished into the Soul Stone for good. As it currently stands, the Halloween series has a pretty crazy continuity, complete with alternate endings, ridiculous retcons, and an unrelated anthology entry about magic masks that fill kids’ heads with bugs. There’s a reboot and a sequel to the reboot, both of which have multiple conflicting endings of their own as well. It’s a glorious mess, so there’s really no reason to treat any future story developments as anything out of the ordinary. No, Michael Myers has never made it to outer space, nor has he dueled with another horror heavy (although Halloween vs Hellraiser did almost happen) but he’s certainly been around the block enough times to merit an investigation into just what has kept this killer alive for so long, and just why we are now throwing most of his work in the canonical trash. I will be watching the entire series in order of release, starting with John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 classic which, for my money, remains one of the finest fright films ever made. Check out the whole series here!
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
“The night no one comes home.”
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writer: Tommy Lee Wallace, John Carpenter (uncredited), Nigel Kneale (uncredited)
Stars: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nellie, Dan O’Herlihy, Garn Stephens, Nancy Kyes
Michael Myers played by: Nobody!!! MICHAEL MYERS IS NOT IN THIS MOVIE, WHAT THE FAHHHHHHK?
Plot: The Silver Shamrock novelty company is putting all of their corporate might into marketing this year’s trio of high quality Halloween masks (The ‘Big Halloween Three’ LOL), but when the fallout from their dubious activities reaches the hospital of Dr. Dan Challis, the smooth-talking divorcee finds himself wrapped up in a plot which is more malevolent and farther reaching than he could have ever imagined.
Review: It’s a shame that this movie gets such a raw deal. A little background: After “completing” the Michael Myers story in Halloween 2, John Carpenter thought it would be fun to turn the franchise into an anthology. On a yearly basis, a Halloween-related horror film would be released under the franchise brand. When this film didn’t perform well, the powers that be decided to bring Myers back for the remainder of the franchise. More on that in future entries. As a result of the anthology experiment being canned, Season of the Witch falls victim to some unfair criticism. Time will tell how it ranks within the franchise, but I wonder if it’s even valid to view this entry through such a lens. There’s literally nothing connecting this to the other entries short of the title, without which its complete dissociation from the Myers mythology might have been easier to swallow. In the intervening years, however, there has been a bit ofcritical reappraisal, at least in horror nerd circles, where most of us agree that this strange supernatural shocker is actually a lot of fun. Personally, I think it’s close to excellent. To use modern parlance, I’d even say that Halloween III: Season of the Witch FUCKS.
Wallace’s film mixes so many different sub-genres of horror and does so with an even enough balance that each are successful. There are elements of slasher, sci-fi, folk horror, tech horror, road trip, and “the townspeople are all in on it but I can’t prove anything” films, often simultaneously. It’s an ambitious combination of tones and styles and it never feels overstuffed. Nor does it feel schizophrenic. This is a movie that is obviously made with love and care for the genre. There’s an alternate universe out there where a never ending chain of genre filmmakers were given their chance at helming an entry in the franchise. In fact, if ever there were an opportunity presenting itself for a reboot, why not do the anthology thing with the new Halloween flick? It’s a good idea and it’s a shame that the only active anthology series currently pumping out titles is Cloverfield, and after that last entry, I’m pretty much over it (I’m not over it - Keep ‘em coming).
Right off the bat this entry establishes itself as the “future” of the franchise by bringing the title card into the “modern era.” The first film had a spooky Jack-o-lantern, the second had a fleshier update complete with a human skull, this one has a digital pumpkin being formed line by line by line which, at least at the time, must have looked super futuristic, foreboding even. Philo Farnsworth would’ve been proud. This futuristic title card matches the concerns of the film. There is a bit of a cautionary tech angle thrown into the mix. This goes hand in hand with the hammy commentary on predatory marketing which fuels the main plot line. If we can’t keep up with technological advances, and can’t stay ahead of those who will use it to exploit the vulnerable, how can we possibly save the children? Well, Season of the Witch posits that we can’t. This one doesn’t end on a happy note. Not by a long shot. As the credits roll, it’s pretty much confirmed that a large number of children, our hero’s progeny included, are being reduced to slimy piles of bugs and snakes courtesy of Celtic Samhain magic.
With a K.
That’s more appropriate.
But it’s not like Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is that great of a father anyway. In the opening moments he tries to buy his children’s love, all the while being pretty ignorant to the concerns of his ex-wife (Halloween alum, Nancy Kyes, née Loomis). He’s a hard drinking, cigarette smoking doctor who is CONSTANTLY hitting on the women around him, and succeeding at it. No, he’s not necessarily a bad guy, but by today’s standards his characterization would likely evoke some valid critiques. Yet there’s something lovely about Atkins. He’s a comforting presence, and it’s obvious that his shortcomings aren’t borne of selfishness or abuse of power, just ignorance. It’s easy to see why his marriage didn’t last, but it’s also easy to see why his kids treat him like he’s The Beatles every time he walks in the door.
Let’s talk about the performances a bit, starting with Tom Atkins. This dude is the king of acting into a phone. There are at least five instances in which he has to move the plot forward while talking into a telephone, and every time it’s like Christmas. I could watch an entire movie called Tom Atkins Conducts Business Via Telephone. Whether he’s arguing with his ex, flirting with his coroner friend (who never ever leaves her office at any point), or trying desperately to get the TV networks to pull the Silver Shamrock commercial, he’s always crushing it. Here’s a great example:
Stacey Nelkin makes the most out of a pretty thankless role as Ellie Grimbridge, the young woman whose father disappeared during shady dealings with Silver Shamrock. Even though she ultimately plays second fiddle to Challis, Ellie is more than just the damsel in distress she ultimately becomes. And despite the fact that she and Challis, a man who is more than twice her age (I did the math), begin having a sexual relationship mere hours after meeting, their romance is actually quite adorable. So adorable that you barely notice that she has packed lingerie for a pretty macabre road trip, one which she planned on taking alone. But without lingerie, you can’t have a scene where our hero sucks a titty, for lack of a better phrase. Pretty sure that was one of John Carpenter’s additions to the script. As I mentioned in my previous entry, he was all too happy to embrace the flavor of the 80s, and it’s in full force here, at least in terms of sex.
Dan O’ Herlihy is positively delicious as Conal Cochran, the owner of Silver Shamrock novelties, and the mastermind behind the plan to kill so many children. He has a bit of a more corporate-minded Willy Wonka air to him, in that he gleefully enjoys the mischievous nature of his plans, but is drunk on the power his company holds.
Wallace’s direction is superb. The dude went on to make Fright Night, a stone cold classic of the genre, as well as It (1990), a handful of Baywatch episodes, and a bunch of other things that you love. The dude knows what he’s doing, and it’s incredible that such assured direction is on display in his very first film. Midway through the film there is a montage of trick or treaters around the world rushing home to catch the deadly Silver Shamrock TV special (one segment of which is the image on the poster) that is downright spooky. For a few minutes Wallace casts aside the wanton camp and makes the stakes clear, personal, and widespread. In a classier movie, this segment would be considered masterful by others than myself, but as it goes, I’ll just have to run my own personal love-fest for it. It’s an incredible moment, and it’s a great way to set the stakes before going back to the colorful gore-fest in which it has been sandwiched.
The score, by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth (the man responsible for scoring or co-scoring Halloweens 2 through 6) is fantastic through and through. It doesn’t use the original score in any way, and as a result it doesn’t feel as silly as the music for Halloween 2. There’s a texture to it that matches the technological and magical aspects of the plot, while still staying true to the metronomic nature of the stalk-and-slash music of the series so far.
Can you tell I love this movie?
Best Kill: A man confined to a hospital bed is attacked by a robot henchman of the SIlver Shamrock corporation. The henchman uses his fingertips to grip the supine man’s nose at the bridge and wrench it from his face through his eye sockets. It’s gruesome as hell. He then wipes his bloody, snotty fingers on the curtain, leaves the hospital silently, and then sets himself on fire in his car, which promptly explodes. Like I said, this movie FUCKS.
Another amazing kill defies words. So please accept this video in lieu of a flowery description:
Best Line: Instead of picking one best line, I’d like to highlight a few exchanges in which Challis flirts with the female characters, all of which are solid gold.
1. Challis and his head nurse Agnes, an older woman, are talking in the hallway of the hospital.
Challis: I think I should’ve married you, Agnes (he grabs her ass playfully)
Agnes: Hehe, you know I play for keeps!
2. Challis on the phone with his coroner friend Teddy after convincing her to do some extracurricular research for him.
Teddy: This is gonna cost you some serious dinners when you get back.
Challis: I’m always ready for dinners with you
3. After getting a motel room to stakeout the Silver Shamrock factory under the guise of being husband and wife, Ellie and Challis discuss their sleeping arrangements. Mind you, they’ve known each other for about 3-5 hours at this point, and met under pretty dire and dark circumstances.
Challis: I could sleep in the car. Be better than this floor anyway.
Ellie: Where do you wanna sleep, Dr. Challis?
Challis: That’s a dumb questions, Miss Grimbridge.
They immediately being banging.
Worst Line: It’s hard to isolate a bad line in a film so interested in slinging cheese, and really, any of the aforementioned flirtatious exchanges could easily fit in this category, but I’ll give you one that made me chuckle. I guess in the 80s, California was viewed as a den of strange sin, as evidenced by John McClane’s incredulous uttering of “Caaalifornia” upon seeing homosexuals at the beginning of Die Hard. There’s a similar line here in reaction to seeing the Silver Shamrock novelty brand.
“Irish Halloween masks? In California you never know!”
Mask: Michael Myers isn’t in this one! No mask! However, the SIlver Shamrock masks are pretty cool, even if I can’t imagine many kids being interested in dressing up as a Jack-O-Lantern, Skeleton, or Witch. At least not enough for Cohcran’s plan to make such a huge dent in the market
Dr. Loomis’ Health: Last I checked, he’s DEAD. Burned to a crisp.
Lore: Well, I guess there really isn’t any. This has nothing to do with the Myer’s story. In fact, footage from the original Halloween is on TV in this movie, so if anything, it basically nullifies the entire mythology. It’s all fake. It is a cool moment when the film is aired, however, because the music, now diegetic to Halloween III, suits the scene in which it appears. It’s a fun little cheat. Here’s a small taste:
It’s fun to note that the original film features a movie within a movie of The Thing From Another World, which John Carpenter ultimately remade, but also speaks to the mysterious nature of The Shape. Part two features footage from Night of the Living Dead, which speaks to Michael Myers continuing to live despite being shot and presumed dead. This one features Halloween as if to suggest that we make peace with breaking narrative ties and forging a new path. Unfortunately this path didn’t catch on, and next week I will be writing about Myers’ return.
Gas in this film costs $1.32 per gallon. Also, the Silver Shamrock jingle is played almost every day as it counts down to the big holiday (Three or days til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween...). Absent is the jingle which would note that seven days are pending. I wish it wasn’t missing because I’d love to know how they’d work the extra syllable into things.
Anyway, no good Halloween III experience is complete without said jingle being stuck in the viewer’s head for weeks afterward. Here ya go: