It’s a Halloween tradition here at Film Dump towers… well, my house… to watch a Halloween film on Halloween. It’s not the most original of traditions. Since starting The Film Dump I have taken upon myself to review the entire Halloween franchise, one film at a time, one film per year. At this rate I’ll be done in 2020. That’s provided they don’t make any more. This may not have been my best idea. Tonight is the third Halloween in The Film Dump’s existence and, as such, I must now review the anomaly that is Halloween 3: Season of the Witch! Again, not my greatest idea. Click the link for my words what are about this film.
When John Carpenter came to make Halloween 3 he had a bit of a daring plan for the series. That idea was to ditch the villain that had become iconic after the success of the first two features, that being Michael Myers. He instead had the thought to turn the Halloween films into an anthology series with each film telling a different Halloween themed story. The first two were about the Boogeyman, this film is about witchcraft, and the theoretical fourth film would have been a ghost story. We never got that fourth film. Halloween 3 is the reason why Michael Myers did return for part 4. That’s not to say that Halloween 3 is entirely awful though.
Now, do I go into spoilers to explain this films story? Or do I just give the premise… See Halloween 3 is one of those films where I can give you the premise and you’ll go “oh cool”. It sounds like a pretty typical horror movie set up. A man arrives at a hospital clutching a Halloween mask claiming someone is going to kill them all. Later that night he is killed by a mysterious man who promptly sets himself on fire. Dr Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) forgets what his profession is to team up with/shag the hell out of the victim’s daughter Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) to uncover just who was behind the murder and why he would not let go of that mask. They head to a town called Santa Mira where the masks are being made to uncover the truth. Sod it, I’m spoiling this bitch.
So… spoilers… duh.
Turns out the masks are being made by The Old Man from RoboCop, except he’s now called Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), who runs a factory that seems to make nothing but these 3 Halloween masks. Mysterious stuff is afoot though as it appears the entire town is under his control. And here’s where we lose people… See… Cochran is planning to send a TV signal out in an advert for his masks at 9PM on Halloween night which will kill every child wearing the mask and, wait for it, cause them to spawn a load of bugs and snakes. All this is enforced by Cochran’s army of robot men that have been killing anyone who steps out of line. He is able to complete this evil melding of witchcraft and technological evil thanks to the use of one of the giant big old rocks from Stonehenge. Yes, a Stonehenge magic stone is the power behind all this evil. If only our heroes had a triple decker bologna sandwich. Why does he plan to do this? I have no idea, he literally says “does it really matter?” to which I said “yes when your plan is that batshit insane!”.
So at what point did the films story lose you? Was it the murdering of kids? The robot men? The Stonehenge frigging magic stone? For me it was the robots. I get the appeal of mixing sci-fi with magic but come on. Why robot men? They aren’t magic robot men powered by some demonic nonsense. They’re just robotic men. Granted a few years later The Old Man would take another stab at robot men that worked a bit better, so maybe he was onto something. If you’re going to combine sci-fi and magic do it with a little mysticism, not just by grabbing two disparate elements and chucking them together. Even George Lucas understood that… I think. The prequels raise a lot of questions for me regarding his storytelling abilities.
OK, so let’s say we go along with this weirdness and just watch the film for entertainment value. That can’t be too hard, right? Well, yes and no. on one level the film is pretty watchable as a B-Movie horror. It has a number of John Carpenter-esque traits despite not being directed by him. He and long time collaborator Debra Hill take writing and producing credits on this film, along with Carpenter’s musical credit. On the whole it’s fairly well shot for the most part. It features a number of small nods to the earlier films, the first film is being shown on TV before Cochran’s Evil advert is due to show for example. The story may nosedive but it manages to at least stay tonally consistent. I did have to question the romance element between a 47 year old Tom Atkins and a 22 year old Stacey Nelkin… It actually comes across a little, shall we say, troublesome. Apparently all the time the good Doctor needs to work his magic is two brief meetings and one short road trip. No flirting, no cute meet moments or any hint of romance. Not to mention that her father has just died and Challis seems to drink a lot and has a problematic ex-wife. So yeah, it’s all a bit weird.
Stacey is probably the most consistently decent aspect of the film. She has that exact 80s starlet look, all wide eyed, small faced and giant haired. While her role isn’t exactly a challenging one she appears to have approached it with a serious mindset to not ham it up, possibly realising how much a well received horror movie can do for a young actresses career. Dan O’Herlihy is clearly hamming things up, and likely having a whale of a time being such a gloriously silly bad guy. Once Cochran has stopped hiding his villainous ways O’Herlihy straight up plays him as the guffawing, scenery chewing, embodiment of evil he only could be. If the script couldn’t be bothered to explain his motives why should the actor bother giving the director anything more than pure camp? The Raul Julia in Street Fighter approach to acting then. Tom Atkins is Tom Atkins. Watch anything he’s in. That’s how he is here. Except for maybe the sexual predator part.
Gore wise Halloween 3 doesn’t do too bad a job. Whilst it’s certainly not got a massive body count we do get a pretty cool decapitation and, if you’re watching the uncut version, a few extra gruesome images. Also, the fact that children are in danger and we actually see one of the kids die in a pretty nasty way is, well, quite daring. There’s rarely a need to show a horrific death for a child, unless it’s hilarious of course, but without showing one the full danger for the final scenes probably wouldn’t register. The main effect that mask has had to be shown and you needed to hammer home that it would be children in danger so they just about justify it.
Overall Halloween 3 manges to, at times, work fairly well. Mostly though, it’s utter bollocks. The story is makes no effort to explain it’s reasoning in the final 40 minutes or so and because of that you’ll likely lose all interest as the film winds to a close. There are sections of the film where maybe a little too much focus is put on the investigation rather than making any attempt to either build dread or provide a scare. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is a nice experiment and probably the reason why most slasher movie franchises are too scared to step outside their comfort zones. Maybe it would have been interesting to see the Halloween ghost story John Carpenter had planned. Although, after this film failed we got Christine, Starman and Big Trouble In Little China… so I’m OK with never seeing his 4th Halloween.