Halloween III: Season of the Witch Review
“Hurry up, it’s Halloween, Halloween, Halloween
Hurry up, it’s Halloween
And sung along to the tune of London Bridge Is Falling Down, this deranged jangle becomes one of Horror’s most infernal, most insidious cadences. Unfairly maligned right from the get-go, Tommy Lee Wallace’s fateful entry in the lucrative, though escalatingly poor Halloween franchise is a unique and standalone expansion upon John Carpenter’s original celebration of the dark fun of October 31st and it is ripe for reappraisal on this excellent region A disc from Shout’s horror offshoot label, Scream Factory.
After the phenomenal success of the first Halloween, it was a cinch that sequelitus was going to bite into the stalk ‘n’ slash genre. Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger were to become pop-culture titans of terror, but the law of diminishing returns would perpetually hamstring their antisocial activities to the point where they would become nothing more than a juvenile and sanitised joke. Very early on in the Halloween series, John Carpenter, producers Debra Hill and Tommy Lee Wallace realised that simply rehashing the same old formula was not something that they wanted to do. Thus, Rick Rosenthal took on the directorial chores for Halloween II, although Carpenter’s trademark style was written huge all over it - and was all the more glaring with his cult music smothering it with superb atmosphere, and the fact that he helmed the “shock” scenes that the film originally lacked. But with the critical drubbing that it received, and the sense of tedium and repetition that the creators felt so unenthused by, the intention to move away from Haddonfield and Michael’s masked pursuit of his sister became extremely acute. But the film made a lot of money, and producer Irwin Yablans wanted the series to continue.
After the setback caused by the dire and bewildering failure at the box office of his first big studio picture, The Thing for Universal (although, as we all know, it has since become justifiably regarded as an unparalleled masterpiece), Carpenter, who was now in-tow with Italian uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis, didn’t have a great deal of clout, and needed to recoup both credibility and profit. If he had to deliver another Halloween film to bring the crowds back in then so be it. He wouldn’t direct it, though, and initially it was intended to be a project for Joe Dante, who was then a very marketable director after the success of The Howling and Piranha. Some sources sat that it was actually Dante’s idea to ditch Myers from the show and to enlist the talents of Nigel Kneale, the great British Lord of Science Fiction and the creator of the heroic rocket scientist, Prof Bernard Quatermass, since the two were already set to create a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon together – a tantalising project that sadly never came to pass. However when Dante ultimately left for the fun and games of Gremlins, Carpenter passed on the directorship to his friend and former production designer Wallace, who had actually baulked on the same offer for Halloween II, whichmeant that he could remain as captain of the ship, overseeing the production, co-writing it, and scoring it … and providing that essential John Carpenter vibe that would leave fans under no illusion that this wasn’t predominantly his baby. But with Wallace’s name attached to it, Carpenter also knew that he could try to distance himself from it if things didn’t turn out so good, again.
Thinking outside the box, Carpenter, Hill and Wallace settled on what was, unarguably, a fantastic (and quite startlingly obvious) concept of making a separate Halloween-themed fantasy-chiller every year, each with its own distinct and unconnected story and filled with fresh characters every time. To reinforce this bold idea, which flew right against the trend for endlessly unkillable psychopathic knife-wielders, Carpenter managed to keep on board, in a coup of staggeringly good fortune, Nigel Kneale and encourage him to come up with a screenplay that would take audiences on a much more thought-provoking and unusual journey into the unknown. Kneale, who wasn’t particularly enamoured with Hollywood at the best of times, agreed to the challenge and penned a richly thematic and layered Twilight Zone sort of tale in which a sinister toy-maker sought to perpetuate the ancient Celtic rituals of Samhain (Halloween) upon a blinkered, self-centred and consumer-driven modern society via some fiendish occult witchcraft and a cunningly pilfered obelisk from Stonehenge. The concept was inventive and darkly amusing – it twisted the trick or treat ethics of American kids right back against them, but it also reflected upon the rites and attitudes of a culture thought long-buried, though still sending out reverberations throughout the genre with The Wicker Man, for example. Or Night of the Demon. Kneale, being a Manxman himself, was from a strongly Celtic part of the world, and this theme of old beliefs, the occult and resurgent rites was quite a prevalent force throughout his work.
When a strange man clutching a Halloween mask is brought, deranged and babbling, to the hospital and then brutally murdered the same night by a silently efficient assassin in a businessman’s suit, who then immolates himself in a car explosion, Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) becomes embroiled in a series of odd and bizarre incidents that take him, and the man’s determined daughter, Ellie Grimbridge (Stacy Nelkin), to the strange town of Santa Mira, home of the hugely successful Silver Shamrock mask-making factory, and face to face with the sinister figure of toy-making genius, Conal Cochran (Dan O’ Herlihy). Cochran is a Druidic warlock intent on reviving the ancient rites of All Hallows Eve, a night that in pagan times was filled with the ritual sacrifice of animals and children to appease the spirits of the dead and ensure the tribe’s survival throughout the winter. With diabolical determination, Cochran is planning a devilish trick upon the children of North America – a trick that combines age-old occult magic with modern technology … and will serve to remind civilisation of the true meaning of Halloween.
This was an idea that was also broached in Eric Weston’s notorious video nasty, Evilspeak (1981), but Halloween III takes it much, much further.
There was talk at the time that Kneale actually resigned from the production and wanted his name removed from it because of the insistence from Dino De Laurentiis, who was financing the film, to inject more gore for the kids, but the truth of the matter is that both Carpenter and then Wallace took a stab at adding elements to his original and far more “amusing” script, elements that, naturally, allowed a little bit more creativity on the part of special makeup FX supremo Tom (The Funhouse, Cat People) Burman, who happily supplied some grimly memorable moments. Either way, Kneale wasn’t overly impressed with the final result. Wallace maintains that 60% of the finished movie is down to Kneale, and this seems very accurate to me. As we shall see, there are many typical Kneale devices at work in the film, both thematic and visual, and the whole notion of a hidden, almost alien subculture plotting and scheming a terrible fate for mankind from behind the charming veneer of a quaint rural enclave is straight out of Quatermass 2 (which Hammer filmed brilliantly in 1957). Wallace, himself, would add some knowing references to one of his favourite SF movies, Don Siegel’s original adaptation of Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, going so far as to name his devilish town Santa Mira after the setting of the Kevin McCarthy-starring classic, and heaving in few last-minute shocks with doppelgangers and crazed warnings to an unsuspecting world. In fact, if you think about it, even Tom Atkins’ action-man assault on the evil factory and table-turning acts of vandalism are very similar to Donald Sutherland’s vengeful attack on the pod-plant at the end of Phil Kaufman’s brilliant remake.
Confusion over the title reigned supreme and, even now, it rankles. There was already a film called Season of the Witch (aka Jack’s Wife) which was an early occult (kitchen-sink) drama from George Romero, so it is clear that this production really couldn’t be simply put out under that title, alone, even if Yablans and De Laurentiis could have been persuaded to jettison the Halloween III tag. (We won’t mention the much more recent Nic Cage tripe that also goes under the title of Season of the Witch, eh?) But the film came, drew in massive crowds … and then turned them away again in angry droves when they discovered to their dismay that this was not the continuing killing-spree of the celebrated Michael Myers.
After its premier, it seemed that it had indeed been The Night No-one Came Home … happy.
And it has taken decades for people to return to it. But now, at last, it seems to have found its audience. Yet another John Carpenter movie that simmered on the back-burner, refusing to die down, and just waiting for its opportunity to shine again.
Asides from the jingle, the movie had the indelible image of three Halloween masks that Conal Cochran has inundated North America with. A skull, a witch and a jack o’ lantern. Two of them of where designed by mask-maker extraordinaire Don Post, though all three were actually made by his people. The montage image of kids wearing these masks and traipsing over the California hills against a burning red sunset is stunningly peculiar and otherworldly, so much so that was also used as an effective part of the original poster art. The impression of evil coming home was a potent one. Michael Myers had invaded the sanctuary of middle class suburbia and carved it up. For Halloween III, it seemed as though the children, themselves, had all become happy little monsters that we would obligingly open up our doors to ... if only for one gruesome and corrupted night.
The anthology notion for the franchise really could have run and run if only this break from the Shape had been a success.
But its failure at the box office was a fault of its marketing and not a reflection upon the quality of its invention or its imagination. After the first Halloween, I have to say that this is best that the series has to offer.
Tom Atkins, the fun-loving B-Movie flipside of Nick Nolte, had already worked with Carpenter and Wallace on two previous occasions. He’d been the hero in The Fog and offered some semi-fascistic support to Lee Van Cleef’s hard-line police commissioner in Escape From New York, and he would go on to become a familiar face cropping up in TV shows and movies like Lethal Weapon and the homage-rife genre-gig of Night of the Creeps. As Dr. Dan Challis, he is the most unlikely of screen heroes. Obviously alcoholic and a confirmed womaniser (he hits on virtually everything that moves), he is separated from his wife (played by Carpenter veteran, Nancy Loomis, who was then-married to Wallace) and struggles to keep any arrangement he ever makes to see their two kids. When we first meet him he is at least trying to do the right thing in coming home with a couple of masks for the nippers to wear on Halloween … though even this falls flat because he’s bought some cheap and flimsy plastic dime store efforts (the absolute miser!) and mum’s already got them a pair of the uber-cool Don Post designed Silver Shamrock jobs. It’s a great image when the two kids turn around from the TV, which is showing that incessant commercial, to reveal the full-head disguises of a witch and a demonic skull. Genuinely little devils!
Atkins is enormously charismatic, even with threadbare material. A convincing everyman, he is the perfect foil to become caught up in the weird and the wild. Pockmarked and moustachioed, and with a sort of plasticy, immobile mush, he’s hardly the sort of guy you’d expect to see bedding-down with his leading lady on the first night – yet this is precisely what he does in both this and The Fog, in which his gruff charms won over the hitchhiking Jamie Lee Curtis. Go, Tom, go! He even gets to show off the Atkins Ass in the motel room – perhaps in an attempt to make up for Stacy Nelkins’ “no-nipple” clause. On a strictly personal note, although I’m sure I speak for many, I think that we got a bum deal there.
Nelkin is too cute and perky for words. With impossibly huge doe-eyes and a mesmerising doll-faced beauty, she is the sort of fantasy babe that could only exist in such a supernatural and profoundly one-off scenario as this. Famously pipped-at-the-post by lookie-likey Sean Young for the part of replicant Rachel in Blade Runner, Nelkin claims to have loved the strong female character that Ellie Grimbridge represented. Well, this may have been the case on paper, maybe. Ellie is no Laurie Strode, though. And in Nelkin’s admittedly irresistible hands, the character of the bereaved daughter-turned-detective is sketchy at best. She may do some sleuthing and be determined to root out the evil secrets behind the factory walls, but her willingness to sleep with the largely inebriated doctor is pure cliché-ticking directly from the bottom drawer of character development. And her perky, porcelain features are perfect for that Stepford Wives look that becomes so essential later on.
The two bumble along through their investigation, unearthing the deadly secret of Cochran’s factory and, more by chance than by any direct action, attempt to thwart his hideous plans. I like this because it follows the Carpenter ethic of nobodies getting flung together in a dire situation that they have no control over, and having to blunder through it all with no real rhyme or reason, just making up their tactics as they go. This was the mechanism that Carpenter adopted from his hero, Howard Hawks, of disparate people banding together in times of stress. His characters would spend most of the time reacting to things, rather than instigating them. Even an iconic tough guy like Snake Plissken was vulnerable – he got hurt, confused and frightened. Thus, Tom Atkins’ good, boozed-up doctor really doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into … and really doesn’t have a clue how he’s going to get out of it. The impression of characters simply winging-it is a good one, and far more plausible than the dedicated everyman-cum-shining-knight of, say, Cary Grant’s resilient Roger Thornhill in North By Northwest. It feels haphazard and unpredictable. Which works for me. Case in point, just watch how Challis meets the irritating Kupfer Family, and then Marge Guttman, his arriving neighbours at the motel, and then the old disgruntled wino down the alleyway – he barely gets a word out during any of these chance encounters, and is just left as a hesitant mess. It’s random … and very deliberately un-cool.
And it is via this entire sense of randomness that characters in these early Carpenter films exist. They may seem carefully and deliberately told, but these stories are actually about Chaos erupting literally out of nowhere and happening to, well, any of us. And, of course, Fate … as the tutor in Laurie Strode’s literature class was keen to inform us way back in 1978.
Having said this, Challis does prove himself to be an incredibly good shot when throwing a mask at a security camera. But, then again, hey – it’s pure chance that he manages to hook it right over it on the first attempt.
The inclusion of the stolen rock from Stonehenge is a conceit of radiantly inspired writing. Listen out for the news report early on that speaks of the astounding theft, but just reel in the splendidly simple way which a gleeful Cochran flippantly explains it away – “We had a time getting it here. You wouldn’t believe how we did it!” And that’s it! That’s all he says. Absolutely brilliant. We’d dearly love to know, of course, but this just gets around all that silly and wholly impractical stuff … and seems to make the entire thing all the more believable as a result. That’s Kneale’s doing, I’m sure. If you look at the control centre that Cochran has arranged before the stolen stone, the ranks of computers are arranged in a mock-up of Stonehenge. Another nice touch.
The writer had dabbled with standing stones before in his final Quatermass adventure in which the Stonehenge-like circle of Ringstone Round acted as a gathering place for legions of duped humanity to be harvested by an alien power. Called simply Quatermass in a sobering and somewhat disappointing two-part TV movie starring John Mills as the valiant professor out to save his granddaughter from such a fate, this was the last serious thing he had done before John Carpenter came calling. Oh, there was also the SF sitcom starring Tony Haygarth as the backyard UFOlogist, Kinvig – though I appear to be the only person I know who recalls this very short-lived 1981 show. But he brought with him the theme of race memory that had played a part in The Creature (filmed as The Abominable Snowman by Hammer in 1957) and most prevalently in the stunning Martian influenced apocalypse of Quatermass and the Pit, which also saw Julian Glover crystallised-cum-incinerated in a sequence that is vividly recalled at the climax of Halloween III. But the film that is most fondly referenced by this audacious screenplay is Val Guest’s Quatermass 2. There is the mysterious factory that is a cover for something far more sinister. In-house workers who take all the jobs, and provide very suspicious “hospital” care for any victims of “accidents” – the result of overshot alien spores in Quatermass 2 and occult microchip “misfires” in Halloween IIII. Drone-like automatons that work tirelessly towards a greater purpose, shaped like men but decidedly other.
In fact, this last Knealism of swallowed, possessed impersonality – the android army that work for Conal Cochran – can also be seen as something of a prototype for Skynet’s Terminators. Outwardly human, but composed of gears, pistons, cogs and motors and utterly soulless on the inside, the idea is also derivative of Michael Crichton’s Westworld. They cut a disturbing image in their natty grey corporate suits. This was the age when films were casting a suspicious eye towards big business and established authorities. The likes of Coma, Alien, Scanners, Dreamscape and Looker were all about faceless organisations taking us for a ride and selling us out on the sly. Cochran’s empire is working for a more elemental CEO but it is still a metaphor for the seething underbelly of corporate evil. The FX for the robots, once we see them unmasked, as it were, are excellent, and the film boasts one shock reveal that is very reminiscent of Alien’s head-knocking exposé of Ash’s devious Company droid. Fans of the Shape should also take comfort from the knowledge that stuntman Dick Warlock, who played Myers, can be seen several times in this as one of the main robot enforcers. Never mind the grey suits, these guys are decidedly intimidating when we see them standing about on sentry duty, or moving in as a unit to deter trespassers from certain parts of the factory. One great shot has a patrol of them standing in a line and moving, as a single a squad, after Dan Challis. This shot would be repeated in Alejandro Amenabar’s exhilarating spook-fest The Others. Oh, and look at the seriously weird appearance of the hospital assassin’s legs as he prowls the ward and makes his move on Ellie’s traumatised father. There’s definitely something screwy going on there.
They way that they suddenly appear as implacable, ruthless shapes from all sides of the frame is also reminiscent of the unnerving appearances of Michael Myers.
“It's almost time, kids. The clock is ticking. Be in front of your TV sets for the Horrorthon, followed by the Big Giveaway. Don't miss it. And don't forget to wear your masks. The clock is ticking. It's almost time.”
By now, the combined effect of Cundey’s Panavision photography – dreamy, fluid cameras that follow characters with sinuous dexterity or look back upon them as they blunder along, and simply gorgeous wide anamorphic framing filled with detail and activity or heavy with intense shadow – and Carpenter’s mesmerising synthesiser music – brooding tones of dark foreboding and glistening, insistent and insanely catchy action cues – were the evocative hallmarks that fans were eagerly anticipating from each new JC production. Halloween III certainly delivers on both of these counts. The film is visually smooth and engrossing at all times, with occasional lens-flares and laser-flashes spiking up the shadowy palette. After pursuing, or being pursued by the Shape in two Haddonfield excursions, and then prowling through the confined and paranoid spaces of an Antarctic base in The Thing, Cundey was as adept at cruising around suburban streets as he was at floating down shadowy corridors. Time spent stealthily probing vast swathes of inky blackness in Escape From New York paid dividends when it came to scenes of Challis playing hide and seek with snatch squads of robot henchmen around the town. The look and style of the film is immediately captivating, giving the impression of never standing still even for a second. There’s a terrific descending crane-shot that reveals the extent of Cochrane’s secret lair down in the bowels of the factory that is an evolution from audacious shots that he achieved in The Thing.
And the score has become a firm favourite with Carpenterphiles and soundtrack collectors. It was Wallace, himself, who came up with the deranged Silver Shamrock commercial jingle and it has, unavoidably, become the signature piece for the movie. But Carpenter and regular associate Alan Howarth find plenty of new textures and pulses with which to create their ominous motifs and themes. Sort of known as being part of Carpenter’s Apocalyptic series (with The Thing and Prince Of Darkness cropping up in there, also), the main drive of the score is dark and ominous, and bleakly beautiful, but the inclusion of those chime-like notes and that pounding beat during the intense chase sequences makes this a sure-fire, DNA-proven, pure-blood relative of both Halloween and The Fog.
Cut down on home video in the UK to retain its 15 certificate, and still horribly trimmed on the Anglo DVD (with the great commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman to compensate) even today, the film was inexplicably broadcast with all of its gore intact on the Beeb back in the mid-80’s, although they saw fit to lose the one F-bomb that is dropped by a wino who is soon beheaded for such an obscenity! Go figure. This release from Scream Factory is fully uncensored and contains all of the freaky stuff with bugs and blood. The early eye-gouging and skull-crushing of the ill-fated patient of Dr. Challis does look a touch too soft and latex-crafted, but it is still very uncomfortable to watch. We get a fantastic moment when a head is twisted about and then wrenched off his shoulders with some icky sound effects and a great little fountain of spraying blood. A poor woman (actually Atkins’ then-wife) sticking her nose into Cochran’s “trade secrets” gets horribly zapped in a black-magic microchip misfire that melts away half her face and allows a very odd-looking little spectral spider to come crawling out of the gaping maw left where her mouth was. All of these scenes were originally abbreviated by the BBFC on the old Thorn EMI tape. There is a decent argument that these overtly bloody bits don’t really fit in with the tone of the movie and seem, perhaps, too crude and barbaric for someone with Cochran’s obviously more suave and educated mindset. But then his plan hinges entirely upon exploding the head of every child in North America into a deadly cascade of snakes and spiders. So I guess he’s not suffused with all that much refinement and etiquette, is he?
The film was quite notorious for the grisly sequence in Test Room A when Cochran stages a demonstration for Challis of the power of his evil masks on the aggravating Kupfer Family, who have been bogusly invited to the factory as a result of being the best mask-retailers in the country. As the commercial runs and precocious little Buddy Kupfer dons his jack o’ lantern mask, the flashing pumpkin signal on the TV screen ignites the demon microchip secreted in its Silver Shamrock logo … and little Buddy’s head becomes a dribbling, wriggling vortex of venomous serpents and insects. Although not actually as gory as the other killings in the film, the fact that this was a child and that his own parents, who will also soon perish, witness his ghastly demise leaves a sour taste in the mouth. This was something of a trend in Carpenter films. In Assault on Precinct 13, he had a young girl bloodily executed over an ice-cream, and in Halloween II, he injected a rather gratuitous scene of a young boy admitted to Haddonfield General because he had a very unlikely razor-blade lodged in his mouth (perhaps this was Heath Ledger’s Joker in his formative years!), and spat out gouts of blood whenever he tried to speak.
“The world will be a different place tomorrow,” Cochran politely informs the captive Challis. O’ Herlihy, who is unquestionably the greatest thing in the movie, delivers a wonderful speech about his motivations and his masterplan in that time-honoured Bond villain tradition. He savours every word but does so without pantomime relish. There is a nostalgic quality to his performance, part sadness, part reverie … part pure malevolence. Listen to his Irish brogue drift back in time to an ancient era engulfed in the powers of primal darkness and arcane practices as he informs Challis of his intentions for the innocent children of a society that has forgotten its old values and customs … to its detriment.
“And the hills ran red with the blood of children and animals,”he tells his strapped-down captive. “Sacrifices,” Challis groans with fear and disgust, filling in the blanks for the uninitiated. But O’ Herlihy, who is just magnificent as the dastardly Conal Cochran, goes on with his almost wistful memory of a way of life that he profoundly believes in. Watch how his shiningly genial smile alters oh-so-slightly into an almost imperceptible scowl just before the scene cuts away. And what about that contented intake of fresh morning air on the morning of the last Halloween, and the delighted spring in his step? Even his final act, as things may appear to be coming apart around him, is filled with measured menace and creepy decorum. He smiles and simply claps, awarding his unlikely, but extremely lucky nemesis the applause of somebody who knows that he hasn’t really lost at all.
Whilst Wallace is the director and co-writer, Halloween III is very definitely a John Carpenter film. (In fact, the gas-station attendant who helps to bookend the movie even looks like a black John Carpenter!) Now, we aren’t talking about the sort of back-slapping credit favours that happened on Poltergeist, which is so obviously almost all the work of Spielberg with only a token gesture or two from “official” director Tobe Hooper, but the film is stylistically, artistically and structurally festooned with his trademark flourishes. And some of his failings too. The opening act, as mysterious as it is, is full of datelines – a nod to Michael Myers’ impending return to his hometown in Halloween – but these flash up on the screen with an annoying swiftness. Every couple of minutes and another day has gone by, taking us nearer to October 31st. There are also the references to his former glories – clips of Halloween playing on the TV for that ubiquitous festive horrorthon (voiced by Wallace, himself) - which, admittedly, may have been something that the producers insisted upon to placate audiences expecting the Shape to appear at any moment. These don’t really work, and can be quite infuriating. If you listen, too, that’s Jamie Lee Curtis’ voice as the operator who cannot get Challis a line out of the crackpot factory town, and also on the Santa Mira tanoy speaker announcing the 6 o’ clock curfew.
There’s some really neat and very strange animation in a cartoon seen on the TV, that came courtesy of Ralph Bakshi’s artists. And, if you look around, you’ll see a visual reference to John Landis too, as well as a glimpse of the famous Tor Johnson mask that Don Post created ... and was seen to great effect in Michael Laughlin's slasher satire, Strange Behaviour (aka Dead Kids).
The film misses a trick that would surely have worked in its favour with the apparent notion that there are no kids in the town. Are the majority of its inhabitants actually robots? Or have the children all been used up in tests and experiments and sacrifices? Just one line regarding their absence and this creepy concept would have added a superb layer of horrible unease.
John Carpenter has always had something of a problem with pacing and issues regarding the passage of time in his movies. He is either intensely focussed upon a schedule, or intensely dismissive of one. In The Fog and Escape From New York he allowed the structure of his narrative to lapse from high excitement to crushing downtime, even if only briefly. The Fog built up some awesome suspense during the first night of ghostly terrors, but then brought the beastly barometer back down again for a lengthy middle section of slow-burn menace. And in Escape, he allows Snake Plissken to conveniently sleep through the entire day (to avoid any costly exterior daytime sequences) just before the commencement of the final act. But these examples are small potatoes when compared to the huge flaws in the momentum and flow of things like Prince of Darkness and Village of the Damned. Prince makes an unforgivable error right in the middle, in which the protagonists end up trapped in various rooms whilst the demons stalk around outside, and then simply sit out the entire daytime until the action recommences come nightfall, allowing all the tension gained to simply drain away! And then Village just suddenly switches from the slow and mounting dread of discovering the alien threat to the utterly bland and boring dictatorship of the blonde moppets from beyond the stars, with a completely different tone that makes it seem like two separate movies bolted together. Even Christine takes for granted that you just understand how much time has gone by and how the situation has evolved for Arnie Cunningham and his demonic car, but does so with a jarring sense of narrative. These are “structural” problems that could easily be evened-out with some more care taken at the writing stage.
Happily, although Halloween III flirts with exactly the same sort of danger at one point – when Dr. Dan is caught and we have the duration of what is potentially the last day of civilisation as we know it before Cochran turns the nation into a huge vivarium – I think it just about manages to get away with it. And this is almost certainly down to Wallace’s handling of the material, rather than Carpenter’s. He maintains the sense of creepy unease and mounting dread with Cochran’s monologue and the surreal sense of such a small town just sitting in quiet anticipation of the coming apocalypse. We are feeling claustrophobic and enclosed, of course, almost shut off from the world, and this is what makes the sense of helplessness and futility all the more effective.
“It's time. It's time. Time for the big giveaway. Halloween has come. All you lucky kids with Silver Shamrock masks, gather 'round your TV set, put on your masks and watch. All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather 'round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin. Watch ... “
Wallace would go on to direct episodes of the revamped Twilight Zone TV show, Fright Night Part 2 and even the dreadful Vampires: Los Muertos, which was a follow-on from Carpenter’s own letdown of Vampires. But it is Halloween III, even with its colossal Carpenter influence and relative shunning by the fans that is probably his finest showcase.
It is perfectly understandable why American audiences didn’t take to the film upon its initial release. Marketed as the third part in a successful franchise and featuring the tagline The Night No-One Comes Home in a blatant riff on famous hook, The Night He Came Home, from Halloween, stalk ‘n’ slash fans were suckered-in to a super-shock tale that they simply didn’t expect. Or even apparently want. Funnily enough, way before it came out in the UK, I already knew exactly what the film was about, having read interviews and features on it in the likes of Starburst and Fangoria prior to its British release and, as such, I went in fully prepared for something highly original and different from the never-ending succession of splattery knife-fodder that otherwise dominated the genre. I loved all that stuff, too, of course, but Halloween III still blew me away! I saw it several times at the flicks and found it delightfully strange and even quite trippy. The videotape (albeit trimmed) was something I would frequently watch in my room, tucked up in bed late on a school-night. This and Videodrome – both seemed to compliment one another … the music, perhaps, and the tone of somebody discovering a dark and terrible secret and not knowing who they could trust.
I have always enjoyed this movie, narrative flaws and all. (Only three TV channels in the United States and two of them prepared to believe a complete stranger ranting over the phone that a commercial could spark an apocalypse? Yeah, right.) There is a deliciously odd atmosphere to it that really gets under the skin. The Northern Californian setting for Cochran’s town, actually the small and insular hamlet of Loleta, is phenomenal – beautifully idyllic and yet profoundly creepy. The robots are freakishly unnerving in their smart suits and implacable, board-meeting expressions, and the device of a stolen obelisk from Stonehenge is a truly wonderful and evocative slice of the purest fantastique. In many ways, this is a like a far more nastier and lavish Doctor Who story, or Star Trek, or even The Avengers. I’m sure that all those shows encountered a sinister toymaker, or malevolent eccentric at some point. The idea of TV not being good for you – the flashing pumpkin signal a very clear metaphor for subliminal advertising - and how society is brainwashed by the next fad is put across with a sadistic zeal and is quite chillingly accurate.Put all this together with a dangerously subversive and disturbing plot to kill millions of children and you’ve got genre-gold ... made all the more tasty by the fact that some people out there will do their damnedest and ill-informed best to tell you that you’re actually supposed to hate it.