How not to do a franchise- Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
Halloween 3 has an appalling reputation, and I think it’s mostly unmerited. Given the phenomenal success at the box office of the first two films, this was clearly a series that was never going to be unmolested, and yet they went to enormous lengths to kill off Michael Myers at the end of the second film. Seriously, he’d been stabbed, shot, blinded, set on fire and even blown up. He’s dead. He is an ex-Boogeyman. There is absolutely no way he was coming back. However, the series had to continue, so the solution that John Carpenter and Debra Hill came up with was a clever one: focus on the day itself and turn the franchise into a series of one-off stories that if successful enough could spawn mini-franchises of their own. There was no way the studio wasn’t going to jump at this idea, and they could practically hear the KER-CHING of imaginary cash registers. The result was the very underrated Season of the Witch, a good idea that was catastrophically unloved by the legions of Halloween fans who merely wanted to see Myers turn up to julienne more babysitters. Except possibly with added nudity and gore.
This film is amazing in some ways. The script was by Quartermass scribe Nigel Kneale, and Joe Dante was originally slated to direct. Sadly Joe walked off and Carpenter accomplice Tommy Lee Wallace took over. The ludicrously high-concept idea was to marry sci-fi to Horror and turn in a story about killer robots, magical masks powered by Stonehenge (really), and terrify the world with exploding kids in some kind of twisted modern re-enactment of the Celtic Samhain. Furthermore, the cast was full of Carpenter regulars (even Jamie Lee Curtis does some voice over). This should have been gold.
The opening is promising. An incoherent man is taken to hospital clutching a mask muttering gibberish about “They’re going to kill us all”. Sadly for him, he’s then offed by a man in a suit by having his head brutally crushed. The Doctor investigating him, Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), is curious as to events and so takes it on himself to investigate the source of the problems with only Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) for company. His investigations lead him to Santa Mira, the home of Silver Shamrock toys, a spooky town where nothing is as it seems.
You see, every kid wants a Silver Shamrock mask for Halloween, but the owner of the toy company is nuttier than a Planter’s factory, and has added magic microchips to the masks that will, when the big commercial plays on Halloween, cause the kids’ brains to melt and turn into snakes or insects or some such. Can Dr. Dan (he actually should be called Dr. Dick) save the day?
As mentioned, there’s a lot going for this film. The acting is solid, and the script is good (even though Kneale insisted they take his name off after Wallace watered it down), while the effects are pretty decent for the most part. Nevertheless, Halloween 3 manages to be less than the sum of its parts. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyably goofy movie, but when everything is taken together it manages to miss greatness by quite a long way.
For a start, this is a film that a certain pompous type of critic/ academic has flatulently postulated over as being a critique of capitalism and so forth. I can kind of see that, given that the villain of the piece is quite literally a murderous corporation exploiting children (and killing them), but I think that does the film a disservice. It’s not intending (or at least I don’t think Wallace is) to be as deep as that, and this seems to me to be a case of the reviewer taking out of the film what he took into it (see The Shining for really preposterous examples of this).
Secondly, the villain’s plot is just plain daft. I’m all for suspending disbelief (and given that we’re dealing with killer Irish robots, this really is a must), but this gets completely crapped on when he does his rubbish Bond Villain reveal. What’s he hoping to achieve by wiping out his customer base? Human sacrifice in the same way the druids did is all very well, but what’s he actually going to get out of it? And where the hell do the bloody snakes and so forth come from. It’s all very confusing for me.
The end is almost too abrupt as well- it doesn’t quite pull a Sopranos, but it really isn’t far off. I know that Wallace was heavily influenced by Invasion of the Bodysnatchers for this film, but in all honesty the ending here is simply too sharp; too much of a shock for the audience, and as a result it’s massively unsatisfying.
Having said that, though, the film does have a belter of a trump card: The Silver Shamrock jingle. Conceived and performed by Wallace himself, the idea was to show it in close up on a big screen. As such it’s annoyingly catchy, yet weirdly unsettling, and by the 50 millionth time the film plays it, it has become lodged permanently in the audience’s brain. It also creates a real sense of urgency, as each time the jingle plays, the countdown draws closer to zero hour.
It’s not really true to say that Halloween 3 failed, in that it still took $14m at the box office off a relatively small budget. However, it was absolutely loathed by the fans. The reason? No Michael Myers. This was a Halloween film, for fuck’s sake, where’s the iconic bogeyman- the monster of the series? Personally, I think Carpenter and Hill were right: Myers was played out by the end of Halloween 2, and thus this was probably the correct way to go. However, to launch the anthology idea and make it successful, given the shadow cast by The Shape, the first film had to be simply a cracker. And it isn’t.
All in all this is a decent and likable film. No, it isn’t award winning, but in comparison to the dross coming in the rest of the series, it’s really not bad at all. In many respects this is a superior film to the totally unambitious Halloween 2, but the level of failure here is as a result probably larger. It isn’t true that if you shoot for the moon then you’ll land in the stars, rather what happens is that if you miss your target you land face down in a big pile of poo. Ambitious as the idea was, and it is a swing for the fences, it is still a swing and a miss. As such, I give Halloween 3 2 pumpkins out of a possible 4. Brave, but misguided.
Having said that, though, this is where the series enters the humdrum world of the slasher sequel, so I’m actually thinking about just mini-reviewing the next three films as they’re that uninspired.
About JarvWorkshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.
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