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Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) – Carpenter meddles countdown #1

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In the optimistic hope that Michael Myers was finally dead and that they could use the brand to do a series of films based around Halloween rather than a single serial killer, Halloween III's story was completely unrelated story to all the others. There's no witch in the film either.

Concept: "You don't know much about Halloween…"

After the titles, a man is running from a car, eight days before Halloween. He gets to a deserted garage, where he is found by a man in black from the car, but escapes by having him crushed. One hour later, in another garage, someone's watching the TV: someone's stolen one of the bluestones from Stonehenge, then there's an ad for Silver Shamrock (SS) Halloween masks. In comes the man being chased. "They're coming", he says before collapsing with a mask in his hand.

Divorced dad Dr Tom Atkins disappoints his kids with his gift of masks – they're not SS – before being called into the hospital to see the man. "They're going to kill all of us", says the man on hearing another SS ad. Atkins sedates him and goes off to have a nap. Another man in black appears in the nearly deserted hospital – this is the link with Halloween II! – and kills the man by forcing fingers into his eyes. He's discovered, goes outside to his car, and pours petrol over himself before lighting it. Next day, the man's daughter Stacey Nelkin appears, understandably upset.

Friday 29th. Nelkin and Atkins meet in a bar. It turns out that the man ran a joke shop and the last thing he's known to have done is go to the headquarters and factory of SS in a small town called Santa Mira. They head off there. It's a company town with – shockingly for Americans, and way ahead of its proliferation in the UK – CCTV covering it. The pair decide to pose as buyers and check in as a couple to a motel… where it turns out that her father stayed. The SS owner, Dan O'Herlihy, goes past just as a family arrive. They're real buyers, as is another late arrival, a woman. Once again, it turns out that Atkins is with a young woman who's a very easy lay.

There's a 6pm curfew in the town, announced over the loudspeakers, but one drunk doesn't like it – the factory is staffed by outsiders – and is determined to burn the factory down. He gets about a block before the men in black have wrenched his head off. The woman buyer isn't happy with the quality of the last batch of masks – their logo came off. Say, there's a funny circuit on the back, what happens if I prod it with something metal…? Oops. She's taken off to the factory's medical treatment centre by a group of men in black white coats, despite Atkins' "I'm a doctor"-ing. O'Herlihy turns up, says everything's going to be fine and is overheard being told that it was a "misfire".

Saturday 30th. The family and our pair get a tour of the factory and it turns out that O'Herlihy is a big fan of automata, but not even his best salesman, the father of the family, get to see the masks' "final processing". Say, what are those men in black doing standing around? And what's Nelkin's father's car doing inside the factory? The remains of the burnt man in black turn out to be metallic. The call to the lab is bugged and later, say, who's that at the lab's door? Oops. Further phone calls can't be made, soon it's night time again. Nelkin goes missing and a lot of men in black start chasing Atkins around the town. He makes it into the factory, where he discovers what's really going on…

What’s good: All the intelligence that was missing from Halloween II's script is here. There's also the trademark Carpenter "a good magician never explains.." 'skip over the difficult bits'. How did they get the bluestone? "We had a time getting it here! You wouldn't believe how we did it", laughs O'Herlihy. What more do we need to know? As with Prince and They Live, it builds nicely from 'there's something not quite right' to a delicious ending. Keeping the tension going twenty five minutes after the big reveal is a feat in itself.

Dan O'Herlihy. He reckons you can tell how much he enjoyed being in a film by his accent. As with Robocop, he clearly enjoyed this one a lot. Unsurprisingly, he knows how to pronounce Samhain ('Sow-an' – sow as in 'female pig') too – in Halloween II, it sounded like Pleasance was talking about someone called Sam Hain… He's rare in Carpenter films: a threat you can talk to and that's one of the things that makes him so evil. Why do this? "Do I need a reason?"

Dean Cundey's cinematography, once again.

The music, even the SS ad music 🙂 an annoyingly catchy version of 'London Bridge is Falling Down'

What’s not so good: He's likeable and better than in The Fog, but Tom Atkins is a weak point – O'Herlihy is more likeable – and Stacey Nelkin isn't particularly good either. Their relationship is about as credible as the one between Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis in the earlier film too.

The budget shows in some places. The incredibly suspicious discovery found in the lab is the inside of an old fashioned bicycle bell…

One big reason Kneale wanted his name off the credits was the splatter. It's fun, but unnecessary (but that doesn't stop me being annoyed when it's censored, see below!)

Music: Another one of the great scores with Alan Howarth. Uniquely, I think, this one is credited to 'John Carpenter and Alan Howarth', rather than being 'in association with' him. There's an expanded 'complete' CD… which I don't have, but I understand that it's the original release with some never previously released 'bonus' tracks that don't really add very much.

Miscellany: The script is credited to the director, long-time Carpenter friend, Tommy Lee Jones. It's actually very much based on a Nigel Kneale script, but Kneale wasn't happy with what Carpenter did to it and wanted his name off the credits. Writers Guild rules would mean that Carpenter didn't get credit either.

Atkins' ex-wife is Nancy Loomis / Kyle, as seen in Assault, Halloween and Fog, and married to Tommy Lee Jones.

Santa Mira was also the setting for the original (and best) Invasion of the Body Snatchers – "You're next!" 🙂

Overall: This has an incredibly low – 3.8 !?! – rating on IMDB. This tells you more about the people who've voted than the film. They want Michael Myers and The Shape is only to be seen on the extracts of the original shown on TV before the 'big giveaway'. Instead what we have is intelligent SF horror mystery – just like Prince of Darkness and They Live.

If we put this in the main countdown, it’d be well in middle of the second teir at #8 1/2 – just behind Starman, thanks to the relative merits of Jeff Bridges and Tom Atkin's performances.

TL;DR Much better than any other Halloween sequel/remake, assuming you don't want Michael Myers.

Film: 3.5/5
DVD: 1/5 (Sanctuary) 1.5/5 (MIA)

Choice time. The 2002 Sanctuary edition is widescreen (so you miss some of the original 2.35:1 frame) and has good quality picture and sound. It also has a commentary, albeit one by two Brits, Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, talking about what they're seeing. The 2000 MIA edition is 4:3 (after the titles) so lots is missing, and is grainy, but has the bits cut from the initial VHS versions (to get the 15 certificate it had on theatrical release) and the Sanctuary release. (So the MIA one has five bits of 'fingers in eye sockets' in the hospital killing vs the Sanctuary one's two, there's a lot more of the 'misfire death', etc..) Hence the low rating for the DVD – you shouldn't have to make this choice. Neither have subtitles, and I've knocked more off for a fundamental dishonesty from the Sanctuary commentary – there is no way that those two do not know that they're watching a censored version, but when they talk about the censorship of the initial video releases, they talk about a sequence – the decapitation and subsequent blood spray of the drunk – that is in the Sanctuary release. The impression they want to leave is clear: this one is uncensored. It's not – it's lost about a minute compared to the MIA one.

The better looking DVD, the complete but 4:3 version, soundtrack CD, and expanded version CD:

Written by Ian

July 4th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

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