Monday, October 27, 2008

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Don't Get Too Close, You'll Ruin Your Eyes

A sequel to the original HALLOWEEN in name only, the underrated HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) was producer/creator John Carpenter's bold attempt to take the series in a new direction. The idea, so the story goes, was to use the HALLOWEEN name to create a horror brand, but one that would have a unique, standalone film attached to it each year. Sort of like an 80s version of MASTERS OF HORROR but on a theatrical scale.

Since the series regrettably reverted back to the yawn-inducing Michael Myers storyline with 1988's HALLOWEEN IV: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS, it'd be easy to write SEASON off as a failure, but I have to admit that it gives the original a run for its money as the most enjoyable film in the series and certainly the most Halloween-centric. Sure, Carpenter's trend-setting, box-office-breaking original is justifiably regarded as a classic of the slasher genre, but I tend to prefer the offbeat and downright weird action-horror of the Tommy Lee Wallace scareathon.

When Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) ends up in his hospital, Doctor Dan Challis (a somewhat miscast Tom Atkins doing a modified version of his trusty cop persona) doesn't think too much of it, despite the old man's paranoid gibberish and the pumpkin mask that he's clutching. Challis begins to suspect something more sinister than senility is at work when Grimbridge's head is caved in and the prime suspect sets himself on fire in the hospital's parking lot.

Pretty soon Challis and the dead man's daughter Ellie (permed, perky-breasted Stacey Nelkin, the real-life inspiration for Mariel Hemingway's character in Woody Allen's MANHATTAN!) are sniffing around the town where the Silver Shamrock mask the old man was clutching originated. Convinced that the novelty factory, its wisened old proprietor Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) and his army of robotic, young Republican goons are up to no good, the pair unconvincingly pose as the "Smiths" (nice!) and shack up at the local motel. Where Callis repeatedly gets into Ellie's pants, though he only inquires about her age after he's banged her.

It isn't long before Challis and Ellie stumble onto the madman's sinister plot to murder millions on Halloween, marking a chilling return to the sacrifices that fueled the holiday's origins thousands of years ago.

While I love HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH dearly, that doesn't mean I'm blind to its faults. The flick is full of gaping plot holes and the script by the director (who hasn't stepped behind the camera since the atrocious VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS) feels slightly underdeveloped. Minor quibbles aside, miscast Tom Atkins is better than no Tom Atkins and O'Herlihy brings a giddiness to his evil plan that more movie villains should take their cues from. Even when he's doing the obligatory "Show the Hero the Inner Workings of the Nefarious Plot" it's done with style.

Made for an estimated $2.5 million, SEASON would go on to gross a respectable $13 million at the box office, though that figure pales in comparison to the estimated $60 million Carpenter's original grossed on a far more modest budget. The film's "failure" robbed us of future installments of the series but at least I'll always have the flick's sinister commercial ditty to remind me of happier times.

"Four more days till Halloween, Halloween, four more days till Halloween, Silver Shamrock!"


jplombon said...

I'm extremely happy to see you give some credit to HALLOWEEN III after just finding it listed on Yahoo's front page as one of the least-scary horror films ever. I haven't seen the film in years, but as a child, I was able to immerse myself in the story. It never bothered me that it didn't follow the plot of the first two films.

Their choices for the top horror films are cringe-inducing. Many are worthy, but how any list of the top horror films could be sans CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is beyond me.

Dan said...

Thanks for the comment. I'm a big fan of the flick (obviously) and it's funny how many people I chat with on boards and off who like the flick. I don't think it deserves the turkey reputation... I've seen FAR worse!

I'm guessing 90% of the people out there writing these lists for mainstream sites and pubs have never even *seen* CANNIBAL HOLOCUAST!