For the second year in a row, I get to write about a Halloween favorite of mine for…November 1st. Sometimes, the year of the month scheduling just throws you a curveball. Last year was Batman: The Long Halloween. This year, it’s one of my favorite horror-movie oddities, the weird non-Michael-Myers Halloween III: The Season of the Witch.
I feel everyone knows this party, so we’ll skim. Back when John Carpenter and Debra Hill were making the first Halloween, they conceived it so the movies might go on as an anthology series, where Michael would go by the wayside and they would get to make a bunch of different scary tales. Halloween becomes a massive independent success they get roped into making the terrible Halloween II and use that as their leverage to make III, which then doesn’t do especially well, at which point Carpenter and Hill are done with the series for the moment and leave it to lesser hands to return to schlocky nonsense about Michael Meyers and his soon-to-become convoluted mythology (while it never became as insane as the Jason and Freddy stories, there is some weird nonsense later on and even in II, what with the silly idea that Laurie Strode is Michael’s sister). But the question is: is Halloween III, the first one not directed by John Carpenter, actually any good?
Let’s back up. I was nine when this was in theaters, so let’s say eleven when it started to hit cable back in the mid-’80s, at which point I have to consider the Goonies Rule and see if my affection for this is because of childhood nostalgia or if it’s actually good. And being objective, there are things I like in this while at the same time there’s stuff in here that is simply deeply stupid, but in an entertaining way.
Your basic story is of Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), playing a local doctor (who the great Paul F. Tompkins described as looking like he played a year for the Colts, blew out his knee and went to medical school instead), divorced with a couple of kids, who has a patient killed in his bed, sees the murderer commit suicide by immolating himself in his car, and gets dragged into investigating the mystery (such as it is) by the daughter of the murdered patient. They investigate her father’s toy shop, find he was looking into the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask company, go for a visit, get suspicious and poke around, have sex, get captured and then literally the owner of the company (played by the great Dan O’Herlihy) tells Challis about his plan to perform a great sacrifice of children involving the masks and chips of a piece of Stonehenge he’s stolen. Challis escapes, mostly stops the plan, end of movie.
But Joseph, you say, how did Challis find out any of this? That’s the entertainingly stupid part of this movie: he doesn’t find out a damn thing. He pretty much literally stumbles from place to place, tossing down shots and smoking cigarettes, having sex with the doctor’s daughter (who has so little personality and/or agency that I had to look up her name, Ellie) and then being spoonfed the plot by people he runs into. It’s frankly a little amazing at how bad of an investigator he is. (There’s also the question of why the hell he’s investigating this at all, what with just having been the attending doctor on call when Ellie’s father came in; they barely make any motions at contact proper authorities.)
I want to talk about this sex scene for a second. Challis and Ellie are posing as a married couple in this company town where it all revolves around Silver Shamrock, staying at a local motel. They’ve known each other, liberally, for about 48 hours. Suddenly, Ellie is wearing lingerie and completely making the movies on Challis in this sleazy hotel room like he’s God’s gift to women. If I was trying to be all extra-textual I’d wonder if this was an indication that she’s not who she says she is, but no, it’s just 1982 and the movie needs a sex scene for literally no reason. It’s bizarre, a little uncomfortable and really goes on way too long. This is the kind of goofy, kind of stupid stuff that happens in this movie as Challis stumbles from plot point to plot point.
Honestly, this is why I like this mess of a movie. Granted, another part is that it’s a very tight 93 minutes, but the main part is that it’s just so damn stupid at times. Dan O’Herlihy is his usual magnificent self as the villain, but his plan is deeply dumb and Tom Atkins is his usual gravelly fun self, looking in this like he smells of Marlboros, Old Milwaukee and sadness, but they just can’t overcome that this is one of the goofier of the ‘80s slasher entries. Sure, there’s a legitimately disturbing scene where you see what those masks can do to children, the ending has a weird bit of ambiguity that I like, but this movie is a mess and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I do want to give the movie credit: after two quite successful entries with Michael Meyers, it takes guts to swing for the fences and try for something new. It didn’t work out, but I like an attempt like that. More horror franchises could stand to shake things up a bit.
OK, fine — the song. It’s a total earworm and the one part of the movie that’s really effective as it counts down to Halloween. I just didn’t want to inflict it on you until now.
364 days to Halloween, Halloween
364 days to Halloween, Silver Shamrock!