Halloween III: Season of the Witch

3 out of 5

Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace

Man, why anyone thought this would fly as a Halloween movie, I have no idea.  I can normally trace the corporate-think behind botched concepts, but this one is a hard sell: take a smash horror flick that’s gained notoriety behind its lead killer character – Michael Myers – and, after a direct sequel, decide that the “franchise” will now be an “anthology” series, somehow tied to the titular holiday.  So not only was there a hope that fans could switch focus from the face of the series to Halloween itself – which is really just set dressing in the movies – but this was also done after conditioning viewers (with that sequel) to expect that face to appear.  Batshit crazy, and I can only assume borne out of necessity of trying to continue making money when, for intents and purposes up to that point, your money-maker – Myers – has been killed off.  I can’t even think of another anthology movie series, then or now, much less one that changes to that tactic after the fact.

But this is history; the movie made money, but certainly wasn’t well received.  We know by now that it’s not a great Halloween movie.

But as an entertaining piece of B-grade sci-fi / horror?  Yeah, it works.

Director Tommy Lee Wallace makes the movie his own, giving it a distinctly on-the-go visual feel that differs from Carpenter’s original and Rick Rosenthal’s work on II, and clearly believes enough in the distraction factor of his nonsensically kooky script to give it a serious pass and to coerce some good performances from its leads.  The movie strikes just the right balance of self-awareness and commitment to work, and without the Halloween taint hanging over it, could likely have more easily built itself into a late-night cable classic.  The movie isn’t particularly scary at all – and once its ins-and-out are revealed, any hope that a clear “what” and “why” will be addressed are gone – but Wallace has respect for his audience, leaving some connect-the-dots pieces out there, sans hand-holding exposition, and knows to pepper some worthwhile / interesting gore gags here and there to at least make like this is horror, when it’s definitely more sci-fi.

Dr. Dan (Tom Atkins) is working the night shift when a crazed patient that’s been brought in is attacked – massacred, really – by a man in a suit.  Dr. Dan chases suit man to the parking lot, only for the attacker to get in his car, douse himself in gasoline, and then… blow up his own car, I guess?  When the deceased patient turns out to have a hot daughter (Stacey Nelkin), the good doctor agrees to take a road trip with her to track down what led her father to the hospital.  This takes them to a quaint little locale which hosts the Silver Shamrock factory (run by Dan O’Herlihy, giving a fantastically mustache-twiddling performance); the factory happens to be the biggest producer of some particular Halloween masks which are taking the nation by storm, promoted by an oft-repeated, catchy radio / TV jingle.  The masks / factory are a cover for something else, and Dan and daughter suss it out and try to save the day.  Maybe some people explode into insects; maybe there’s a glowing chunk of Stonehenge involved.

The bad guy’s plotting hardly makes any sense, and there’s a clear attempt to turn the town and townsfolk around Silver Shamrock into an oddball city staffed by body snatchees, but there’s sadly not enough time dedicated to this to milk it, leaving some good ideas on the cutting room floor.  Wallace stages an amusingly super low key sneak-around-the-factory sequence – I like this ’cause of how realistic it felt, but it’s definitely not very cinematic – and then tries to hit a final sequence zinger one too many times, really nailing the B-movie schlock vibe.

Carpenter’s / Alan Howarth’s score is a bit of a bummer; it’s definitely not clear to the composers what type of film they’re scoring – horror?  Thriller? – and so the themes aren’t defined all that well.  Which you could say applies to the movie in general… but once you’ve accepted the flick on its terms of semi-serious silliness, and not as a Halloween followup… yeah, you know, it works.