Welcome back, dear sequel junkies, to Crave Online's The Series Project. This is the second week (of four) devoted to the ten Halloween feature films. Last week, I gave a pseudo-brainy analysis of John Carpenter's 1978 original, often considered by many critics (myself included) to be one of the best horror films of all time. I also mused on Halloween II. This week, I will be taking you through the bonkers “intermission” film Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and the return and revenge of Michael Myers in Halloween 4 and 5.
I've noticed a distinct difference between Michael Myers, the famed serial killer behind nine of the Halloween films, and his contemporary slashers, Freddy Kreuger and Jason Voorhees. Last year, I watched all of the Jason and Freddy movies, and was at total peace with the pop culture rivalry between the two characters. It makes total sense. Both Freddy and Jason, after numerous sequels in their respective franchises, became the main characters of their franchises, and were kind of the heroes. Basic rules of drama dictated that these evil souls be destroyed at the end of each of their films, but watching them crack wise and take pleasure in the deaths of scores of bland, character-free teenagers was where the delight came for slasher audiences. Despite their appellation of “horror,” the Freddy and Jason films were meant to be fun.
I don't quite get that from Michael Myers movies. Myers seems to, with each outing, maintain his original function, which is to be scary. Michael does not speak, and, thanks to his spooky white mask, never seems to change expression. He is eventually given a (kind of dumb) backstory, but for the most part, we accept the theory put forth in the first film: Michael Myers is just, well, evil. He is so determined to extinguish life that he will continue killing, even after his eyeballs have been shot out and he's been set on fire. There is an aloof, terrifying coldness to Michael Myers that even Jason Voorhees didn't have. Jason was a mentally handicapped bully who killed out of revenge. Michael kills because it's just in his nature.
By the fifth film, there is a motive involved, and by the sixth, Michael will be explained to the point of bored disinterest, but for a few films there, he is actually darned scary.
But what am I prattling on about? There's a Michael-free Halloween film staring me in the face, and it ain't pretty. Let's take a look at the bonkers...
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (dir. Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982)
So producer John Carpenter felt that the Michael Myers story had come to a satisfying conclusion, and decided to take the series in a new direction. Which is an ingenious approach; why not have an unending series of Halloween movies that all take place on the holiday, but all follow new characters, new magical conceits, and new scary stuff? How much fun if there was a different Halloween film every year, each time with a new monster, or only occasionally revisiting an old one? Anthology films always contain at least one or two interesting ideas or stories.
I guess this was counterintuitive to the notion of a sequel, though, as fans crave continuity. When a Michael Myers-free movie hit the franchise, just about everyone and their mother cried foul. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was widely panned by just about everyone, and is, to this day, considered an embarrassing aberration in slasher film history. The odd thing: The film is so weird and unique that, in recent years, certain fans have been crawling out of the woodwork, confessing their secret love for this bonkers little flick. It has become something of a cult classic, and a high-octane Blu-ray of it came out last year.
The premise has nothing to do with the well-worn slasher formula at all. It's eight days to Halloween. We're in Los Angeles, and all the kids in the world want one of the three over-the-head masks produced by a company called Silver Shamrock. There's a jack-o-lantern, a witch, and a skullhead. When a man turns up murdered holding a Silver Shamrock mask, our cop hero Daniel (Tom Atkins) and the victim's daughter Ellie (the rather comely Stacey Nelkin) investigate. Their investigation leads them to a small town outside of L.A., where Silver Shamrock headquarters is located.
To skip to the reveal, our heroes find that Silver Shamrock is run by an evil CEO (Dan O'Herlihy) who is actually an ancient Druid king or something, and who has stolen one of the stones of Stonehenge (!) and is using its magical powers to cast curses on his masks. The masks are also equipped with a futuristic microchip that responds to TV signals. On Halloween night, any kids who are wearing the masks and are simultaneously watching the Silver Shamrock TV commercial, will turn into a pile bugs and snakes. The bug and snakes will then bite and eat the kids' parents. This is all done as a sacrifice to the Druid Halloween deity that lives in Stonehenge, or something.
Is it me, or is this the single most baffling and difficult plan EVER to pull off? If you need to sacrifice millions of people, wouldn't stealing a nuclear bomb be easier? If I'm getting the details right, the villain of Halloween III has to a) become a famous mask-maker, b) become a technology pioneer, c) put himself in a position where he can steal a stone from Stonehenge without being seen, d) transport it to California without anyone noticing, e) ensure that his masks are the most famous in the country, f) ensure that kids will buy his masks and also watch a TV broadcast on Halloween night, g) assume that the bugs and snakes will actually bother to kill the parents. Call me crazy, but it seems that he has a rather high margin of error in this process.
Oh yes, and the bad guy also has an army of robot automatons in suits who kill people and sacrifice themselves regularly. The automatons, when gathered together, look an awful lot like a lost '80s New Wave band. Let's say The Specials.
Halloween III is awful. Just awful. It's baffling and off-putting and not scary, and the thought of an evil CEO using TV waves to turn my brains into bugs is something that perhaps only David Cronenberg could make terrifying. Although I can understand why so many people are fond of it. It's so off-the-wall that people can certainly enjoy it as a camp object. Indeed, I kind of want to see it again (this was my maiden voyage), just to prove to myself that what I saw was real. It's bad, but I want to go back. That is the eerie power of Halloween III.
Fans demanded it, and the studio listened. Let's look at the return of Michael Myers in...