Worth A Look: 12.9%
Pretty Bad: 12.9%
Total Crap: 49.19%
3 reviews, 106 user ratings
|Halloween III: Season of the Witch
by David Hollands
After the phenomenal success of Halloween and its lesser sequel Halloween 2, John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted a severe change of pace for the series. Carpenter envisioned an entire slew of Halloween films that carried the Halloween title, but were in no way connected with one another. Unfortunately, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch did poorly at the box office. Many wrote it off as a badly made film, but the real beef was that there was no Michael Myers present anywhere in the flick. It canned Carpenter’s original idea, and that’s really too bad, as Halloween 3 is a wonderfully entertaining and incredibly spooky little film that has its share of flaws, but manages to surpass them at nearly every turn.A man runs along a deserted Northern California road. He is being chased by blank men wearing suits, who possess an unheard of amount of strength. He manages to escape, and ends up at the hospital where a certain Dr. Dan Challis is stationed. The man is holding in his hand a mask from the Silver Shamrock mask-making company, and he reacts with fear when a commercial from the same company plays on a nearby TV. Once everything is calmed down, and the man is in his own room, another blank man in a suit walks in and kills him. Puzzled to no end, Dr. Dan Challis joins up with the man’s estranged daughter Ellie to try and piece together the puzzle of what’s happening. Their search takes them to the small town of Santa Mira, where they will discover a frightening plot that involves Halloween masks, robots, and a demented toy maker.
"The best of the Halloween series."
Don’t let a plot summary that includes the words robots, Halloween masks, and toy maker scare you off. While this may sound like the most ridiculously conceived movie ever, there is actual movie magic occuring here. Tommy Lee Wallace, long-time friend and assistant director for John Carpenter, wrote the script for this movie. There are outlandish plot turns, and some really strange twists that will keep the viewer constantly alert to what’s happening next. This is a horror picture that requires you to pay constant attention right up to the climax, which is refreshing.
Writer and director Wallace has done a fantastic job here, as his script presents these twists without throwing simple inner logic out the window too many times. Wallace knows that his twists are sometimes quite silly, but he has wisely constructed his script so well, leaving so many questions that the audience definitely wants answered, that we just except basically wherever this script is going without a second look. Even on a repeated viewing, the film holds up extremely well. To demonstrate just how smart this film is, consider a moment in the beginning where a news broadcast reveals that one of the stones from Stone Henge has been stolen. That’s the only time that that news broadcast is seen. When the stolen stone is revealed at the end of the film, Wallace never overly explains it, because he trusts his audience to have already made that connection and deduced why it is where it is. In fact, most of Wallace’s script is filled with subtle throwaway lines that seem to have little to no importance at first, but are soon required knowledge when the conclusion roles around.
Wallace’s film contains a jingle that The Silver Shamrock company broadcasts on numerous stations at Halloween. It is played over and over again throughout the picture. Many think it to be annoying, yet this commercial is perhaps the most brilliant thing in the movie. Because it populates almost every frame of the film, it just has a sense of menace about it, since Wallace wonderfully balances its placements. He never overuses it, and he never under-uses it, always knowing exactly where to place this little gem of a creation to create a frightening effect. The commercial is frightening because we know that there is just something strange about it.
The film switches after a powerhouse opening into what would appear to be a standard investigation film. Wallace understands this, and plots his flick like an investigation film, yet he knows that his subject matter is interesting enough to practically erase the fact that this film is going threw the motions of that standard genre. Even though we’ve seen some of these plot developments before, they just seem original and fresh thanks to Wallace. Even a scene in which the villain talks to our hero and reveals his entire plan seems pretty much okay, because Wallace had already established the main villain as someone who loved a good joke, and who loved to watch pain just to get a good laugh.
One of the greatest things about this flick is how it gets under our skin. Wallace shows a definite sense of how to frighten, and he does so with an extreme amount of panache. One of the plot points in this film is a small chip imbedded in the back of a Silver Shamrock logo stuck to one of their masks. We see what this thing does once it malfunctions, in perhaps one the creepiest moments in the film. A poor woman tries to pry the chip out, and gets a huge ray blast to her mouth that causes her entire face to morph into something hideous. Not only that, but a bug crawls out of her mouth and scampers across her face…all while this woman is still alive. It’s an extremely uncomfortable scene to watch, and it’s even more uncomfortable to sit though when we see the main villain testing out the effects of this chip on an unsuspecting family. He has the child of the family wear one of the masks, and then activates the chip through a giant pumpkin flashing on a television screen. What follows is one of the cruellest scenes in the film, yet also one of the most frightening.
If that weren’t enough, Wallace follows this scene with a montage showing children buying the very same masks, with the same chips attached. He even shows us our hero’s kids, who also have those masks, sitting joyously in front of their televisions. There’s just something about a threat to children that effects most in some way. We don’t want to see these young ones getting killed off, and in such horrible fashion…and Wallace knows this. Sure, it’s manipulative, but it’s also effective. The montage shows children all over the world buying Silver Shamrock masks, and we see the commercial playing full force at that point. The suspense is unbelievable, and along with the wonderfully constructed final act, creates such a sense of dread throughout the rest of the film that we almost want to turn the movie off. But d*mn that slippery Wallace, because he’s made a film so interesting that even though we’re terrified, we just can’t turn it off no matter what.
Also interesting is that although this film seems far away from this next point, there just seems to be that subtle message that television will very literally rot our brains. Wallace shows us a world where almost everyone has a television. We see them in store windows, in hospitals, in peoples' homes, and practically anywhere we venture. In fact, if someone actually did try something like this in the future, the film clearly shows that we wouldn’t be able to escape it based on our dependence on the television. Bless Wallace for not overdoing this aspect. John Carpenter tried the same thing years later with his film They Live!, and it was obvious and bloated. Wallace knows to keep this theme in the background, and he never uses extremely obvious angles or those dumb shots of people simply staring at televisions gock-eyed. No, Wallace hardly ever shows a character watching television, and instead relies on our knowledge that television is a big thing in our society. We know without having to see it that people can get very drone-like when in front of a television.
This gives a sense of hopelessness to the film. We know that this plot is far too big to be stopped, and we know that no matter how hard our hero tries, that he will likely fail. Things just keep getting worse for the hero. Even when it appears that he’s won, Wallace throws us off by introducing another distraction or something that knocks our hero off his trail. Perhaps the most hopeless thing about this film is the conclusion. Wallace obviously doesn’t have much hope for humanity, as he shows that whenever something obstructs a broadcast, that instead of giving up and doing something else, all we’re going to do is simply change the channel. Because the Silver Shamrock commercial runs on three channels, the hopelessness of this film, as well as Wallace's point about our society, is driven home.
Thankfully though, Wallace doesn’t say whether or not the hero wins or looses in the end. Although we can pretty much guessed what happened, Wallace is still wise enough to leave us with that single thread of hope before we turn off the film, so that we can still feel at least a little bit knowledgeable that perhaps the children aren’t doomed after all. To see this in a simple horror film, and a THIRD film in a series at that, is reason to get excited.
Wallace directs this film using a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and he proves that he’s a genius of screen composition. I urge you to watch this flick in its original widescreen format, as the visuals are, without a doubt, incredible. Wallace constantly uses shots which are comprised of a large amount of space. Carpenter did the same with the first Halloween, but Wallace one-ups Carpenter here. You see, in Carpenter’s film, he used the space in the 2.35:1 ratio incorrectly, making it very easy to pinpoint exactly where Michael Myers would show up, thus ruining what could have been perfect scares. Here, Wallace leaves tons of space open, and reveals many times that anything can come from anywhere. Sometimes, he even misdirects us perfectly, making us look one way when the scare comes from a totally different place.
There is some minor gore in Halloween 3, and Wallace shoots it perfectly. This guy, at least with this flick, demonstrates that he’s more interested in what the mind can create rather than what is shown. In an eye-gouging sequence, he relies totally on sound effects and some quick shots revealing the effect. In another such murder where a woman has a drill inserted into her ear, Wallace carefully shoots the scene so that we can only see the drill go down, yet not the actual penetration. For that, Wallace relies on some really icky sound effects, and the effect is marvellous. The coup-de-gras, however, comes in the aforementioned test scene. In an earlier scene, Wallace completely shows the woman’s face after she’s had it vaporised. Here, we don’t need to see much of the boy’s head deforming, because we’ve already seen what a small mishap related to these strange chips can do. Our mind fills in the gaps, and we imagine something that’s just beyond anything a movie can show.
The pacing of the movie is deliberate, yet still amazing. Wallace allows his movie to unfold slowly, trusting us to stay with him based solely on interest in the plot. It is a wise move in this case, as we are totally interested in the going-ons.
I’d be committing a sin if I didn’t mention another aspect that brings this tour-de-force of a film together: Dean Cundey. The guy is a master cinematographer, and he fills every single frame with his beautiful dark lighting. Basically, even the most normal-looking of shots take on an extra sense of menace because of a carefully placed colour here, and a nicely positioned shadow there. In the opening sequence, we see some haunting shots of a man running out from the shadows, followed closely by car headlights which pierce the darkness, almost seeming to materialise from within the darkness itself. Also take into consideration a decapitation scene which is completely bathed in the light from a flashlight. When the blood flows in a brief shot, the effect hits us double-fold because it just looks so jarring.
Then, there’s John Carpenter’s eerie electronic score. The guy is a master of film composition, as his music is so simple, and yet so effective. Here, the music is very electronic and creepy, with notes seeming to fade in and out of themselves. It sounds technological and cold, perfectly reflecting the atmosphere in this film. And no one can score a jump scare quite like Carpenter. There are many times in this film when the action is punctuated by a jump scare. The staging was already brilliant, but the music just helps it become so much more. Carpenter relies on silence right before he hits us, and the effect is startling. What’s even better about these jump scares on the whole is that they seem necessary to the plot. It’s always the menace that creates a jump, not a cat the flies through a window or a door slamming. Aside from one cheap one where a car horn blares, there’s nothing of the sort here, and the film just feels more refreshing because that.
The performances are all quite good. As Dr. Dan Challis, our hero, Tom Atkins is wonderful. He’s an extremely capable performer who brings a natural quality to his work, making it seem like we’re watching a real person rather than an actor going over the top. He never overdoes his lines, instead keeping himself restrained. He hardly ever shouts in this performance, and the film seems more realistic because of it. Plus, there’s also the fact that Challis gradually breaks down throughout the film, finally becoming a wreck by the conclusion. Atkins pulls off this transformation effortlessly, by degrading his sanity ever-so-slightly in each scene as the film goes on.
Beside him is Stacey Nelkin as the heroine of the piece. With a doll-like and extremely beautiful face, she is a great sight to see on screen. Not only that, but she’s also a great personality onscreen, giving her character that slight degree of perkiness that never seems overdone or too theatrical. Plus, she contributes two of the film’s brief moments of nudity, and having an actress who’s talented and possessed of a great body is a huge plus.
Dan O’Herlihy makes for a magnificent main villain. His calm voice and scary face makes for an effectively creepy time, and he thankfully keeps his role very restrained. That way, the power of his words come out more, meaning he becomes even more menacing than had it been another actor in his place.
While the movie is excellent, there are still the odd things that unfortunately keep it from being a completely perfect film.
For one thing, the whole “Stacey Nelkin character is actually a robot” never plays well. It’s a surprising twist, but it just doesn’t hold up. We would assume our villain turned Ellie into a robot at some point while she had been captured, and she would have been a robot when Dan found her and the two escaped. My question is, if she was an evil robot then, why would she simply let Dan destroy the villain’s complex without doing anything? It’s a huge logic lapse that seems clumsy, especially considering that Wallace’s scripting had been so perfect up until that point.
Another major thing that occurs here is the daylight issue. The villain’s plan involves the killing of many children in North America at 9:00pm exactly. It seems that the change in daylight from place to place wasn’t really observed in this film. In fact, during the aforementioned montage, we see daylight slowly disappearing in many places around the world, something that’s just not possible given the shift in daylight hours as well as the shift in time zones. Is the broadcast going to occur at nine everywhere, or will it be nine somewhere and four in another place? The film never really explains that, instead choosing to say that everyone will die at nine o’clock sharp, something that just doesn’t seem possible, and again, just feels pretty clumsy.
****END OF SPOILERS****Despite those little flubs, Halloween 3 remains an excellent, terrifying film. The flaws do destract slightly, yet they don't even come close to completely ruining the film. Tommy Lee Wallace, John Carpenter and company have created the best entry in the Halloween series.
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originally posted: 12/16/03 10:33:15