(Original post date: 10/6/17)
Oh, man. Where do I begin with this one?
Unlike many of the other stories I’ve recited here, this one is no masterpiece—nor am I going to try to fool anyone into believing otherwise. Inane characters and campy acting aside, the plot of this film, despite making an attempt at the seriousness that the horror genre demands, is utterly absurd even by 1980’s standards. Having said that, however, much like what I talked about regarding Twice Upon a Time, it was this film’s production history that attracted my attention, as well as its story line, which is still interesting despite its illogical silliness. More specifically, it was that in relation to the immortal horror franchise of which it is technically a part. It is the third film, in fact, though there have been many viewers both then and now who firmly wish that this was not so. But I especially wanted to talk about this movie because of what the creators had intended. Even though those intentions failed miserably along with the movie, I give them kudos for wanting, among other things, to create something new rather than simply rehash what fans wanted.
Despite failing to stay in the good graces with his ex-wife and their children—and lighten up on the drinking—Dan Challis’ life and work as a doctor in a local hospital is more or less decent until one night, a week before Halloween. A new patient is brought into his care: an elderly man, hysterical and barely coherent. Before blacking out, the man leaves Challis with an ominous warning: “They’re going to kill us. All of us.” Just hours later, a man in a business suit walks into the hospital and assassinates the patient before committing apparent suicide himself. Deeply disturbed and guilt-ridden that such a crime occurred on his watch, Challis teams up with the patient’s daughter, Ellie, who is determined to solve the mystery behind her father’s murder. Their investigation leads them to the tiny town of Santa Mira. There, they meet the generous and jovial Conal Cochran, head of Silver Shamrock, a toy/novelty company famous for its Halloween masks, which have become immensely popular among children all over America. Challis is quick to learn, however, that behind his grandfatherly façade Mr. Cochran has sinister plans in store for those wearing his masks on Halloween night, and Challis must race against time to stop him before death reigns down on the entire populace.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not a fan of slasher flicks. And I do admit: except for some bits of #4 and #5, this is the only film of the franchise that I’ve actually seen. While I don’t deny the “psycho serial killer” concept is frightening, I don’t consider that alone a sufficient enough basis for a story. I also don’t religiously follow the word of professional critics. For instance, I will readily admit that I enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water in spite of the scathing negativity it still gets even today. Yes, I can see how many of the creation choices for it were indeed a mix of dumb, confusing, badly-executed, and infamously egotistical on the director’s part. But I did find the protagonist likable, the creatures creative, the make-up and effects solid, and soundtrack phenomenal. But most importantly, I liked its intended message and the sincerity with which its creators tried to convey it. This is the feeling I have regarding Halloween III.
Believe it or not, John Carpenter and Debra Hill, the writers for the first two Halloween films, didn’t want to be involved with a third unless Michael Myers was absent from it, as his story should have been officially concluded at the end of Halloween II. Their idea for the franchise moving forward was to make it an anthology series similar to shows like The Twilight Zone; each film—released every Halloween—would feature a different plot but always revolve around the titular holiday. This was the first—and ultimately the only—such film to ever be made, being both a critical and financial flop. Aside from the usual complaints (plot, acting, etc.), the biggest problem according to the fans was, ironically, the absence of Michael Myers. In fact, Halloween III treats its predecessors as though they themselves are works of fiction, as bits from those films are shown on T.V. throughout. Though, it is peppered with some fun little cameos and easter eggs for the fans, one of my favorites being this: that female voice behind the unseen phone operator and curfew announcer? None other than Jamie Lee Curtis, the original Halloween heroine herself.
The fact that many people didn’t like this just because there is no Michael Myers, and the subsequent—and forced—continuation of his story in Halloween IV and beyond, feels especially tragic to me as it severely limited potential for creativity in this franchise. I mean, say what you will about Halloween III, but at least IT WAS ORIGINAL!!! Unfortunately, that did it no favors. The ideas used, though not terrible, do seem random at best. But combined, they feel almost slapped together, for lack of a better description. Consider these:
COCHRAN: Bless you. (To Challis.) Convincing, aren’t they. Loyal and obedient, unlike most human beings.
The successful theft of a pillar of Stonehenge (yeah, the Stonehenge):
BRITISH T.V. REPORTER: . . . leaving British authorities still baffled, and without any substantial clues nine months after the theft. [. . .] It weighs more than five tons, making its disappearance a mystery indeed.
And a CEO who may or may not be a witch who plans to revive the Samhain tradition by sacrificing children via killer Halloween masks.
Yeah, I got nothing either.
On the plus side, though, it’s been re-watched and re-evaluated over time and many viewers and critics have since begun not only to appreciate its emerging cult status, but to dig deeper into the surprising intelligence very few people believed it had.
The way each character views the titular holiday offers audiences some provocative commentary on the state of Corporate American culture. (I bet many of you adults out there see Halloween as just another excuse for candy companies to make a quick buck, right?) Challis is your typical drinking, smoking, sports-loving guy, only indulging in the holiday for his children but otherwise finding it about as fun and relaxing as babysitting a room full of sugar-high monkeys.
CHALLIS: (Drinking at a bar; watching a silly Halloween cartoon on the T.V. behind the counter.) Hey, Charlie. Can we have another station?
CHARLIE: You got it. (Switches channels.)
T.V. ANNOUNCER: (Over the title for the original Halloween film.) The immortal classic. Followed by the big giveaway at nine. Brought to you by . . .
(The Silver Shamrock commercial comes on; the jingle starts playing.)
SINGERS: Two more days ‘till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween . . .
CHALLIS: (Irritably.) Come on, come on, come on!
CHARLIE: (Smiling as he switches the T.V. to a baseball game.) What’s the matter? Don’t you have any Halloween spirit?
CHALLIS: (Flatly.) No!
Ellie laments how her father, who loved children, saw his small but beloved toy shop fail due to the construction a new mall.
ELLIE: (Wistfully to Challis, as they walk through her late father’s store.) Papa really loved this place. But business was getting bad. I suppose you shopped at the new mall like everybody else, huh? The kids were keeping him going. They’d come in after school, he’d let them play with the stuff right in the aisles like I used to when I was little.
Marge Guttman is a disgruntled client, seemingly preferring local mom and pop shops over large corporations, as she believes the latter’s success comes at the expense of one-on-one conversation and decent customer service.
MARGE: (To Ellie.) Uh, you picking up an order?
MARGE: Are you picking up an order at the factory?
ELLIE: (Comprehension dawning.) Oh . . . Yeah!
MARGE: Ah, I figured. There’s no other reason to be in this god-forsaken place. (Sighs.) All I can say is, good luck to both of us. They may make great masks but ever since they started doing big volume business, the little guy has to stand in line, you know what I mean?
ELLIE: (Nodding.) Hmm . . .
MARGE: I gave up ordering by mail, but I hate trying to deal with them in person. (Laughs.) You can’t win.
And the Kupfers, while not evil, paint an unflattering, though not totally inaccurate, portrait of the American middle-class family: Buddy is an over-enthusiastic salesman, naively fawning over the ever-charismatic Cochran for his success; Betty is a pampered, nagging wife, seemingly baffled by the idea of masks being so profitable; and their son, Little Buddy, epitomizes the modern-day greedy, obnoxious brat. (By the way, ‘Buddy’, ‘Betty’, and ‘Little Buddy’? Seriously?)
- (To Rafferty.) Oh, that’s great. (Yelling at Betty from a distance.) HEY HONEY, IT’S A FREEBEE!
- (To Challis, grinning, over applause to Cochran.) Is he incredible or what?
- (Scolding BUDDY in their RV.) Watch your driving, honey, you could have killed that man!
- (To Ellie about Cochran.) Do you know he’s one of the richest men in the country? And he got that way selling cheap gags and Halloween masks. (Wistfully, with her hands clasped together.) Oh, god, there’s hope for us yet.
- (Angrily over his fallen bike.) Is it busted?
- (Seeing the masks inside the factory.) Oh! I want a mask! Can I have a mask?
- (Whining.) I have to go to the bathroom!
But the best illustration of this trend—and what many remember most about this film—is that relentless “Silver Shamrock” jingle. And boy, do I mean relentless. Not only is it annoyingly catchy, with its “London Bridge” tune, repetitive lyrics, and carnival aesthetic, but the song is played no less than fourteen times over the course of the movie. Fourteen times.
Happy Happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween.
Happy, happy Halloween, Silver Shamrock!
Happy Happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween.
Happy, happy Halloween, Silver Shamrock!
And if the idea of this hypnotizing children into screaming for televised, mass-produced merchandise wasn’t unsettling enough, just wait until you hear it during a highly graphic death scene—and of a child no less. Speed up the tempo just a bit, slowly raise the pitch half a step, and BOOM: a whole new meaning to the term, “brainworm.”
And all this under the watchful eye of Cochran and his emotionless minions, with their security cameras all over the town and the T.V. monitors inside their fortress-like factory, in a manner reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Here is a frighteningly direct metaphor for large companies manipulating and “owning” consumers with a face just as deceptive as the masks they sell.
Now, everyone is more than welcome to take everything I say with a grain of salt. Maybe the later Halloween films with Myers are better made then this entry, and maybe I’m just grasping at straws as I list this movie’s supposed good points. Regardless, though, I’d like to leave listeners with this thought. Just as studio intervention can spell death for a movie, fan intervention can be just as bad if not worse. Halloween III is a sad example of how it might have been better to leave the creators alone and let them pursue their own ideas, rather than let their art be dictated by what fans said they wanted. As painful as it is to say, it’s entirely possible for the latter to yield results more frightening then one expects—and not in a good way.
Credits: All images, audio, and links belong to their respective owners; no copyright infringement is intended.
Music by Briand Morrison and Roxann Berglund:
“OCT Main Theme”
“OCT End Credits”
All other music and sound clips are from Halloween III: Season of the Witch (produced by Dino De Laurentiis Corporation and Debra Hill Productions; distributed by Universal Pictures).
Watch the original preview and episode videos here!
Listen to the episode here!
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Wikipedia
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Fandom
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on IMDb
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Rotten Tomatoes
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on metacritic
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on tvtropes
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Bloody Disgusting
Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Nerdist
Robert Ebert's review of Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Buy Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Shout! Factory
Buy Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Amazon
Buy Halloween III: Season of the Witch at Barnes & Noble
Buy Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Ebay
Halloween III: Season of the Witch novelization on Goodreads
^^ Back to the Top
^^ Back to the Blog