Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

I have a confession to make, and I don't think when I reveal it, I will be the only one who shares this feeling.

I freaking love Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

For some, that's heresy.  "A Halloween movie without Michael Myers?!?  No, sir!  I will not have it!"  Well, the truth is, the original movie, a masterpiece that excelled beyond most people's expectations, was never meant to have an entire franchise centering around lead antagonist Michael Myers.  Really, John Carpenter only wanted to tell his own version of the boogey man.  He and producer Debra Hill did conceive a sequel that would continue the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), but when approached by Universal Studios for a third installment, Carpenter said he'd only agree to it if it was not connected to the first two films at all.

The idea was to start a series of movies centered around the holiday of Halloween and create an anthology series where each year a different story of ghouls and goblins and what have you would be featured.  Think of it like a big screen version of The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery.  Universal, hungry to milk that Halloween title for all that they could, agreed.

After this third film in the series failed commercially, Universal made no more Halloween films.

But is it bad?  Well, it depends on who you ask.  It's pretty well mixed.  Some people think this movie is grotesque for its targeting of children.  Most of the people who are targeted, hunted, stalked, and killed are adults (with one major exception I'll talk about when we get to it), but the entire plan was to pretty much wipe out a generation of young children.  Some think the movie is interesting and stylistically engaging.  Some cannot get past this movie possessing the Halloween title and not including Michael Myers as the big bad.

Me?  I grew up with this movie.  When it came out, I was five years old.  It played relentlessly on TV and I watched it often.  I loved the mood and general creepy atmosphere created by several of the shots and sequences.  To me, this is the finest of the Halloween sequels and not simply because I want to applaud the attempt to make sequels in this series without Michael Myers, but because I truly believe it is a movie worth praise.

So what's our plot?  From the back of the Scream Factory Blu-Ray release: "When a terrified toy salesman is mysteriously attacked and brought to the hospital, babbling and clutching the year's most popular Halloween costume, an eerie pumpkin mask, doctor Daniel Challis is thrust into a terrifying Halloween nightmare. Working with the salesman's daughter, Ellie, Daniel traces the mask to the Silver Shamrock Novelties company and its founder, Conal Cochran. Ellie and Daniel uncover Cochran's shocking Halloween plan and must stop him before trick-or-treaters across the country never come home in this terrifying thriller."

Let's crack this thriller open and see what it's all about!

The movie opens with an eerie synthesizer score that is very John Carpenter as a computer screen creates a flashing Jack O'Lantern image.  I was always reminded of Blade Runner by the opening even though it has more of the hallmarks of Carpenter and the Halloween movies than anything.  I guess it's the 1982 of it all.  The story then moves to a dark night in Northern California a little more than a week before Halloween.  October 23rd to be exact (literally the day after the movie was released in real life in the theaters).  A man is running for his life from a group of sharp dressed men.  The scared man hides in a junkyard.  He gets found by one of the men and is choked until he pulls a car off its jack to crush his attacker.  An hour later, the running man arrives at a gas station where the owner is watching a news report about the theft of one of the giant stones of Stonehenge.  When he finds the scared man, he takes him to the closest hospital.

The man is checked over by Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins).  When the man is unnerved by a Silver Shamrock Halloween Mask commercial, he tells Challis that "they're going to kill us all" before given a sedative to make him go to sleep.  Once stabilized, one of the well dressed guys on the chase from the beginning goes into the man's hospital room and kills him by sticking his fingers in the guy's eye sockets and crushing his skull and brain.  A nurse finds the attacker who calmly walks outside, douses himself with gasoline and lights himself on fire causing his car to explode.

Challis, understandably curious about everything that has happened, starts looking for answers.  As he helps the cops and firemen figure out what went down he takes some interest in the pumpkin mask the murdered man was clutching when brought into the hospital and when killed.  He takes note of the Silver Shamrock tag.  Later, the murdered man's daughter, Ellie, arrives to identify her father.

A few days later, Challis asks the assistant coroner to help him find out more about who the guy was that killed his patient.  A couple more days pass and Ellie tracks Challis down at the bar.  He's still pretty upset over the murder.  He tells her about the "they're going to kill us all" comment and that it couldn't have been a coincidence that he ended up dead just a little while later.  Ellie takes Challis to her father's small toy store and shows him the calendar he kept.  She says that earlier in the week, he attended the things that were on the calendar until the 21st, the day after he was to pick up more masks from Silver Shamrock.

Challis and Ellie go to Santa Mira where the Silver Shamrock factory is.  As they enter town, they are watched by the townsfolk.  Challis explains that Santa Mira was a small town that was built up around a dairy farm, but then eventually was bought up by an Irish businessman, Conal Cochran, and the dairy farm was converted into a toy factory.  After a while, Silver Shamrock became the largest maker of Halloween masks in the world.  Pretty much everyone living in the town is associated with Silver Shamrock in some way which is why Ellie and Challis are so closely watched wherever they go.  They get a room at the local motel.

Daaaaaamn, Ellie.  You kinda have a strange way of mourning
the death of your dad.
Others arrive shortly after.  The first people to arrive are the Kupfers who are getting a special tour of the factory.  Next, Marge Guttman, who knew Ellie's father, arrives irritated at Silver Shamrock for some sort of mix up with orders and general customer service.  That night, before Challis goes back to the room to get some action off Ellie, he meets the town drunk who has no love of Cochran or Silver Shamrock.  He tells Challis that he plans to burn down the factory rid the town of the guy who ran Santa Mira into the ground.  Challis moves on, and the drunk gets a visit from a couple of the sharp dressed men who go around killing people and gets his head pulled off.  As a side note, the man who pulled the drunk's head off his shoulders was Dick Warlock who played Michael Myers in Halloween II.

Back at the motel, Ellie learns from Marge that Silver Shamrock has become very difficult lately to deal with and that, ever since they went to big volume in sales, smaller stores have suffered trying to get good service from them.  Not only that, but the quality seems to have dipped with the trademark Silver Shamrock tag easily becomes detached from her son's mask without much effort.  Challis calls his coroner friend who explains that whoever got her the ashes from the car of the person who killed Challis' patient made a massive mistake because all she got was bits of metal and springs and whatnot.

Challis returns to his motel room to find Ellie ready to go for some hot, hot gross motel sex.  Time jump to a little later, and Ellie and Challis are snuggling.  Next door, Marge finds her Silver Shamrock tag on the floor of her room and notices there's something weird about the back of it.  She picks it up and pokes at what appears to be a microchip with a bobby pin.  A laser shoots out of it and hits her in the face tearing it open and making a bug crawl out of it.

I'm not gonna lie...  This has always had an effect on me when I was a kid.  It's such a sudden flash of fright and a pretty gory moment.  Now, as an adult, it affects me negatively because I was just watching some sexy action with Ellie and now I have to watch a bug crawl out of Marge's fucking face.

Challis is a little more than suspicious when Cochran is the one who takes charge of Marge because why would a toy factory be the best place to take an injured person in need of care?  The next morning, Challis calls his coroner friend and she says she can't find any human remains.  He also asks her to find out all she can about Cochran.  He doesn't realize that his call has been recorded which leads to one of the killers in the suits to pay a visit to the coroner just as she discovers that something is very strange about the remains she has.

At the Silver Shamrock factory, Ellie does find out that her father was there, he picked up an order, but there is no other information about what happened after he left.  Challis and Ellie get into a tour with the Kupfers and they see all sorts of Cochran inventions that all seem mechanized in some way.  When Cochran mentions that the masks go through a "final processing", Challis makes note of a door that Cochran doesn't want anyone to go through.  Challis also notes the men standing around who look like the guys who killed Ellie's father.  When a door opens, she sees her father's car but is blocked by the men in suits.  They decide to leave that night.  Challis goes to call the police in the motel office, but can't get the call to go out.  Ellie is also taken by some of Cochran's men.  When they try to take Challis, he gets away and goes to the factory.

Inside, Challis is attacked by one of Cochran's men who seems to be unaffected by some solid punches tot he face.  When Challis starts to work the body, he punches through the stomach and discovers that all the men in suits are robots full of wires and yellow goo.  He's captured by Cochran and a couple more men in suits.  Cochran shows Challis the piece of Stonehenge they have in a large room also full of computers and TV screens and masks.  There are some robots chipping away at the stone.  Apparently, the stones carry some sort of power that is ancient and useful for magical purposes.  Ellie is shown on a monitor in a room strapped to a table.  In another room, he shows Marge under a sheet and explains he didn't kill her directly, but she was just an unfortunate victim of a misfire.  He says Challis needs to see a demonstration.

On one of the screens, they show the Kupfers in a room that looks like a living room where they play the Silver Shamrock commercial.  This is probably one of the most famous scenes in all the Halloween movies.  After some of the iconic moments of the first movie, I honestly can't think of anything more memorable in any of the sequels.  It is also the scene that people will debate the most about in terms of the cruelty of this movie's scenes and plot.


So, yeah, they melt a kid's fucking head.  Oh and it then turns into snakes and bugs that then kills the parents.  That leads to the main plan of Cochran.  He's a warlock who once took part in a giant Samhain ritual that killed all the children of a village.  Basically, they are playing a prank on children for Halloween since that is the spirit of the holiday anyway.

Yes, the movie is about the mass murder of children.  By Irish druid capitalists.  All over the country, Silver Shamrock masks are flying off the shelves and kids flood the streets trick or treating - including Challis' kids which was revealed at the beginning of the movie that they also have those masks.  They are all being instructed to hurry home by Silver Shamrock vans to watch "the big giveaway" in their masks after the big television premiere of John Carpenter's Halloween.  The trap will be sprung and the kids will be murdered by their own masks.

What's most interesting is the supposition that there is this big giveaway that all the kids should watch, but in no way does it seem to explain how you find out if you won.  I guess there was some sort of thing that got mailed in by the parents, but there was no mention of that and why would all the kids watch that when some may not have sent in the entry?  No, I think this is meant to be commentary on consumerism.  There has been lines sprinkled throughout the movie about how malls and mass distribution has been killing small businesses, and how masks purchased at the mall were shit compared to the Silver Shamrock masks bought at local stores.  So I think that the idea that kids want these masks, they want to win the "big giveaway" (which is a total joke itself because when kids' heads turn into snakes and bugs, Silver Shamrock's plan would then be "given away"), and parents are just pumping money into the scheme to spoil these brats.  It's the 80s, man...  Capitalism was king!

Cochran puts one of the masks on Challis and ties him up in a room with a TV playing so that when the big giveaway starts, he'll be killed.  Cochran gets a call from somebody in the know with the networks and is told how big his commercial will probably go over.  One of Cochran's robots notices that Challis has covered up the camera watching him with his mask and that he's probably free, but because Cochran made them so obedient (something he was very proud to tell Challis earlier), when he tells the robot to hold on until his call is finished, the robot actually does so and they don't learn that Challis has escaped until it's way too late.  That's... a fucking brilliant little moment in this movie.

Challis finds Ellie and frees her.  They try to escape from the factory but are pursued by Cochran's robots.  They are eventually led deeper into the factory where they end up in the big control room with the rock from Stonehenge and a bunch of tags and controls for the big giveaway.  Challis hits a couple buttons on a computer control panel, goes up to the catwalk and dumps a bunch of the tags over the control room which laser fucks all the bad guys except Cochran.  He applauds Challis and gets hit with a big beam of energy from the Stonehenge rock and disappears.

That's not the end of the big plan though.  Cochran may have been defeated as a person, and a lot of his minions have been destroyed, but there are still like a billion masks out there that are all about to get activated by the commercial.  Challis and Ellie escape Santa Mira, but Ellie is suspiciously quiet and a little vacant in the eyes.  When asked if she's okay, she attacks Challis and reveals she's been replaced by a robot programmed by Cochran.  Challis defeats the Ellie bot and makes his way to the same gas station her father went to at the beginning and calls all the TV stations to try to shut down the commercial.  Two trick or treaters come into the gas station to watch the commercial.  He eventually gets two of the three stations to shut down the broadcast but the third doesn't go off.  The movie ends with Challis begging for the cancellation of the final station's broadcast.

Things do not end on a happy note.  Granted, maybe the plan didn't go off quite as Cochran would have wanted because only one channel ended up showing the commercial, and maybe not as many kids would have watched the commercial anyway, but still lots of people still likely died.  Challis' kids and ex-wife probably died too even though he legitimately tried to prevent it from happening to them by calling them from the warehouse.  He also lost his girlfriend and his silver medal girlfriend at the morgue who got her face drilled off by a robot.

The movie usually gets criticized for two reasons..  First, what I already mentioned about the plot being a plan that is pretty unflinchingly cruel to children.  There aren't too many movies that specifically target children to be unwitting victims.  Teenagers, sure, but not little kids.

Another big criticism leveled on this movie is that the plan is deeply flawed to begin with.  Cochran's plan is not limited to a city or a town in California, but is meant to affect the entire country.  Well, the United States spans four time zones.  It's not like England or something like that where the whole country is nestled into one time where everyone is living at the exact same time on the clock.  So as the plan is unveiled in New York, California would still have three hours to stop the plan and other population centers in between would have at least one hour to put a stop into place.  So, yeah, logistically, Cochran's plan fails.  The movie kind of ignores that and if you place your mind into the idea that this is supposed to be relatively cheap in the thrills department, and that it is following the more shallow entertainment route of an anthology TV show, then you can kind of ignore it.  Though, I'm sure another pass through on the script may have limited the plan to just have an effect on a smaller portion of the country instead of being a giant country spanning plot to kill all the children.

Aww... Ellie.  Even if you are missing an arm, kind of
in a "kill all humans" place in your life, and have that
yellow goo pouring from our mouth, I still think you're
pretty.
Lastly, even in horror movies, people tend to like there to be something of a relief at the end or go all the way with a happy ending of some sort.  This has none of that.  Challis gets wrapped up in this whole plan because he is helping Ellie.  Ellie was wronged from the beginning because her father is murdered.  Challis is kind of bothered by the fact that her dad was murdered, but exactly how far he would go to solve the murder is drastically effected by how much he wants to fuck Ellie.  So his altruism is in question here.  Yeah, she fucks him pretty good, but for the most part, she seems to be our survivor girl and the thrust of the entire journey to stop Cochran.

Nope, she gets killed off screen and turned into a robot.

It's not so much that she was killed off screen because it's a good Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of twist reveal, but she's really an innocent.  Challis probably should have sacrificed himself for her to live, but he didn't.  Speaking of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this movie takes a lot of inspiration from that classic.  Santa Mira is the town from the original version of Body Snatchers.  The end is a pretty much the same tone and feel as well.  So there's that for people who like to find connections to other movies.

As for other unfortunate scenarios created by the downer ending, Marge also explained that she had a young son, and she gets killed.  That poor kid lost his mom.  The Kupfers, for all the flaws the mom and son had, were wiped out too.  I could probably make the argument that this is a bit more realistic that there is collateral damage all over the place because of how evil our villain is, but whatever.

I just think this movie is well made despite its flaws.  It's a good thriller that doesn't rely on as much gore or necessarily any cheap jump scares, but delivers some memorable moments.  With the music stings and some of the lines said and the use of Tom Atkins, this might be the most John Carpenter movie ever made and he only really produced it and provided some of the score.

Knowing how bad some of the Michael Myers sequels were, I kinda wish the sequels were these different stories that spanned ideas from thrillers to horror to science fiction and didn't rely heavily on a slasher villain.

Oh well...  That does it for our Halloween celebration featuring 1980s horror - both good and bad (I'm looking at you Nightmare on Elm Street 5, you fucking turd).  We're getting even closer to the 100th B-Movie Enema article.  And what better way to kick off the final month before I take a small hiatus than look at the very first time Hulk and Thor teamed up in a live action (TV) movie since they are sharing the screen in the big budget Thor: Ragnarok extravaganza!  Come back next week as I take a look at The Incredible Hulk Returns as I kick off Marvel Month!

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