Halloween III: Season of the Witch

(Reviewed in 2002.)

According to our friend the Internet, “Halloween” impresario John Carpenter wanted to further the franchise after Part II but couldn’t figure out a way to do it. So the plan was to release a new Halloween-themed film each October, unrelated to each other except that they dealt with the Halloween holiday itself.

This lasted exactly one year. “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” was released in 1982 and went on to make about seven dollars before being consigned to the late-night HBO pile, which is the only way anyone I know had ever seen it, until I rented the DVD.

The way I figure it, Carpenter and Co. made two mistakes. First, if you don’t want people to think it’s a continuation of the story and characters in “Halloween” and “Halloween II,” don’t call it “Halloween III.” I’m surprised this would even need to be pointed out.

Second, don’t call it “Season of the Witch” if there are no witches in it. Again, this seems obvious.

So we’ve found two major flaws, and that’s just in the title. Once the movie actually begins, it only gets worse.

Things begin promisingly enough: An old man clutching a Halloween mask is pursued by men in suits who look like Mormon missionaries but who are actually robots. (Insert automaton-Mormon joke here.) The old man smashes one of the guys with a car and gets away, then winds up in a hospital where his cries of “They’re going to kill us all!” fall on characteristically deaf ears and he is knocked out with thorazine. Then, the missionary he didn’t kill shows up and gouges out his eyes and crushes his skull, all with his bare hands. Immediately after his kill, the assassin sets himself on fire. As far as I’m concerned, the movie can end there.

Meanwhile, we have met the on-call doctor (and apparently the only doctor in the entire hospital), a beefy, mustached fellow named Dan Challis (Tom Atkins). He’s a drinker with a domineering ex-wife who is the closest the movie comes to an actual witch. He also has two kids whose names I don’t know and don’t want to know.

He’s pretty disturbed at how the old guy said everyone was going to be killed and then he got killed, so he teams up with the old man’s Flashdance-looking daughter Ellie (Stacy Nelkin) — a good 20 years his junior — to have sex and find the killer. They have no prowess in either activity.

The trail leads them to the town of Santa Mira (“Saint Look,” in Spanish), home to the Silver Shamrock novelty company. Old dead dad ran a small novelty shop, and he had purchased products from Silver Shamrock just days before his death.

Santa Mira is a company town, complete with 6 p.m. curfew and Bates Motel-ish lodgings. (There is a scene extremely reminiscent of “Psycho” that is either a rip-off or an homage, it’s hard to tell which. We’ll go with rip-off, since we’re in a bad mood.) The man who owns the town and the company is kindly old Conal Cochran (once-respected British actor Dan O’Herlihy), who surely would not harm anyone and who therefore must be actually be as evil as the day is long.

For reasons the movie refuses to explain no matter how politely you ask, Cochran plans to use his very popular Halloween masks to kill children and their parents. What happens is, you put on the mask and then you watch a special Halloween-night TV show sponsored by Silver Shamrock. The show gets all mesmerizey, and eventually the mask melts onto your face and bugs and snakes come out of your head and kill you and attack your parents.

Stonehenge is somehow involved in all of this, I kid you not.

I’m not especially curious why Cochran wants everyone dead; what reason do you need, really? What puzzles me is why he would use his novelty products to build up a huge audience just to kill that audience. I’m no business planner, but it seems counter-productive to kill every single one of your customers.

I’m also curious how Silver Shamrock Halloween masks became so popular. There are only three varieties: a witch, a jack-o-lantern and a skull. Yet even kids who are dressing as other things for Halloween are wearing these masks, so we have ballerinas with witch faces and hobos with skull faces, and so on. How Silver Shamrock achieved this level of penetration into the mask market is beyond me, especially given how annoying their TV commercial is. (It’s to the tune of “London Bridge”: “Eight more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween/Eight more days till Halloween/Silver Shamrock,” with variations according to how many days till Halloween.)

There is a reference to some of Cochran’s early novelty products, including the “Dead Dwarf” gag and the “Soft Chainsaw” gag. I would be interested in seeing more information on either or both of these products.

Quite an assortment of odd, unlikable characters are on hand for the festivities in “Halloween III.” The leads, obviously, are repellent; such is the nature of being a lead in a horror film. But then there’s a gabby man-woman at the motel who accidentally gets melted by a mask, and a family of white trash who drive a Winnebago.

The finale is ambiguous, but it doesn’t matter. “Halloween 4” was back on the track of parts 1 and 2, and “Halloween 3” was something everyone hoped we’d forget. Were it not for the middle 30 minutes, which take approximately 73,000 hours to watch, forgetting it would be easy.

F (1 hr., 36 min.; R.)