I watched this again as part of a dare with Caitlin of 1416 and Counting, who has to watch Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth. I think I got the better part of the deal…
When this came out I was 11 years old, and my mom wouldn’t let me go see it. After the Poltergeist incident, where I sneaked into the Franklin Theatre with my friend Ruben and had nightmares about the tree outside my bedroom window eating me, the TV eating my sister, and our house being built on a cemetery, horror movies were verboten. So I had this described to me in gory detail by Ruben:
“It’s so awesome! It’s like about this um, town of witches who own a killer TV station… they want everyone to watch… and it makes um, your Halloween masks like go crazy and make bugs come out of your head!”
Now Ruben was easily excited, but so was I, so I had to see this movie. But it was not to be. I forgot about Halloween 3: Season of the Witch for over 20 years. Then I read that it was an attempt to end the Michael Myers story and instead make a new tale each year, a sort of anthology franchise. Now that is a great idea; take an established franchise and inject it with fresh blood every year by handing it to a different writer and director, and let them spin a horrifying Halloween yarn, like we’re around a campfire. Sadly they handed it to Tommy Lee Wallace, who wrote and directed. The best thing he ever did was the adaptation of Stephen King’s It for TV, which he thankfully left the prepubescent gangbang ending out of.
The movie begins with the kind of titles spoofed endlessly in movies like Student Bodies (full review) informing us that it is Northern California, October, Saturday the 23rd. One week before Halloween. A man flees unseen assailants, tries to hide behind a gas station where the black-gloved, suited pursuers corner him. He manages to escape by crushing one with a car- but they don’t seem human. Are they men in black? The gas station attendant finds him collapsed and brings him to the hospital where Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, Detective Ray Cameron from Night of the Creeps) is working the night shift. The man babbles about how “they are going to kill us all!” when he sees a TV commercial for Silver Shamrock Halloween masks, and they sedate him.
The remaining black-gloved man sneaks in and covers his mouth while he pulls his skull apart- according to the doc when he does a post mortem- and then stalks out the door. When the Doc chases him, he walks calmly to his car, covers himself with gasoline, and kablooey. Thrill me, indeed. Ellie Grimbridge, the daughter of the murdered man, comes to I.D. the body the next morning, and teams up with the Doc to get to the bottom of the strange death of her father.
The annoying as hell commercial by Silver Shamrock is everywhere, sounding like a cross between an Atari 2600 game and a loop of the Lollipop Guild theme from Wizard of Oz. It’s enough to make your head explode and turn you into a murderous killing machine even if you’re not wearing one of their masks!
They head to the village of Santa Mira, a predominately Irish town full of security cameras and suspicious people, where the only big business is the Halloween mask factory. Everyone speaks with an Irish accent out of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and everything is painted some shade of green. The town has a curfew and Jamie Lee Curtis’s voice announces it over the loudspeakers for everyone to confine their activities to their own home, as the security cameras keep a watchful eye. There they meet a family of tourists in an RV, and Marge, a store owner visiting to fix an order of masks.
The town is led by Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy- “The Old Man” from Robocop) who runs the factory, and in effect, the whole town. He’s vaguely creepy, and an inventor of practical joke novelties. Their first night there, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin, Bullets Over Broadway) jumps the Doc’s bones while Marge finds a computer chip in one of her masks. Unfortunately for her, picking at it with a nail file makes a blue laser shoot out and blast her face open. And yes, bugs come out of her head! So Ruben was right. He’s a cop now, so it’s good to know he’ll be able to foil plots by druidic cults thanks to watching this film. The black gloved men also tear the head off a drunk who babbles to Doc Dan that he wants to burn the factory down.
The next day Conal gives them a tour of the factory, but is very guardful of “trade secrets,” and nosy Ellie gets them into trouble when she sees her Dad’s car parked in a garage. That night the black gloved men take Ellie away, and Doc goes to find her- sneaking into the factory. Finally he realizes the minions are automatons, when he punches one in the gut and gets a handful of goo. They drag him back to Conal Cochran’s lair, where he explains his fiendish plot to give every child a mask that has a little bit of Stonehenge in it. See, Stonehenge was a sacrificial altar and wields enormous power, that will make their heads explode and burst forth with crickets and snakes.
You don’t really know much about Halloween. You thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy.
It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands where we’d be waiting… In our houses of wattles and clay… The barriers would be down, you see. Between the real and the unreal. And the dead might be looking in, to sit by our fires of turf… Halloween. The festival of Samhain. The last great one took place 3,000 years ago and the hills ran red… With the blood of animals and children.
That’s Conal laying it all down for the Doc, monologing like a punkass super villain who’s never watched a James Bond film. He ties him up in a chair with a mask on and leaves him, the second mistake. Of course he gets away, frees Ellie, and pours a bag of the killer microchips onto Cochran’s evil lair so the monolith electrocutes the living hell out of everyone. But can he stop the broadcasts that are set to unleash crickets and snakes from every child’s head?
The movie has one great scare at the end that still got me even though this is my second viewing of this bizarre flop. Just when you think you’re safe, robot out of nowhere! Poor Ellie. Doc sure seemed to like bashing her head in with that tire iron. One thing that’s never explained is if the automatons are fake, or made from corpses; you’d hope Conal killed Ellie and used her body, otherwise Doc Challis left her to burn to death in the Shamrock factory, not knowing that he rode away with a killer robot instead. Which is a little more chilling.
Doc makes it to the same gas station the story started in, calling the local TV stations to stop the broadcasts. I’m guessing the director thought this would be something like Network meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers as he shouted “Stop Channel 3! Stop it! ST
OP IT STOP IT!!!” as the annoying as shit commercials played in the background. But it’s hilarious, instead. Halloween 3 was a complete failure, though it was pretty gory for its time, especially the model of Marge’s exploded face, which still looks like something from Faces of Death. The concept is just so silly and undeveloped; it shows that the script went through several incarnations, including one by John Carpenter, before the director reworked it.
Santa Mira was also the setting of the classic film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers; the original story of Season of the Witch was written by Nigel Kneale, who wrote the Quatermass movies. He sued to have his name taken off the film after seeing how violent it was. Despite these pedigrees, the movie is sort of like Troll 2 played straight, without kids pissing on dinner and Dad hollering “You can’t piss on hospitality!” or super ghost grandpa and his magic sandwich, or the campy witch. Tom Atkins tries his best, but he’s not allowed to be as awesome as he was in Night of the Creeps. Dan O’Herlihy has a blast as Cochran, the master prankster who wants to sacrifice millions of children to his Celtic gods, but it’s too late and feels a lot like Body Bags-era Carpenter. He was busy making The Thing, and thank goodness for that.
Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? oh, that would be something!
Quotability Rating: nil
Cheese Factor: stinky Irish gubbeen
High Points: gross-outs, ending
Low Point: SLOW!
Gratuitous Boobies: half a second of Ellie’s left nipple.