Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Massive laser blasts to the mouth can really bum you out
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1982
Director: 
Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: 
Tom Atkins, Stacy Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy
The Setup: 
Completely ditching any semblance to the rest of the Halloween series, this movie is about an evil corporation’s intent to perpetrate mass murder through TV-triggered deadly Halloween masks.
Discussion: 

Sort of like bad movie comfort food, this is one that I watched a few months before I started this site, and was probably influential in my decision to create it. This is just evil fun, ludicrous enough and with such an overpowering sense of 80s mediocrity that it really is quite charming.

The whole deal with this movie is that it has NOTHING to do with the Halloween franchise, before or after. There is NO Michael Myers in this film. It is not a slasher film—in fact, it’s more science-fiction than horror. I have no insight into WHY John Carpenter would give his blessing for this 90-degree turn from the direction of his series, but he DID produce it and create a soundtrack for it, so it’s not like it was done behind his back. I’m sure there’s a Wikipedia page all about it. And there is. It explains that Carpenter agreed to a sequel ONLY if it would NOT follow the Michael Myers storyline and go off in a new direction. At that time, he was thinking of a series in which every film would be different, exploring a different aspect of Halloween. Ahh, ambition. Read more than you even thought there was to know about this movie here.

We begin with cheesy 80s credits over patterns of lines on a video screen. I sort of like the simple directness of it. It ends up making a big jack-o-lantern face that will figure prominently into the movie. Then there’s this whole sequence where a guy is running and these agents in suits are following him. There’s this whole drawn-out chase amongst the warehouses, then he escapes the agents, injured, and gets taken to the hospital.

In here we have had some exposition that someone has stolen a piece of Stonehenge. Then we are introduced to Tom Atkins at the height of his bargain-bin hotness, with his mustache and tight pants. He looks like someone that could be the “stud” on an 80s soap, and in another way he looks like he could be a late 70s porn star [an alluring combo, you must admit]. He goes home to his divorced wife and two kids with two crappy halloween masks. The kids don’t want them, because mommy already bought them Silver Shamrock masks, the cool masks that every kid has to have this year. I don’t know; do kids really get crazed for certain halloween masks the way they do for whatever toy becomes the craze every Christmas? And, seeing as there’s only three types of the masks in the most generic designs possible—witch, skull, pumpkin—are kids really down with virtually everyone in town having the exact same outfit? Just play along. The point is that mommy bought the good masks and daddy bought the crappy masks. Tom’s wife is upset that he’s late to see the kids, and then has to run off right away because there’s an emergency at the hospital. She will do nothing but harange him throughout the film. Of course, he does nothing but call to say he can’t spend time with the kids like he said he would. This whole situation is obviously headed straight to the People’s Court.

Were it not for the gruesome murder that takes place right in the hospital. Some agent dude sneaks in and crams his finger into the eye of the one who was escaping earlier, and rips out the bridge of his nose. Ow! That’s unusual. Then Tom watches the agent go to his car, douse himself with gasoline [a little confusing as it looks like water, and you’re like; “WHY is he dumping water all over himself?”] and blows himself up. Then Tom goes in for the first of many calls where he tells his wife he can’t take the kids, and she screams at him. Tom is pretty good in this scene, and we get a lengthy shot of his reactions during and after the phone call. Then Stacey Nelkin shows up as Ellie, daughter of the deceased. Apparently she hasn’t been in much else, which strikes me as odd, since when thinking of this movie I was like “Oh yeah, with Stacey Nelkin.” Apparently she made an impression. Her character's full name is Ellie Bainbridge. She’s there long enough for Tom to eyeball her, then he repairs to the bar. Time which he could be spending with his kids, if he really wanted to.

For some reason this bar, this adult bar, is showing some sort of non-narrative cartoon about a weed growing out of a sidewalk. Then the Silver Shamrock commercial comes on. Already this commercial has been somewhat ubiquitous, and will become even more so. Then we also see that they’re going to be playing the original Halloween, which they refer to as “the immortal classic.” Nothing like giving yourself a big ol’ pat on the back.

The commercial is this low-budge thing with this boom-pa-boom-pa-boom-pa music that is a bit irritating—although instantly recognizable. Thing is, it looks so shoddy it takes a bit of suspension of disbelief to imagine it running nationwide. Anyway, part of the whole sheen of anti-commercial criticism this movie is trying to get across is how the commercial is everywhere and thus kids across the nation want these masks.

So somehow Tom and Stacey hook up and go out to the remote town of Santa Mira, where the Silver Shamrock factory is located. This town is named after the fictional town in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as sort of a tribute, for reasons that will NOT be clear later. This town is supposedly all Irish, and all the residents stare at Tom and Stacey as they drive into town as through they are all allied in some evil conspiracy, although they are quite friendly and helpful later. They go to the Silver Shamrock plant, where they meet Buddy Kupfer, the top Silver Shamrock salesman of the year, with his wife Betty and son Buddy, Jr. Tom and Stacey are mistaken as someone who also won a prize by Mr. Cochran, the obviously evil head of the corporation, and they are invited to tour the plant. This does not reveal much, but does introduce future victims the Kupher’s and show Tom the tantalizing door to “final processing,” which is where something evil happens. Then Tom calls his wife again and is harangued again, with her shouting “They won’t even remember your name!” It’s bit of a departure to have a supposedly heroic movie father totally blow off his kids for an entire movie, especially as he spends the bulk of his time schtupping Stacey when he could be having rewarding father-kids time, but such are the sense of values of this movie.

So Tom and Stacey rent a room at this motel where all out-of-town visitors to the company stay. Tom does a bit of sleuthing and finds that Stacey’s dad stayed there as well. Stacey meets Marge Guttman, this sales rep who is obviously just there to introduce herself before she dies, but it’s a little amusing how she tells Stacey that if she’s ever in San Francisco she should “look her up,” because they seriously JUST met and merely exchanged pleasantries, forming NO human connection. And like, in the parking lot. Anyway, back in the room, Tom is chivalrously asking if he should sleep on the floor or the chair, when Stacey provocatively asks him “Where do you WANT to sleep?” and he looks at her with lust and responds: “That’s a stupid question,” and they go for it. Later he asks her how old she is, and she responds “Older than I look,” at which point I was like “Oh, it’s not just me,” because she DOES look much younger than him [and is also much smaller]. Turns out she was 23 when this was filmed and he was 47. I guess not only is she looking for her Daddy, she’s also looking for her “Daddy.”

SPOILERS > > >
While they’re putting the pig in the blanket [actually this is all spread over two days, and at the end of one Stacey comes out of the shower, wraps herself in the bedspread, and offers her body to Tom when he comes home], Marge Guttman is trying to make some headway in her historical romance when she notices the rather huge metal button-thing that is affixed to the back of every Silver Shamrock mask, and has fallen out onto her floor. She picks it up and notices this circuit chip on the back, which she futzes with using one of her bobby pins when suddenly SHE IS LASERED IN THE MOUTH! And I don't think we're talking about laser whitening. This is really my favorite part of the movie. You really don’t see that coming. I mean, you know something bad is going to happen, but a laser to the mouth, that’s a surprise. Tom and Stacey are too busy in their fuck-fest to bother to check it out, and the next time we see Marge she’s got a huge nasty hole where her mouth used to be. AWE. SOME.

Actually I don’t know how I messed the chronology of this film up so badly, as I see it’s only now that we meet the Kupfer’s. Whatever, you’ll survive. It’s the remix. We find out that evil genius Cochran is the king of the practical joke, and is most famed for inventing sticky toilet paper and something like the rubber chainsaw or something. Then Ellie is kidnapped and Tom goes to the plant after her. He gets into a fight with one of the agents and punches his hand right into his chest, where it is then covered by yellow gloop. They’re robots! Which we kind of guessed already from the fact that they can rip a guy’s head off with their bare hands [there’s a lot of pointless gore inserted to bring this movie more in line with what they might expect from the series]. Then Tom is captured and brought into “Final Processing” where he finds the typical sci-fi secret project headquarters and discovers that the stolen piece of Stonehenge is there. Turns out it contains massive spiritual energy and that they’re taking tiny chips of it and putting them in each mask. Cochran decides to give Tom a demonstration. The Kupfer’s are taken to some living room with iron walls and locked in. It’ll be hard to miss the wife’s tone-deaf and inappropriate conversational tidbits, adding up to the diagnosis of borderline psychotic. Anyway, the mad scientists activate the evil commercial, and little Buddy, Jr.’s mask melts and kills him, at which point his mouth starts issuing bugs and snakes and various vermin, which go on to kill his parents. Again: Awesome!

Turns out Cochran wants to bring a new age of witchcraft back to the world, and this is his way of doing it. We’re gearing up for basically every kid across the nation to be melted and start issuing poisonous snakes from their mouths, which will go on to kill their parents and other present family members. You know, ya gotta appreciate that. Maybe it’s this film’s evil, anti-nuclear-family message that makes this movie appeal to me. After all, if you follow these suppositions to their conclusion, it’s only single and gay men and women, or married couples who have not had children, that will survive. It’s nice to see child-spawning NOT treated as a glorious edict from God himself for a change. This mention of witchcraft, by the way, is the only connection this movie has to its subtitle.

So Tom somehow escapes and rescues Stacey, and then programs the deadly commercial to play in the lab, dropping a bunch of the metal tags on the scientists, which the commercial causes to spark and kill them all. No big blue lasers, like happened to Marge, and no bugs and snakes, for some reason. Also—good thing Tom paid careful attention to the complex code that enacts the program, no? The Stonehenge starts to glow and the computers all make a ring, and Tom and Stacey escape, and the entire factory explodes.

Then it turns out that Stacey isn’t feeling quite herself after her imprisonment, then Tom goes to some place and uses the phone to call the television networks. You see, they’re all going to broadcast the commercial at 9pm, and for some reason all the kids all over the country are going to tune in to watch this commercial that is virtually the same as the commercial that’s been playing every minute for the last week. Tom apparently knows the number of the California TV authority by heart, and it just so happens that one number is enough to stop the commercial on two different networks, which is why I call them the California TV authority… so all the networks are broadcasting from one building? For some reason they leave the commercial on the third network, making our film end with Tom screaming “Stop it! Stop it! [turns to camera:] STOOOOPPPP IIIITTTTT!” Cut to black.

Turns out that back in the day [I was 14, okay?] I read the NOVELIZATION of this movie, and I was looking forward to that ending, which is that Tom is entirely unsuccessful in stopping the commercial, and he suddenly hears a chorus of screams and wails rising up all over the country. Here he [theoretically] stops two-thirds of the prepubescent cranial meltdown and subsequent parent poisoning, which, I don’t know, just isn’t the same.
< < < SPOILERS END

I like it. It just has that air of stuff that used to air or crappy 80s cable, with its lame-o hero and tentative stab at consumer satire and sci-fi elements and massive general cheesiness that it’s really fun throughout. Like one of my other 80s cheese-sci-fi-horror favorites, The Fly II. In retrospect, one imagines this movie would have done much better just being released as a separate movie, not part of the franchise [which quickly returned to Michael Myers], as it’s no worse than a lot of other crap on its own, but can only disappoint when one expects something Halloween-related from it.

But I mean, come on: Melted kids’ heads that issue bugs and snakes. Woman lasered in the mouth. Nationwide nuclear-family apocalypse. Kind of hard to go wrong with stuff like that going for you.

Should you watch it: 

I think so! If you like cheesy 80s sci-fi horror.