Today AMC is playing Halloween Movies ad nauseum, but they’re only playing specific ones. You need a Michael Myers fix, you have your choice of Halloween (the original with all time Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis), Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers or Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers. Let’s focus for a second on Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers. Exactly what was Mikey returning from? Some soothing netherworld where supernatural slashers take a nap between sequels? No, Michael Myers returned from near oblivion when he was knocked out of the franchise by Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill—the creators of Halloween—thought after Halloween II their series was getting stale. Hadn’t Michael Myers tormented poor Laurie Strode and naughty doctors looking for a sex break during their shift long enough? Hadn’t Dr. Loomis done all he could for the beleaguered town of Haddonfield by committing himself and Michael to immolation? The Carpenter/Hill duo decided to revive their franchise by offering the movie going public something new, something innovative. Letting Michael Myers take a well-deserved retirement in Hell, each year would see a Halloween movie with a different story line—similar to the TV series American Horror Story offering a different theme each season.
Turned out, though, the movie going public didn’t want fresh and innovative when it comes to horror movies. They wanted to know each year Michael, Jason, and Freddie would return, cut up the requisite number of pot-smoking, horny teens and be vanquished (till the next sequel) by a (sorta) virginal heroine. Now if you start the sequel by having one of the revenants kill off last year’s heroine, so much the better. People were actually ready to take to the streets when they discovered a Halloween movie with no Michael Myers. So loud was the outcry that Halloween IV was called The Return of Michael Myers to soothe the furious fan base. Thus, in the early Eighties, Halloween III was all but dismissed as a treacherous aberration; movie-making treason on John Carpenter’s part.
But let’s take a look at that redheaded stepchild, shall we? Is Halloween III a bad movie? Sure it is, but last I checked none of the Halloween movies were Oscar contenders. What needs to be decided is this—is it a good bad movie (a la Plan 9 From Outer Space) or a terrible bad movie? The remake of Nightmare on Elm Street comes to mind—Freddie Krueger was just a McMartin victim don’t ya know.
First, a look at the threadbare plot of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Welcome to the small town of Santa Mira, CA; home of the sinister toy factory, Silver Shamrock owned by the evil Cochran (played with gleeful scene chewing by Dan O’Herlihy.) They have round the clock TV ads for their Halloween masks—you’ve got your choice of witch, jack-o-lantern or skull. However, these particular masks should carry a warning: Wearing this mask on Halloween Night will turn your face into a gory mask of cockroaches and snakes that will then kill your parents. Apparently Cochran has waited thousands of years—and stolen a slab of Stonehenge to boot—so he could play a ‘prank’ on the children. All that stands between him and world destruction are Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), a functional alcoholic resplendent in Members Only Jackets and nubile Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), daughter of a small toy shop owner that seemed to believe the best way to stop Cochran was by lurking in isolated car lots late at night, waiting for Cochran’s army of gray-suited Young Republican robots to find him and then crush his skull in while the hapless man clutched a Silver Shamrock jack-o-lantern mask.
Now, what does Halloween III have going for it? First, the priceless TV commercial. A cloying voice chants: Six more days (or five, four, three) till Halloween, Halloween…six more days to Halloween….Sillllllveeeeerrrr Shamrock! You ever want to torture someone, force them to listen to that ditty over and over—makes water boarding seem like child’s play. The movie also has a delightfully spooky atmosphere with the off the beaten path hotel where a woman tries to remove the token from a Silver Shamrock mask and burns her own face off in the process and Cochran’s soulless toy factory. As a promotion, you could also buy your own Silver Shamrock mask in certain magic shops when the movie was released. Wonder if those are worth a pretty penny today?
Now what’s wrong with Season of the Witch? Plot holes you could drive a Mack truck through, particularly towards the end of the movie where it turns out Ellie is a robot. Really, create a robot in less than twenty-four hours right down to the chipped red fingernail polish? Quick work, Cochran. Congrats. But if Ellie was killed somewhere in the bowels of the factory and Dr. Challis rescued a robot (after rescuing himself by kicking in a TV set before his skull mask could do him in), why didn’t Robot Ellie kill Dr. Challis while he was wreaking havoc on Cochran’s factory, destroying all the other robots and laying waste to Cochran’s carefully cultivated Samhain plans? Why did Robot Ellie wait till they were in a car to attack? Though I must say it was pretty cool to see Robot Ellie’s forearm cling stubbornly to the passenger side panel, still trying to kill Dr. Challis after he managed to mash up the rest of her.
My verdict? Let’s go three out of five jack-o-lanterns. Sure Halloween III is silly and schlocky but what Halloween season is complete without a good dose of schlock? My recommendation? Break out the popcorn, turn off at least one Michael Myers rampage and break out Season of the Witch.