Apr 1, 2012

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Why Conal Cochrane Hates America

Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Tommy Lee Wallace
Tommy Lee Wallace
Nigel Kneale (uncredited)
Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin,
Dan O'Herlihy, Garn Stephens,
Jason Barbor

"The night no one comes home."

There are two kinds of people in the world. First, there are those who think that Halloween III: Season of the Witch is colossally stupid and unworthy of it's place in the Halloween canon due to the absence of Michael Myers. Then there are people like me, a lonely minority who recognize the touches of mind shattering genius buried here. We few who have been tasked with singing it's praises amidst a sea of naysayers, like mad vagrants screaming unheeded warnings of the coming apocalypse on crowded city street corners.

The story of how John Carpenter wanted to turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology series, each taking place around Halloween and each featuring a new story, has been told so often that I'll not do so here. Nor will I weigh in with my opinion that this idea is several orders of magnitude more interesting than an endless parade of sequels featuring boring old Myers again and again and again and again. No, that ship sailed long ago. Halloween III was a bomb with both critics and audiences ensuring that all sequels would be giving us more of the same old same old. The groundhog had seen it's shadow and it was to be twenty more years of Michael Myers.

Halloween III was even rejected by the man who wrote it. Nigel Kneale, respected author of the Quatermass series, attempted to write a more cerebral script in contrast to the film's gory slasher predecessor. Frustrated that distributor Dino De Laurentiis demanded changes incorporating more graphic violence, Kneale had his name removed from the project. Dan O'Herlihy playing the film's villain, didn't think much of it either. In an interview with Starlog magazine he states: "I thoroughly enjoyed the role, but I didn't think it was much of a picture, no." Despite all this, how is it possible not to appreciate this gloriously mad film?  How is it possible not to recognize its' relevance?  Mark my words. When all other conspiracy theories have been laughed off and the grand plot against the human race is finally exposed, it will turn out to be something like this.

"That's one thing I hate! All the noise, noise, noise, noise!"

The film opens with a man being chased in the night by goons in suits. He makes it to a gas station and collapses. A television screen in the background is broadcasting a news story about the mysterious disappearance of a large chunk of Stonehenge. Pay attention, this will be important. Next we're introduced to the film's hero, Tom Atkins. Atkins plays Dr. Dan Challis. A brief scene informs us that Challis is having marital problems and likes to hit the sauce. Dan is somewhat out of touch with his kids, bringing them uncool Halloween masks after his wife has just gotten them rad Silver Shamrock masks that are currently all the rage. A commercial for which is playing on a television in the background during this scene. The Silver Shamrock jingle, a reworking of London Bridge with even more repetitive lyrics, is a sonic Necronomicon that will drive you insane.

With the bitter reminder of a failed marriage and unsuccessful attempt to buy his children's love fresh in his mind, Dan heads off for work. The man from the opening scene has been brought to the hospital clutching a Silver Shamrock mask and babbling something about "they" and "kill" and "all of us". Shortly after, a goon in a suit casually enters the man's room and tears his skull apart. Dan is just in time to witness the goon get into his car and calmly blow himself up. Curious. The following day, the murdered man's daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) shows up to identify her father's body and Tom Atkins is given an opportunity to do what Tom Atkins does best, mac on a younger woman. Over drinks, Ellie tells Dan that she thinks something strange is going on. Dan concurs and also wants to have sex with her so they team up for a mystery solving adventure.

 It turns out that Ellie's father owned a novelty shop and among the items he sold were Silver Shamrock masks. In a nod to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the nearby town of Santa Mira is the location of the manufacturer. This was where Ellie's father had been going just before she lost contact with him so off they head. Santa Mira is run by a super wealthy business man named Cochran and almost entirely populated by the creepy employees of his factory. Cochran became wealthy and famous as a toymaker but has recently moved into the production of Halloween masks. Just go with it. There is surveillance everywhere and the whole town reeks of conspiracy. Ellie wants to start investigating right away but Dan is tired and needs a drink. They book a motel room under the laughably suspicious pseudonyms of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and discuss sleeping arrangements. If you think Atkins moves fast here you should check him out with Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog. Go Tom Atkins.

Dan and Ellie aren't the only visitors in Creepytown. There's also a woman looking into a lost shipment of masks for her store. She mentions that the quality has been slipping lately, noting that a disk with the company logo just came right off the back of one of the masks. The purpose of this is to set up a scene with the woman alone in her motel room, poking at the disk. Poke. Poke. Pokey poke. Suddenly a face melting blast of arcane laser power clues the audience into the fact that these masks are evil.

"Easy babe, the stash will protect us both."
Also in town are obnoxious salesman Buddy, his tacky wife and horrible son Buddy Jr. They are the crass embodiment of the loud, mass consuming, Walmart lurking element of modern America. As a reward for selling the most masks, Buddy has won a tour of Cochran's factory. Dan and Ellie tag along. In a scene reminiscent of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Cochran indulges their childlike sense of wonder and curiosity concerning the manufacture of Halloween masks. Buddy tells Dan that, before becoming famous as a toymaker, Cochran was acknowledged as the undisputed king of the novelty gag. With reverence, Buddy notes that Cochran invented sticky toilet paper. Cochran's fortune was built on cheap novelty gags.


Everything in the factory seems on the up and up, except maybe for the locked room where the masks go for final processing. Naturally, Dan goes snooping around in there and is promptly subdued by Cochran's suited goons. Who turn out to be robots. That's right, robots. Didn't see that coming did you? Cochran is actually an ancient witch. He takes Dan down into a cavernous room with workers in lab coats bustling around an array of computers and an enormous slab of Stonehenge. Tiny fragments of Stonehenge have been placed in each of the disks on the backs of the Silver Shamrock masks. Their evil mystical power will be triggered on Halloween night by a televised Silver Shamrock commercial spot featuring a big giveaway. Anyone wearing the masks will have their heads explode in a disgusting shower of poisonous spiders and snakes. Magic lasers may also result. Surprise!

2016 republican presidential candidates.

In summary, Cochran is an ancient witch who made a fortune selling crass novelty gags in order to fund his toy making craft by which he was able to build advanced robots who helped him to steal Stonehenge; shards of which he placed in his mass produced Halloween masks that, through a combination of science and sorcery, would destroy America in a deluge of magic lasers, spiders and snakes. A conspiracy almost worthy of Glenn Beck.

"Do you know where all those snakes went
 after they were driven out of Ireland?"
 Why is Cochran doing this? Well, as a witch he's pissed that his religious holiday has become a crass commercial event subverted by American consumer values. He longs for the days when sacrificing children to the forces of darkness really meant something. He is a spiritual man lashing out against a materialistic society, using the products of that society to destroy it. Take THAT America with your war on Halloween. But Dan is able to escape the James Bond death trap he finds himself in and takes out Cochran. After another nasty surprise he attempts to prevent Cochran's apocalypse commercial from being aired. He fails. The end.


Though Halloween III completely jettisons the Michael Myers storyline on which the franchise would be based, it evokes the spirit of the holiday for which it's named in a way that none of the other sequels do. There is a dark sense of humor at play here and a gleeful embrace of the absurd, wonderfully embodied in O'Herlihy's alternately avuncular and sinister performance. While most other aspects of the film from the direction to the effects are merely serviceable, the film's straight faced commitment to it's completely crackers plot is a major strength. A trick and a treat.

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