Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloweek: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

After the success of the first two Halloween films, John Carpenter and Debra Hill were only willing to work on a third film if it had nothing to do with Michael Myers, whose story they felt had come to an end. Instead, they decided to reinvent the franchise as a sort of anthology, with the intention being to release a different unrelated horror film each Halloween. Obviously that never happened, and so Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a curious footnote in the Halloween series, an anomaly that has nothing to do with the installments that came before or after. Something like that seems ripe for rediscovery and reevaluation, but it's clear on watching Season of the Witch that public interest in Michael Myers wasn't the only reason the anthology concept didn't take off; the main problem is that Season of the Witch is often hilariously bad.

Instead of a slasher movie, Season of the Witch is more of a supernatural thriller, with a doctor and a young woman investigating a sinister toy factory after the woman's father's mysterious death. The factory is producing three Halloween masks (the "Halloween three," a sort of lame tie-in to the title) that seem to have some dangerous intent behind them. The movie is known for being about killer Halloween masks, but it isn't until near the very end that the masks' actual purpose becomes clear, and instead of a movie about evil masks like I was expecting, it's mostly a movie about two people lurking around a small town trying to figure out what's going on. The suspense is minimal, and while the focus on atmosphere over gore is admirable, the story is so silly and full of plot holes that the gore is just about the only thing it has going for it.

There is some camp value, though, especially in Tom Atkins' performance as the doctor who's determined to get to the bottom of the mask situation. Atkins manages to make his Dr. Challis into both a douche and a hero. With his porn-star mustache and soap-star swagger, Challis seduces the vulnerable daughter of the man whose death sets off the entire investigation. She's 25 years younger than him, recently grieving and scared for her life, but the movie takes time out for an icky sex scene between the two of them in the midst of all the investigating. Meanwhile, Challis' ex-wife keeps nagging him because he's blowing off visits with his kids to drive to some scary small town and stop an evil toy manufacturer. It seemed clear to me that he really just wanted to bed the hot daughter.

It's probably best that there are sex scenes to distract from how much the plot doesn't make sense, because boy is it stupid. There's the fact that the villain has stolen one of the giant rocks from Stonehenge to carry out his evil plot (how'd he smuggle that into the country?). There's the evil plot itself, in which the magical masks will melt children's faces off and cause bugs and snakes to crawl out of them, accomplishing what exactly? Then there's the climax, in which the heroes must race to stop a commercial that triggers the masks' evil mechanism from airing at exactly 9 p.m.; never mind that they're in California, and that the movie has just shown a montage of kids across the country wearing the masks, and that kids in the Eastern time zone would have already had their faces melted off three hours before. You get the picture.

Writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace tries to throw in some sophisticated touches: There's a nice homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the name of the town (Santa Mira) that houses the evil factory, the pod-like androids who serve the villain, and the maniacal ending with Challis ranting directly into the camera like Kevin McCarthy warning that the body snatchers are coming for you next. And the original Halloween gets nods by being shown on TV in the background of a couple of scenes. Still, the stupidity far outweighs the sense of history, and Season of the Witch mainly lives up to its anthology ambitions by being like a dud episode of the new Twilight Zone that you'd skip past during an all-day marathon.

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