Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace
Film #9, of Tuesday 9th October, for Halloween 31 For 31
If only this had been called Season of the Witch with the first half of the title excised. Maybe then this sequel might have done better. Intended to turn the growing Halloween franchise into an anthology series, the film failed to do well at the box office, thus never letting this plan take fruition. Yet it’s Halloween III which is the sequel that is revered far and above the rest of them, having the last laugh, its popularity growing further and further with the horror fans. My interest in finally catching up with this film, including making a rule for the project to purposely see it, was originally spurn from how much attention this film was getting. I mean, does anyone hold Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) as a memorable film let alone a good one, regardless if it was one of the best of the series in terms of box office?
The film itself if a solid one. After a patient is murdered in his hospital of work, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) is pulled into a conspiracy with the victim’s daughter Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) that involves a novelties and toy manufacture’s series of Halloween masks and the sinister intentions behind them.
What is of importance with the film, aside from the score by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, is the ideas of the film itself. Back in my introduction to the Halloween 31 For 31 I mentioned how few people, including myself, know about the true of origins of Halloween, the quotation making the second title of this review ruminating this concept further in an integral scene. Without spoiling the film at all, despite its ending becoming a popular internet meme in places, Halloween III turns out to be one of the grimmest films of its era from what I have seen. Michael Myers is a bogeyman who, while constructed to be a being that could easily exist in real life, was broken down into digestible pieces in the sequels and the conventions of the slasher films that were inspired from it. Halloween III’s central premise is a sobering one if thought about – beginning with the ominous opening credit sequence, the haunting electronic drones of the score melding into the distorted images of a television screen, this is not a goofy horror film passing off as a serious one, but one, bearing in mind its imperfections, that raises the hairs on the back of your neck with a gruesome proposition. While the original script was rewritten, leading to him to take his name off the film upon request, the contribution of Nigel Kneale, while I have (sadly) little knowledge in terms of his work, feels significant. A British writer who John Carpenter wanted to contribute on the film because of his work on the character Professor Bernard Quatermass, the signs of his influence he must have contributed, and were kept in the rewrite by the director, brings many tropes of British fiction that have always had a potency regardless of the nationality of the audience, of our British interpretation of witchcraft and the occult, and more importantly, the concept of man-made objects being imbued with a supernatural ability or power that is usually harmful. This concept had been with human society since its origins through mythology around the world, from the objects in Greek myths that possess great power to, a more fitting example, the tale of Pandora’s Box. With the insanely catchy jingle of Silver Shamrock Novelties group appearing countless times in ads within the film, one is even reminded of magical incantations and how, stereotypically, they are short phrases repeated over and over again until the words have more meaning than mere letters ruminating from the tongue. This kind of concept of the ordinary used to evoke unknown forces if apparent in many films from around the world, especially Asian cinema from Japan (Ringu (1998) to the prominent use of mobile phones) to China (anytime a conjuror’s table full of talismans and ingredients is broken out), but a large percentage of the more distinct British films involve objects developing a meaning to them beyond their everyday nature and becoming a signal or conduit of another force itself. Even Harry Potter films involve taking the ordinary, from trains to jelly beans, and making it a conduit for the arcane and fantastic. American cinema has a great deal of this too, especially works pulling from American horror literature, but from this outsider’s perspective, their horror films are usually revolved around the evil within man himself (serial killers to ‘torture porn’) and threats outside of the humanity without the need of said conduits (nature, mutations and aliens for example).
This is combined with a blunt critique on consumerism which, if it was comedic, would be the blackest of humour. The complacency most of us have about Halloween’s origins directly connects to this. We adore our horror films, our seasonal sweets and treats that are only available in that time, and in my case as a child, and others probably share this, convincing one’s mother to get a pumpkin each year to carve into a Jack O-Lantern and throwing the contents of inside them in the bin without actually trying it; but for a season which is said to be the time where the realities between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, the danger of taking real mythology and trivialising it is high. We can still enjoy our Frankenberries, and dolls who are vampires and werewolves who go to a high school for the ghouls and ghosts, amongst other examples, but if we don’t remember the origins of them in these stories and legends we will forget the messages and meanings they taught as well. Films like Halloween III remind us not to be forgetful of the fact by playing a scenario where consumerism itself becomes the ultimate personification of ritualistic evil. This has to be as much the reason why the film has been recovered and held high by cult cinema fans as it is; it’s a ghoulish tale straight from short story literature we can enjoy without having to worry it will happen to us, but its hypothesis is so uncomfortable it doesn’t allow us to get away from thinking about the material.
In hindsight I should have waited until closer to Halloween night, or the night itself as the final film of the month, to view this, a perfect candidate to close the project off that cannot be used now. However early in the game, it also proves to be a nice core piece of it, between the serious and the macabre, that the others can link around. The review was a bit more difficult to write due to the circumstances getting it written, but not only has a goal been completed already, but it was also worth the years, from when I was starting to get into this kind of cinema as an adolescent, waiting to actually get around to seeing it. Even if the ending was spoilt for me numerous times beforehand, in context it proves to be one of the most memorable and startling ones for American horror. As ‘Stop it!’ is screamed, the only clue to the film I will give for any reader who had never seen this film, it literally becomes a utterance that could be held against all the crass, empty and potentially harmful parts of Western Halloween culture that plagues the good sides of it. And considering that the Halloween sequels went on to include an idiotic Druid subplot, which I will gladly spoil, no one who produced the films afterwards took heed of this sequel’s repeated warnings.