Control Nathan and Clint: Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Welcome, friends, to the latest entry in Control Nathan and Clint. It’s the column where we give YOU, the living Saint who contributes to the Patreon accounts of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place and Happy Cast an opportunity to choose between which of two impossibly dire looking motion pictures Clint and I must watch, and then jibber-jabber about on the podcast.
With Halloween in the air and the screams of werewolf victims lingering everywhere, we decided it would make sense to pair Mandy, our Scalding Hot Take, with an ooky, spooky horror sequel. With Halloween killing it at the box-office, we figured we’d nominate a pair of off-kilter Halloween sequels in the form of “Not the Tommy Lee with the Enormous Penis and Sex Tape” Wallace’s trippy cult 1982 mindfuck Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a movie that features no witches and has no thematic connection to the action of the first two films beyond John Carpenter’s classic fright flick appearing on television sets in the background and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II as well as Rusty Cundieff’s recent surprise direct-to-video sequel to Tales From the Hood.
You generous folks voted for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which I have somehow never seen despite devoting my life and career to weird movies, flops and bonkers cult oddities and good lord is Halloween III: Season of the Witch ever kooky. I would say that it’s biggest strength is that it’s fucking nuts. Out of its gourd. INSANE!
That inspired lunacy begins with Halloween maestro John Carpenter and Debra Hill basically telling a horror audience enraptured of Michael Myers, “Hey, you know how you LOVE Michael Myers, how he instantly became a huge cult icon and pop culture dynamo? Well how would you feel if we were to give you a NEW Michael Myers movie and—here’s the fun twist, Michael Myers isn’t in it?”
A confused horror audience answered, “Well, we LOVE the part about the new Michael Myers movie but we’re not crazy about the whole no Michael Myers thing. It’s actually a little confusing. So you mean he won’t be the only killer, there will be another mad slasher as well? Maybe a red herring or a rival kind of situation?”
Carpenter and Hall chuckled and responded, “Nope. This is going to be a Halloween movie all right, but Michael Myers won’t be in it all, beyond an archival-footage background cameo. Instead it’ll be some crazy shit about evil Halloween masks, robots, Stonehenge and orchestrating mass child death through television commercials so popular kids are literally dying to watch them. A LOT of crazy shit, but here’s the important part: absolutely none of that crazy slasher in the mask that everybody loved from the first first movie. There will be plenty of mask-related horror, but absolutely NO Michael Myers. That’s the Halloween promise!”
It was an audacious conceit, to be sure. The filmmakers envisioned Halloween III: Season of the Witch as the first in a series of Halloween movies that would share the name of John Carpenter’s game-changing, zeitgeist-capturing 1978 slasher smash but otherwise tell unrelated stories with a Halloween theme.
It turned out that moviegoers hated change and craved the familiar because Halloween III: Season of the Witch underperformed with critics and audiences and the next time Halloween returned to the big screen, Michael Myers was back in action, not unlike the Looney Tunes in the motion picture Space Jam.
And yet Halloween III: Season of the Witch has endured in weird and wonderful ways. It possesses what Malcolm Gladwell calls “stickiness”, elements so irresistible and audacious that they stick out in the mind long after more successful or high-profile fare has been forgotten. For our purposes, we can think of “stickiness” as “cult appeal” and brother does Halloween III have that.
Halloween III is filled with sticky elements, above and beyond the conceptual perversity of making a Halloween movie with no Michael Myers and witch in the title but no actual witches. The cult of Halloween III: Season of the Witch is largely the cult of Silver Shamrock. That’s the name of the movie’s unforgettable villain, a wildly, improbably popular Irish novelties and Halloween mask company headquartered in Northern California who manufacture Halloween masks with a chip in them that turns children brains into rotting pinatas full of bugs, insects and snakes when “activated” by the subliminal images in a television commercial for its masks with a sadistically catchy jingle.
If you’ve seen Halloween III: Season of the Witch then you’re probably remembering the Silver Shamrock jingle, which sets out to be the most obnoxiously, irritatingly catchy ditty imaginable and succeeds to such an extent that after a while you’re tempted to take an electric drill to your brain to get the song out of your head.
Needless to say, Halloween III: Season of the Witch isn’t exactly going for realism. This is not Ken Loach we’re talking about. But I have a hard time believing Silver Shamrock could flood the airwaves with commercials that annoying without rousing the populace to drive to the company’s headquarters to brutally murder everyone involved with the creation and distribution of that jingle.
The Silver Shamrock jingle is the truest, most literal of ear-worms, in the sense that if you listen to it in the right/wrong circumstances, your ear literally turns into a bunch of worms and bugs and other creepy crawlies that probably live inside Ted Cruz’s skull and constitute his personality.
Silver Shamrock is like Willy Wonka’s operation, only incrementally creepier and more sinister. As we learn over the course of the film, Silver Shamrock has a lot of problems. Their customer service is dreadful. They don’t hire locals. They contribute to a stifling and conformist civic culture. Even worse, they’re trying to murder all the children. Their Yelp reviews are going to be terrible.
Worst of all, Silver Shamrocks makes novelty items, including such “classics” as sticky toilet paper and the soft chainsaw. It makes sense to me that people who perpetrate the poisonous fiction that there’s anything remotely funny about rubber vomit, whoopee cushions or fake dog poop would have as their end game the ghoulish murder of hundreds of millions of children. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true of notorious prankster George Clooney. His pranks are all in good fun until he’s using his celebrity and power to engineer the deaths of billions of kids using Celtic robot Halloween mask magic.
Grizzled horror icon Tom Atkins takes a brief break from playing mustachioed cops to play Dr. Dan Challis, an alcoholic, mustachioed doctor who becomes suspicious of Silver Shamrock when he connects them, their ultra-popular masks and their northern California headquarters to the mysterious death of one of his patients.
Alongside Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), the dead man’s daughter, the drunken doc travels up to Silver Shamrock’s headquarters in Santa Mira, California to investigate the death and the ominous company possibly behind it.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is not an elegantly assembled motion picture. The plot is way too dependent on strangers sidling up to the Doctor and the grief-stricken daughter and spontaneously offering up reams of narratively important information about Silver Shamrock and Santa Mira, apparently unconcerned about the cameras watching their every move and microphones recording their every word.
The most entertaining of these over-sharers is Buddy Kupfer (Ralph Strait), an affable boob and sweaty Willy Loman type who is rewarded for selling more horrible, tacky Halloween masks than anyone else with a Willie Wonka-style tour of the factory followed by an excruciating death for his entire family.
Academy Award-nominated veteran character actor Dan O’Herlihy strikes the perfect note of patrician, white-haired menace as Conal Cochran, the head of Silver Shamrock and a practical joker whose latest gag I honestly have to say I think goes a little too far.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch often feels like a waking dream in the sense that it’s trippy and surreal, hypnotic and utterly original but also because it makes no fucking sense at all. For example, Conal doesn’t just indulge shamelessly in the old, “Now that I’ve caught you, let me tell you my plan for no reason even though it could very well lead to my destruction and/or the plan’s failure” routine. No, he stops just short of handing the Doctor a fifty-page report entitled, “So You’ve Just Infiltrated Silver Shamrock and Discovered Our Evil Scheme To Murder Children: The Ten Most Important Things To Know About What We’re About To Do” followed by an infomercial his publicity people had made outlining all of the various facets of their evil plot to kill children on Halloween, much of which revolves around Stonehenge magic. Yes, Stonehenge magic.
Most movies would choose between plot elements as out-there and ridiculous as Stonehenge magic and the old “Maybe they’re all robots or something?” ploy. Not Halloween III: Season of the Witch. It greedily and crazily decides that there’s room in its 98 minute runtime for both a sizable role for a stole rock from Stonehenge and the borderline nonsensical reveal that, actually, Santa Mira is overrun with robots or androids or some such nonsense. When faced with a ridiculous choice, it invariably opts for both.
Halloween III’s haphazard, seemingly random decision to implement robots into the mix along with Stonehenge, subliminal TV signals, masks, commercialism (most literally in the form of a commercial that is an instrument in consumer’s grisly mass deaths) and completely gratuitous sex (for a weird, sad, divorced drunk, the Doctor sure is irresistible to the ladies) reminded me of the similarly over-stuffed, head-scratching excess of Frank Oz’s abysmal The Stepford Wives remake.
It’s as if the makers of Oz’s The Stepford Wives saw and were deeply influenced by Halloween III: Season of the Witch but decided to only steal the elements that made no sense and seemed to belong in a dozen other movies of various genres and styles.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is not particularly scary and its plot makes less sense the more you think about it but I kind of loved it all the same. It has the courage of its lunatic ambitions and an assured, funky and profoundly warped vision that, alas, doesn’t feel like it has a whole lot to do with the icy brilliance of Carpenter’s terrifying 1978 original.
I wish Halloween III: Season of the Witch had succeeded and kicked off a slew of non-Michael Myers themed Halloween movies but being one of horror’s biggest what-ifs and dead ends only lends it even more personality and distinctiveness. It makes sense that they only made one Halloween movie like this. Despite being a sequel more or less in name only, this batshit crazy cult classic truly is one of a kind.
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