Monday 28 November 2011

Strange things are afoot at Silver Shamrock

Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which features no witches, is not a slasher film. It's barely even horror. Instead, in the mode of sci-fi mystery tinged with horror Halloween III adopts for most of its running time it reminds me of nothing so much as an especially silly episode of The X-Files, minus the charismatic leads.

But you've got to respect John Carpenter and Debra Hill for trying. In 1982, slashers made boatloads of money, and their decision to forego that market for a horror anthology (Carpenter's original vision: Halloween II was merely a cash-grab) was therefore brave, if totally misguided. And it could have been worse: even at the time of Halloween II, Hill and Carpenter thought about using 3D, but the costs proved prohibitive. Friday the 13th fans were not so lucky: the third film in the series was released in three gaudy dimensions the same year as Season of the Witch.

The opening image, a jack-o'lantern in state-of-the-art computer graphics, might as well scream 'It's 1982!' in big neon letters, and it's accompanied by the sort of disco soundtrack common in early-eighties horror films. On October 23 - the film was released on October 22 for extra near-future suspense - toy shop owner Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) flees implacable figures in business suits. He collapses and is taken to the hospital, still clutching a Halloween mask by a company called Silver Shamrock Novelties, whose adverts have been all over television lately. At the hospital Grimbridge is murdered by another business-suited villain who then sets himself on fire to escape capture.

The doctor who supervised Grimbridge, alcoholic divorced dad Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) decides to investigate together with the dead man's daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) Grimbridge's last known whereabouts are the town of Santa Mira, home of Silver Shamrock Novelties, where he picked up an order for halloween masks. In Santa Mira, Dan and Ellie stay at a motel whose owner (Michael Currie) tells them, in a ridiculous Irish accent, that the town is surveilled and run by the benevolent owner of Silver Shamrock, Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy). It seems that something's fishy at the toy factory, and our plucky heroes go off to infiltrate Cochran's empire.

I can't figure out who Carpenter and Hill (producing, while Tommy Lee Wallace wrote and directed) considered their target audience. It's a film about evil Halloween masks, suggesting it's for kids: and certainly, much of Conal Cochran's strange world of toys and robots - it's like Santa's workshop, but evil - seems designed to spook children more than adults. At the same time, the film has some titillation, courtesy of the ravishingly beautiful Nelkin, and quite a lot of gore: the effects are much worse than in Halloween II (obvious latex when someone has their skull pulled apart, a deeply unconvincing decapitation), but they're still quite enough to deter parents with children. (Apparently, Dino de Laurentiis insisted on graphic violence.)

The 'powerful man controls spooky town' theme was explored by The X-Files more than once in episodes like 'Our Town', and it's painful just how much better that show was at it than Halloween III. Santa Mira just isn't a credible community, and Cochran is reminiscent of a lesser bond villain. Surrounded by strong but ridiculously vulnerable robot servants, he plans to murder thousands of children across the US because... that would be evil? The soliloquy in which he explains his designs is pretty much anti-Irish hate speech:
You don't really know much about Halloween... It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we'd be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal. And the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf. Halloween: the festival of Samhain. The last great one took place three thousand years ago, and the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children. [Sacrifices were] a part of our world, our craft. [Witchcraft] was a way of controlling our environment. It's not so different now. It's time again.
Dan O'Herlihy rocks that scene, incidentally. He's far and away the best part of a film that feels like a tremendously misguided labour of love all the way, albeit one that was messed up in post-production: the soundtrack by Alan Howarth and John Carpenter is sub-par, and the sound effects work is really quite shoddy (a couple of punches are heard before landing, for example). It's pretty, at least: DP Dean Cundey, a series veteran by now, gives us a number of gorgeous shots of Santa Mira at sunrise and a particularly memorable image towards the end, of bodies arranged in a circle of blue energy. It's never once scary, though; and whether the decision to return to the Myers tales after Season of the Witch was artistically sound or not, it was commercially inevitable. 

In this series: Halloween (1978) | Halloween II (1981) | Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1988) | Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) | Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) | Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) | Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998) | Halloween: Resurrection (2002) | Halloween (2007) | Halloween II (2009)

No comments:

Post a Comment