DIR: Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacy Nelkin, Dan O’ Herlihy
Halloween is a funny time of year for horror fans. It may be a month long celebration of all things mad, gothic and macabre, but ultimately we spend all year round celebrating these kinds of things and watching these kinds of movies anyway. We don’t need a specific holiday or tradition to give us a reason to wander down the dark alleys and into the gothic castles. Halloween is, however a fun time of the year when the rest of the populace catch up with us and dive into the mists and the grave yards to see what all the fuss is about. There is a certain ‘feel’ to October that is undeniable; a strange combination of the Autumnal air and the spirit of Samhain, it is a unique and undervalued time of the year.
With this in mind, I am going to use it as an excuse to celebrate an under- appreciated gem of a film that manages to capture both the imagination and the spirit of the season. Whenever Halloween comes around, and I start seeing the pumpkins, masks and other novelties in the shops, I find myself thinking about the Silver Shamrock mask company and humming there infectious but deadly tune! Halloween III is a strange beast, and is often resigned to being the unwanted step child of the beloved Halloween franchise. The truth is us horror fans are a difficult bunch. We are notoriously precious about our icons and the films they inhabit; challenge our preconceptions, and dare to do something too different and we cry ‘murder!’ But in the very same breath we complain about a lack of originality and the refusal to push the envelope. Basically, as Rob Zombie found out with his Halloween movies, film -makers can’t win. As Bart Simpson would say “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
Halloween III had a tough task to start with. Following John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, and Rick Rosenthal’s solid 1980 sequel it needed to be something special. Those films had set up a mythology that had struck a chord with viewers, and catapulted Michael Myers into horror folklore. What Halloween III was, was something completely different. Turning its back on Haddonfield and Michael Myers it tells the story of a Doctor (Atkins) who becomes embroiled in the sinister goings on at the Silver Shamrock mask factory. With the daughter of a murdered man along for the ride he soon begins to uncover a sinister plot involving the mass murder of thousands of people, druidic rites, and twisted sciences. It is such a dramatic shift that it turned a lot of fans away, disgruntled that their beloved Michael Myers and his very own Van Helsing: Dr Loomis, were absent from proceedings.
To be fair, the very first time I saw this I found it rather confusing. Not so much the plot or its goings on, but I didn’t understand why there was no Michael Myers. I had gone into the film knowing nothing about it as I was going through my ‘Horror Education’ at the time and was constantly discovering new films and franchises on video and television. I had become obsessed with characters like Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger(who remains my all time anti-hero to this day!) so to see a film in a franchise bereft of its main character just struck me as odd and frustrating. But there was something compelling about the film, and its idea of Halloween masks that would essentially kill the wearer on Halloween night was, and still is rather terrifying. So over the years I have returned to it on many occasions and grown very fond of it.
It mixes its horror with science fiction and has the feel of a feature length Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode, rather than the stalk and slash dynamics of its predecessors. Similar to the Universal horrors such as Frankenstein(1931) and The Invisible Man(1933) it tries to give its monsters a scientific reasoning, and Dan O’Herlihy’s Cochran certainly has the air of a mad scientist about him. But the movie throws in ancient Halloween beliefs and occult philosophies making it a rather bizarre and unique film that stands alone, and may have been better served had it not carried the Halloween name.
It does however share some very important core elements with its brethren that are often overlooked. Director Tommy Lee Wallace clearly learned his craft around the master himself, as this looks and feels like a John Carpenter film. Making the absolute most of its widescreen locations, the camera creeps down hospital corridors, and takes in the vast desolate expanses of The Silver Shamrock factory, finding tension and fear in the most innocuous of places. The science fiction elements shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise either, as Carpenter(who is the Producer here) has often shown an interest in such things. Films like Dark Star(1974) and The Thing(1982) both indicate his love for the field, and he would later return to it all with Films like They Live(1988), and the horror/sci-fi hybrid Prince of Darkness(1987). Carpenter too scores the film, so it has that wonderful synth all the way through it. It isn’t as memorable as the original Halloween score but adds a wonderful sense of rising tension, and offers an aesthetic link to what came before.
So for all the criticism it received for not really being a Halloween film I say this: Go back and look again because it is far better than any film that followed it bearing the Halloween name. Michael Myers may have returned to the franchise but it was to vastly diminishing returns, and the mythology was irredeemably damaged by many of the instalments.
Halloween III is much like our beloved genre itself: the dirty family secret that some people wish would just go away. But like our beloved genre it has refused to lie down and die and still sparks discussion and debate. It belongs to a rare group of films that capture the spirit of Halloween and October. It feels like Halloween and I defy anyone after watching it not to find themselves singing “three more days to Halloween, Halloween…Silver Shamrock.”