Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal Pictures, 1982)

  There are some reviews that are meant to have you rush to the theater. Others will leave you to decide whether or not to head out to the multiplex (or rent the video). Then there are reviews that serve as warnings, specifically designed to save the movie viewing public unnecessary pain and agony. This review falls into the latter category.

Simply put, Halloween III doesn't fit with the story of any other movie in this series. It's a separate story altogether, and it's a disappointment. If you're looking for another bite of the scary saga of The Shape, go straight to Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. You'll be glad you did.

In this film, Irish-born toy manufacturer Conal Cochran (played by a rather angry looking Dan O'Herlihy) is making Halloween masks at his Silver Shamrock factory; masks that are designed to kill the children who wear them. He's stolen a pillar from Stonehenge (nice trick) and is using its energy to do the deed. A Silver Shamrock television commercial with a flashing orange pumpkin is supposed to set everything off . The deaths of the children on Halloween night will serve as a mass sacrifice for the Festival of Samhain, because Conal says "it's time again." Of course, the stars of this film have found out about this evil plan -- but can they put a stop to it? Oh, who cares.

And that's the problem. The poorly conceived characters never made me care what happened . They might as well be called The Hero, The Love Interest, and The Villain. They are nothing more than cardboard cutouts, and the actors that play them don't put in any effort to flesh them out. The story is something that could have been fit into a half-hour Twilight Zone or Night Gallery; this hour-and-a-half movie feels bloated.

Tom Atkins (veteran of several John Carpenter films, such as The Fog and Escape from New York) plays Doctor Dan Challis, a divorced father of two who stumbles upon the evil plan. Dan never seems to care that his two children have the deadly masks, but he does get pretty worked up about his sidekick, Ellie Grimbridge (played by blank-faced Stacy Nelkin). In a tacked-on love scene that feels like it was added on so the nudity would get the film an "R" rating, their dialogue sounds like badly written porn. Oh, and I could have spent my whole life not ever having seen Tom Atkins' backside.

The Silver Shamrock theme song -- sung to the tune of "London Bridge Is Falling Down" and played ad nauseam -- isn't scary, it's annoying. The townsfolk that live around the factory have "Irish" accents that make the Lucky Charms leprechaun sound authentic. Everything looks drab and lifeless, but that could be due to the age of the film rather than any specific fault of the production department or cinematographer. But the lackluster feel of the film is another drain on an already weak movie.

Tommy Lee Wallace gets the credit (blame?) for writing and directing this mess. His work on the miniseries It was excellent; perhaps he's grown as a director since this film. He's recently directed his first feature film in quite some time, John Carpenter's Vampires: Los Muertos. I'm glad to see that John Carpenter is nothing if not loyal. And forgiving.

What's really bugging me? Okay, here goes. If John Carpenter never wanted to do another movie in this series, fine. But this movie has the feel of a McDonald's franchise that has decided to sell pizzas. Bland, tasteless pizzas. There was some talk during the production of this movie that from then on, the Halloween franchise would release pictures that had a Halloween theme, rather than just revisit the legend of Michael Myers. After this flop, the other movies in the series bring Michael Myers back into the picture. Sometimes a formula is a good thing.

The movie's use of Samhain as the evil force that drives the sacrifices sets paganism back about 500 years. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but the movie's use of "the Festival of Samhain" seemed nothing more than another plot device, and a poorly executed one at that. It's only discussed at the end of the film, one hour and seventeen minutes in. Yes, I checked. I spent a good deal of time checking the movie timer on my DVD player during this movie.

If the folks responsible for this garbage really wanted to depart from the first two films and create something authentic, this basic story could have been an interesting movie. The idea of performing a mass sacrifice of children for the Festival of Samhain could have been a suspenseful tale; the movie Dark Secret of Harvest Home carried off the idea of pleasing old gods with new blood with wit and style. Instead, Halloween III comes off as a poorly written Movie Of The Week that Columbo and Kojak wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.

To add insult to injury, the deaths of the children are supposed to occur at the end of a horror movie marathon. The movie they're showing? The original Halloween. It only served as a reminder of what I was missing.

Happy Halloween? Not with this clunker.

[Denise Dutton]