Misunderstood Movies Part V: Tommy Lee Wallace’s “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”

Pumpkin-head-kidWe all have them, movies that we absolutely love and will defend to our dying day. Some people call them guilty pleasures, I call them movies misunderstood by the masses. You know, movies we love even more because we know how misunderstood they are to most everybody else on the planet. I’m talking about movies that you may be embarrassed to say you not only like, but think are absolutely brilliant when confronting the mass populace of differing opinions and the harsh words of many well respected critics.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a perfect example of a movie that has been grossly misunderstood by both a large number of critics and general audiences alike. Follow the jump to see why I feel this movie has been so misunderstood.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch – Director Tommy Lee Wallace (1982)

ff562f_8a633d223b875786c31ff1c655f8ad42Rottentomatoes Rating: Critic – 35%, Audience – 28% // IMDB Rating – 4.2

After just two entries, the Halloween series’ creator, John Carpenter (producer and composer of this film) had gone as far as he wanted to with the Michael Myers character (In case you’ve been cowering under your bed sheets for the past 35 years, Michael Myers is that big scary slasher guy who wears a mask.) However, that didn’t mean Carpenter wasn’t going to capitalize on the success of those films, which is why I suspect he decided to leave the roman numeral three in the title. In retrospect, that might not have been the smartest decision. Not only did Part III sever all ties from the masked maniac storyline, it didn’t even take place within the same cinematic universe, plus leaving the number in the title had to have played a major role – though not an exclusive one – in the film’s poor reception, as well as the unfavorable reputation it holds to this day.

This isn’t to say that aside from the questionable title, there aren’t other reasons for this film being so widely hated on. It’s riddled with gaping plot holes, terrible acting, and characters making ridiculous decisions for the mere sake of moving the story along. Yet the odd thing is, even after recognizing these faults, Season of the Witch is still a great film. Really, it’s true. But before I school you as to what makes this film so incredible let me dedicate at least one paragraph to the plot.

There’s a mad scientist intent on resurrecting the rituals of Halloween’s original Irish roots. Why? Because he’s a Holiday purist, I guess. Basically – and for the sake of maximum entertainment value – he’s going to kill a butt load of children, and do so in the most difficult and perplex way possible, a way that involves an overseas theft of a Stone Hedge pillar, robotic humanoids who bleed an orange juice like substance, mass sales of only three kinds of Halloween masks, a town whose population is 100% Irish, and the most important thing, an advertising jingle catchy enough to lure unsuspecting victims to their death via the television screen at precisely 9:00pm pacific coast time. Sounds simple enough. And if it weren’t for that pesky womanizing, alcoholic, sexually harassing hero of a Doctor, the plan would have been executed a lot smoother than it actually was.

This film – for all its faults (and there are quite a bit) – is above all, an open arms loving embrace of some of the finer tropes the horror genre has to offer. In fact, this authentic committed headfirst nosedive into the ocean of already existing tropes give Halloween III its unforgettable character and cause it to vastly overshadow any supposed misgivings that detractors of the film tend to dwell on. Dont’ misunderstand me, I’m not implying that simply embracing a genre’s tropes deem it a great movie, hardly. Rather I’m claiming this movie is great for how it embraces it.

The following elements of Halloween III are examples of the immensely appealing factors that make this film stand out for being the great spectacle I know it is:

1. Opening title sequence. First impressions matter, do they not? The first impression I got, and continue to get every time I throw this classic on, is just how layered with meaning and unapologetically simple the film’s opening sequence really is. It’s foreshadowing at its most fantastic.

Along with another classic John Carpenter screaming 1980s’ score (a little on that later), and through the perspective of someone sitting way too close to the television screen, we see a montage of orange pixellated dots and lines methodically begin to create and erase lines. Then, soon enough, the camera pulls back from the ultra-close pixels and reveals itself as a television image of a carved pumpkin – The Halloween staple. While this image perhaps only further disillusioned those already familiar with the similar opening sequence of a real jack-o-lantern used in Parts I and II, the fact is, due to its significance of being on a TV screen, it packs more of a meaningful punch than when its predecessors used the now iconic pumpkin. Yeah, in terms of horror opening title sequences that contain both inspired and meaningful images, this deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining and Ridley Scott‘s Alien.

2. Atmosphere is everything, and let’s face it, without the right cinematographer your horror film will undoubtedly wind up being a hard-to-watch horrid mess. Now, as I have previously admitted, this film does have its fair share of problems, especially when it comes to suspending belief. The ridiculously established sci-fi reality of Halloween III does require a substantial stretch of one’s ability to buy into this reality, and were it not for yet another exceptional job from cinematographer Dean Cundey, I too would be amongst the greater population of people who have already written this movie off as being a horrid mess. Woe to those who can not feel movie magic when it is so strongly radiating in front of your very eyes.

Those of you not so keen on horror might be more familiar Cundey’s work on such sci-fi classics as Back to the Future (1985), Jurassic Park (1993) and Apollo 13 (1995) (Yes, I do consider Apollo 13 science-fiction, but that’s for another post all together), but Cundey had already proved himself more than capable of being able to compliment great horror scripts as well, having helmed the mood setting duties on Halloween (1978)Halloween II (1981), and The Thing (1982).

Once again, this time in Season of the Witch, Cundey shows off his remarkable eye for capturing shadows, darkness, light, and the many contrasts between the three. Talk about setting a tone; realizing the importance of captivating an audience from the get go, Cundey photographs a remarkably strong opening night time chase sequence. It’s almost impossible to ignore the way in which Cundey shows headlights beaming through the darkened shadows from which a chase-ee is trying to hide. Whether it be photographing crudely fluorescent lit Hospital corridors, or an eerie ghost town-esque setting, Cundy never once falters in making the atmosphere dark, cold, and most of all, believable. His montage of trick-or-treaters (pictured below) is definitely one of the standout moments of the film.

halloween-iii-sunset-kids

3. Music. Rather than try to describe the soundtrack through words, do yourself a favor and listen for yourself. Below is but a small taste of the psychotic audio mixture of both fear and fun that dwell in the core of Halloween III’s vocal chords. Enjoy.

Well they – in this case, they meaning John Carpenter and Alan Howarth – don’t make sweet soundtracks like that anymore, now do they?

In the end Tommy Lee Wallace‘s directorial debut will forever be a shining example of what certain thematic elements – when exceptionally executed – can do to elevate an atrociously acted plot-holed story into a legitimate horror film, one worthy of a blog post dedicating itself to superb misunderstood movies. And there you have it!

Misunderstood Movies Part IV: Joe Versus the Volcano

Misunderstood Movies Part III: Gentlemen Broncos

Misunderstood Movies Part II: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Misunderstood Movies Part I: Hulk

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