With Michael Myers going up in flames at the end of 1981’s HALLOWEEN II, writers/producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill decided to take the franchise away from Haddonfield to sow the seeds of Samhain elsewhere. The idea was to shift the Halloween franchise into an anthology series, with each year bringing a new and original tale set on Halloween. There was some resistance; Carpenter and Hill still maintained the creative control and enlisted Nigel Kneale, creator of the QUATERMASS series, to craft a different take on Halloween.
Mixing Celtic occultism, Stonehenge, and technological evils, the script was originally pinned for Joe Dante (THE HOWLING/GREMLINS) to direct. For whatever reason, Dante (this would be the second part III he was attached to, but didn’t make, after JAWS III) dropped out and was replaced by Carpenter protege Tommy Lee Wallace. A childhood friend of John’s and fellow USC alum, Wallace worked with Carpenter on his feature debut DARK STAR and continued working with him ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (Sound editor), HALLOWEEN (Production designer/co-editor), and THE FOG (Production designer/co-editor). Originally, Wallace had been tapped to direct HALLOWEEN II, but didn’t like the material. However, when Carpenter and Hill pitched him part three, Wallace immediately jumped at the chance.
With Wallace on board, movie mogul and the film’s distributor, Dino De Laurentiis, insisted that the script needed more gore and violence. While remaining faithful to Kneale’s plot, Wallace upped the nastiness and added a dose of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS to the mix. While Kneale was happy with most of the tweaks and the general direction Wallace brought to his script, he still had his name removed from the final product over the additional violence mandated by De Laurentiis.
While the story was outside the scope of the first two films, Carpenter and Hill surrounded Wallace with several familiar faces from the franchise. Cinematographer Dean Cundey, who had shot the previous two HALLOWEEN films, was brought back for the third. Carpenter and musical collaborator Alan Howarth teamed up once again for the score. And stepping into the starring role was none other than Tom Atkins.
Having previously worked with Carpenter and Hill as one of the ensemble in THE FOG and a small role in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, Atkins stepped up to full-on leading man as Dr. Dan Challis. A flawed tough guy, lady’s man, and the unlikeliest of heroes, Atkins brought a real, take-no-shit-then-pound-a-beer attitude to the role.
Challis is thrust into this tale when Harry Grimbridge, toy shop owner, shows up to his hospital clutching a pumpkin-face mask. That same mask, along with skeleton and witch versions, have been incessantly advertised on television in the countdown to Halloween. When a mysterious man shows up and murders Grimbridge in his hospital bed and then sets himself on fire, this strange series of events is only the beginning for Challis.
When Grimbridge’s daughter Ellie arrives, Challis joins her in a search for answers that all seem to point to the Halloween masks and their annoying jingle countdown created by Silver Shamrock Novelties. Located in Santa Mira (another nod to the BODY SNATCHERS), Silver Shamrock has turned the community into a soulless factory town overseen by the ominous specter of its owner, Conal Cochran (played with sinister glee by Dan O’Herlihy of ROBOCOP fame).
After a tour of the factory, they discover Ellie’s father’s car, connecting whatever happened to her father directly with Silver Shamrock. But before they can alert the authorities, Challis is captured by Cochran’s security force. While trying to fight them off, he discovers that they aren’t human, but androids.
Once in Cochran’s lair, he reveals his devious plan to Challis with a full on spectacle. On Halloween night, as the children of the world wear their Silver Shamrock masks and watch the final commercial that promises them a “big giveaway,” Cochran is only giving a trick instead of a treat. With the annoying jingle sonically shifting into an abrasive drone, a computer chip in the mask triggers a murderous meltdown that will sacrifice any child wearing one to resurrect the ancient age of witchcraft.
The apocalyptic techno-Paganism of HALLOWEEN III didn’t connect with audiences upon its original release. The fans still craved the Michael Myers mythos. They were confused and/or angered that he only stalked the film via TV commercials interlaced between the Silver Shamrock ones on TV. The film’s lack of success unfortunately brought an end to the anthology format. Carpenter and enlisted writer Dennis Etchison (who also wrote the novelizations of HALLOWEEN II & III) had to come up with a treatment that would bring back Haddonfield and the ghost of Michael Myers. But the producers didn’t want a ghost, they wanted Mikey in the flesh. Once Carpenter and Hill gave up their stake in the franchise, Myers was resurrected in part 4 and picked up where part 2 ended…sort of.
However, time has been kind to HALLOWEEN III. There will always be the “there’s no Michael Myers” naysayers, but over the last several years the film has found its audience. It broke the mold of franchise horror and dared to do something bold and different. With a dread-inducing dark synth soundscape by Carpenter and Howarth, sharp direction by Wallace and a tour de force performance by Tom Atkins, it became its own thing. To paraphrase cinematographer Dean Cundey, if the film had dropped the HALLOWEEN and just went with SEASON OF THE WITCH, it might have become an instant cult classic.
As the Halloween season creeps closer, you’d be hard-pressed not to get that Silver Shamrock jingle stuck in your head. So, get ready to put on your skull, witch or pumpkin mask, because it’s almost time, kids…
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Hulu Theatre @The Egyptian