Top positive review
Two more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween....
Reviewed in the United States on April 4, 2020
HALLOWEEN (1979) is arguably the greatest horror movie ever made -- "a masterpiece of inescapable doom," as one of my friends aptly put it. The following films in the franchise, HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) and HALLOWEEN III: THE SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), do not even come within screaming distance of such an accolade, but they are not without their charms, either. This inexpensive double feature DVD pack provides both of the latter in a one-two punch. Or one-two stab. Take your pick.
HALLOWEEN II begins as the original film comes to an end. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the only survivor of a brutal attack by the psychopath Michael Myers (Dick Warlock), who has just been riddled with bullets by his former psychiatrist, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Loomis is sure Myers is dead, but when he checks on the body it is gone. Baffled and dismayed, he continues his pursuit of the maniac while Strode is taken to a nearby hospital. Myers, of course, has no intention of letting Halloween Night end without Strode's death, so he too goes to the hospital. In his way are a truly unfortunate series of bystanders, nurses, EMTs, doctors, security guards and so on, who've got to be disposed of before he can get to Laurie and finish his task. This is the entire plot of the film, minus one twist I can't tell you about, so it's worth discussing what it does right and what it does wrong.
Like all horror movie sequels, HALLOWEEN II is much inferior to its antecedent. HALLOWEEN is neither gory nor gratuitous, the body count is extremely modest and one of those killings is offscreen. The film is in a sense a slow ratcheting-up of tension which resolves in terrifying, inexplicable violence directed at very specific people. Its a kind of modern take on the Book of Job, which asks the ancient rhetorical question, "Why me?" In this movie, subtlety goes by the board and Michael is in full Jason mode, before Jason was a thing, slaughtering everyone in his path. It also ruins the original film's conceit by providing a partial answer to why Michael, who is not really human but a manifestation of evil, wants Laurie dead. Finally, it makes very little use of Jamie Lee Curtis, whose character spends most of the film in a catatonic state and, when up and about, has almost no dialog. Since Jamie is one of only two characters in this series that really matter, the other being Loomis, this is a big issue.
Having said that, HALLOWEEN II is not a terrible film by any means. It makes effective use of the film's iconic score and Warlock does very credible physical acting as the implacable, emotionless, strangely child-like force of evil that is Michael. The acting is far above the usual horror movie standard, employing real actors like Pamela Shoop and Leo Rossi in the victim roles rather than acting skool dropout slasher-fodder. Some of the stalking sequences, too, are very nearly up to the original movie's standard, and the cinematography by the legendary Dean Cundy turns a homey small town hospital into a creepy tomb-in-waiting where death lurks around every corner. Donald Pleasence does his best, which is very good, to bring a kind of frantic, almost manic urgency to his role as the guy nobody ever seems to believe, who is actually the only person in the entire series who ever knows what the hell is going on. H2 may be a by-the-numbers slasher in terms of its plot and execution (pardon the pun), with nothing larger to say about the human condition, but it's not hackwork. Everyone involved was trying, and in some cases, succeeding, to make a good horror movie.
HALLOWEEN III: THE SEASON OF THE WITCH is arguably the most misunderstood and reviled "serious" horror movie of the 80s. Or perhaps ever. I confess freely to being one who did both for many years. Indeed, my own review of it from about 15 years ago is a kind of orgy of ridicule, which I now regret. To some extent, John Carpenter is to blame for this film's failure and its outcast status in the franchise, though he did not direct it, because, as producer and mastermind, he did not really explain (or maybe it was the studio), just what he and the director were trying to do here. In retrospect, it was a bold and refreshingly innovative idea. It just wasn't explained to would-be ticket buyers beforehand.
Despite its roman numeral, HALLOWEEN III is not a sequel to the earlier two films. It is not even made within the same universe. It begins with a man who is holding a Halloween mask fleeing from mysterious assailants dressed in business suits. He escapes, and ends up at a local hospital, where he meets a rough-hewn doctor named Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), and screams, "They're coming to kill us all!" Not long afterwards, one of the assailants shows up and really does kill the man, afterwards immolating himself in the parking lot. Challis begins to suspect the victim was not a lunatic but perhaps on to something. So, together with the victim's nubile daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), he makes tracks for the mysterious town of Santa Mira, where the "Silver Shamrock" Halloween masks are made, and there runs into enigmatic toymaker Connell Cohran (Dan O'Herlihy), who seems to be up to something extremely nefarious. Posing as newlyweds, the "couple" then try to infiltrate the Silver Shamrock factory to discover his secret, and that's where I have to stop, because one more yard and I'd spoil everything. Halloween is, after all, a time for tricks, and nothing spoils a trick like knowing the secret.
HALLOWEEN III is a very strange film. It is most assuredly not a slasher movie; the first half of the story is really more of an atmospheric mystery, complete with Carpenter's trademark sinister-suspense music. Who is the victim, Grimbridge, and why is he running? Who is chasing him, and why do they want him dead? How can a popular brand of children's masks be connected to such violent events? What is the endgame of the mysterious, creepily friendly Connell Cochran? The answers to these questions, given over the course of the second half, make H3 either a) a complete joke, or b) an innovative, tongue-in-cheek subcult classic. It's all dependent on your taste. I myself tend to straddle the line. There is no doubt the first hour and fifteen minutes or so of this flick are interesting and intriguing. Tom Atkins is always good as an everyman on a mission. Stacey Nelkin ain't bad considering she was probably cast solely as eye-candy. Dan O'Herlihy is a the OG character actor brought in to flex his chops as a villain, and he does so with gusto. The atmosphere is menacing, and the humor tends to work. On the other hand, the last half hour or so is a kind of explosion of camp, absurdity, "meta" references, and all-around outrageousness (robots are involved) that seems to be more about seeing how outrageous the script could get than delivering a story that makes sense even with suspension of disbelief turned up to 10. The entire climax of the movie turns on whether Challis can get commercials pulled worldwide by calling up a single television station and raving like a lunatic. I can believe in magic and robots before I believe a guy answering a phone at an affiliate station in NorCal can pull paid-for-in-advance commercials that run all over the planet.
When H3 came out, it was roundly attacked and ridiculed because it calls itself "Halloween III" but is not set in the universe of the first two movies and does not feature Michael Myers. This was viewed as a cynical cash grab of a movie, pure and simple -- I remember the rage expressed by my older brother and his friends after they came home from the theater ("They suckered us!"). Actually, what Carpenter & Co. intended was to make "Halloween" into an anthology horror series, with each film to feature a different premise and a different cast of heroes and villains. It was actually a really cool and innovative concept, but it was not explained to the audience, and even if it had been, it's doubtful this was the way to go storywise for the first installment. It's simply too different of a plot to carry the same name.
Having said all this about both flicks, I will explain the four star rating. When it's Halloweentime and you're looking for entertainment of the right sort, it makes sense to go to the period when horror was at its most fertile -- the 70s and 80s. Naturally you will first go to the classics, but there aren't as many of these as anyone would like to admit, so after that you need movies which are, so to speak, at the front rank of the second rank. Respectable. Entertaining. Reasonably effective -- or failing that, reasonably fun. HALLOWEEN II definitely qualifies as a well-made if unimaginative slasher, which debuted before the genre became a tired self-parody (it is definitely scary, if only a few times here and there), and one which employed credible actors. HALLOWEEN III, on the other hand, is one of those "I dare you to define this" horror movies which will appeal to some on its own merits and strike others as some damned good unintentional comedy. In any event, I can hardly imagine an October 31 coming and going without putting both of these through the DVD player, and if you give them a chance, I'll be willing to be you won't either.