Reviewing sequels can pose a problem - should the film be looked at as a standalone piece, or as part of a series? Thankfully, Halloween 3 largely solves this particular problem by ignoring any of the Michael Myers mythology of the previous two (or subsequent seven) entries in the franchise, and what we are left with is a flawed but still interesting film. The delirious tone and subject matter make it feel at times like a modern day suburban fairy tale, and it mixes an X-Files/Kolchak type story with an uncompromisingly cruel streak that touches on an uncomfortable taboo.
When one of his patients is murdered in hospital, Dr Daniel Challis, played by Tom Atkins (Maniac Cop, Night of the Creeps) teams up with the dead man's daughter to investigate. Their search takes them to the mysterious Silver Shamrock toy factory in California, owned by Conal Cochran, played by Dan O'Herlihy (Robocop), a place that also has links to an incessant toy commercial, a sinister child-based pagan ritual, and a certain day of the year.
After Halloween 2, which followed on directly from the events of the first film, John Carpenter expressed an interest in turning the franchise into an annual event, releasing a different film every October 31st, each unrelated beyond the Halloween moniker. This is the first, and, thanks to disappointing box office results, only result of this experiment.
The main criticism that can be levelled at Halloween 3 is the script, which feels messy, and badly constructed. We get some intriguing situations and plot twists, such as a murderer calmly getting into a car and setting himself on fire, but because the main premise of the factory owner's evil scheme feels half thought through, the big revelation at the end is a baffling, and slightly silly let down.
The first draft of the screenplay was written by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, but, according to him, was heavily reworked. It certainly lacks the sharp internal logic of the Quatermass stories, where baffling and intriguing premises are set up but clearly explained by the end, and the whole thing feels a lot goofier than anything Kneale ever put his name to. For example, I can see a Stonehenge-type plot element being in the original (Kneale, in the final Quatermass TV serial three years earlier had explored similar themes) but the idea that one of the stones could be transported from Wiltshire to California without anyone noticing is just ridiculous. At the very least, a writer of the calibre of Kneale might have been able to exploit the potential in the storyline to satirise the commercialisation of the Halloween holiday or the small businessman being squeezed out by a big industrial corporation, opportunities overlooked here.
On the plus side, Atkins is great, and completely believable in his role as the macho, hard drinking Dr Challis. He pulls off the same trick he managed in Maniac Cop, that of keeping a straight face in bizarre situations, and bringing a bit of gravitas to some rather silly lines. The rest of the acting is a little more broad, especially the townsfolk and their "oirish" accents. This eventually starts to grate, but is in keeping with the over the top, EC Comics feel of the film. Aside from Challis, there is no real characterisation as such, with people existing largely as elements that provide us with some mystery or exposition before they are bumped off. There is the plenty of portentous dialogue and scenes, so of course, anyone as garrulous and well liked as Cochran MUST be evil.
The oft-repeated Silver Shamrock TV commercial is as catchy as it is irritating but its daily countdown to Halloween takes on more sinister significance as the movie progresses, and provides a deadline that helps crank up the tension. I also could not help but chuckle that a film that centres on an evil corporation using television to destroy the nation's youth was released in the same year that MTV went on the air.
There is no shortage of blood and gore, which puts it closer in tone to the second Halloween film than the original. However, instead of the grim but realistic violence of that first sequel, we get a slightly more fantastic over-the-top approach, with sights such as bugs and snakes pouring out of a skull that has cracked open, and the emphasis here is on the gruesome rather than the suspenseful.
There are some in-jokes for cinema buffs too, some of which work better than others. Repeated TV adverts in the film for the original Halloween, are jarring and distracting, if for no other reason than it reminds us how good the original is. I could do without the "Landis Pet Store" too, with Carpenter presumably following on from Escape from New York, where two minor characters were named Cronenberg and Romero. A more subtle gag is naming the town Santa Mira, the same as in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which also has a small town doctor trying to convince people of a deadly and fantastic threat, and which also has an ambiguous ending.
Not totally successful, mostly due to the script deficiencies, but carried mostly by another great turn by Atkins, and some imaginative twists and turns, and kudos to the filmmakers for at least trying something different.
Halloween 3 was not a smash at the box office, leading to the switch back to the Michael Myers storyline for part 4 onwards. One possible reason for the failure is the lack of Myers, but another thought occurs. The premise is half thought out, but the half that is thought out touches on something of a taboo, that of child murder, and mass child murder at that. Horror films often revolve around murder, and while there is room for debate on some of the issues, such as gender, that arise from this, the murders are usually of adults or, at the youngest, teenagers. If the films do involve children, the norm is for them to be Omen-style evil protagonists. Child murder, or at least the threat of it, is a theme that crops up in literature, particularly Fairy Tales, and even the Bible, but it is tough to think of a great number of films that deal with it, certainly not on the scale proposed by Cochran, almost as if child murder is a taboo that even the most "daring" filmmaker seems reluctant to break.