“Halloween III: Season of the Witch, 1982”

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“It’s time. It’s time. Time for the big giveaway. Halloween has come. All you lucky kids with Silver Shamrock masks, gather ’round your TV set, put on your masks and watch. All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather ’round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin. Watch…”

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch, 1982 (Tom Atkins), MCA/Universal

On many occasions in writing this column, I’ve had to go back and watch the movies I remember seeing on cable television just to refresh my memory, and recall certain items in the narrative. Some movies are more difficult to review than others, because while I can summon the substance of the plot, or perhaps my personal feelings at the time, I can’t remember everything. Nostalgia is key to this. Movies like All Night Long or Jinxed require this level of hand-holding to get the reviews written. A movie like Halloween III: Season of the Witch does not.

Watching it, you immediately understand the movie is not a direct sequel to the Halloween franchise. There is no Michael Meyers in a bizarre (not to mention disturbing) repurposed William Shatner Captain Kirk mask and mechanic’s jumpsuit dispatching horny teenagers with gusto. Instead, we get a kind of brilliant satire, not necessarily a spoof (in the Scream vein) but an ironic piece of gore burlesque about an evil capitalist who wants to use his Stonehenge-enhanced Halloween masks to rule the world. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Dependable genre movie workhorse Tom Atkins (Creepshow, The Fog) plays night shift emergency room Doctor Dan. He takes in a hysterical man who is clutching a mask (better that than a teddy bear, I suppose) and shrieking, “They’re gonna kill us!” which is not what you want to hear at the end of your shift. Atkins takes a nap. Meanwhile, a man in a trench-coat appears, enters the patient’s room and crushes the guy’s skull. This is enough to make people want to quit working in the medical field. Skull Crusher leaves the hospital, gets into his car, dowses himself with gasoline and lights himself on fire. Well, that’s peculiar.

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Kids, don’t try this at home!

A short time later, the deceased patient’s hottie daughter (Stacey Nelkin from Get Crazy) shows up to claim the body and fill our Doctor Dan in on some strange circumstances involving small-town Halloween mask manufacturer Silver Shamrock. Stacey and Tom masquerade (heh) as buyers so they can get a guided tour of the factory and do a little snooping.

They are captured by CEO Conal Cochran and his Stepford-style androids. He does what every bad guy in a movie does. He tells them his plan. Basically by putting microchips in his masks and promoting a “big giveaway” on television, and telling the children to watch the TV screen as a flashing computer pumpkin dances on the screen, the masks will cause their heads to explode in a mass of snakes and insects and bring about the resurrection of Samhain.

To save you a trip to the Wikipedia, the definition of Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. I don’t know what this has to do with snakes and insects, but by this point I’m already swept up in the action. This is an unusual horror movie. According to my research, this movie was the first in a planned series of anthology episodes intended to cash in on the Halloween brand. While not an enormous success initially, the film was profitable, but not enough to continue with the anthology plan. It’s worth noting that the movie has a meta sensibility. While having a drink in a bar, Atkins notices a Halloween movie advertisement playing on the television.

This is such a fun, well-made movie with competent gore effects and a great mustache-twirling performance from Dan O’Herlihy as Cochran. Refreshingly, the ending is ambiguous with a desperate Atkins calling television stations and telling them to turn off the Silver Shamrock commercial. The image of Atkins goes to black as his echoing voice screams, “STOP IT!”. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a clever suspense-thriller as well as a prescient comment on modern advertising.

Next up: Brimstone and Treacle starring Sting from 1983.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

 

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NEW PODCAST: “God Spreads Rabies!”

God-Spreads-Rabies

 

Advocates on both sides of this massive divide we’ve created repeat the same erroneous talking point – that marriage is a right, or perhaps a privilege accorded by the Constitution of the United States, which isn’t true.  There is absolutely no mention of marriage, the definition or personal rights – in the Constitution, which is the way I think it should be, because – I’m married, but I believe my marriage should not be approved by a State or by Federal Law, it doesn’t matter to me, I don’t need that sort of acknowledgement.  Further, it gives wide-reaching power to the State, the Federal government, the Supreme Court to control what is, essentially, personal choice.  I believe in limited government.  I don’t want the government telling me who I can marry, or who I can’t marry, or – and this is important – threatening to penalize me, either financially, or with jail time for refusing to acknowledge whom other people can marry or can’t marry.  It’s simply none of my business, and it should not be any of the government’s business.  They have guns, and flamethrowers.  They can kill your family and burn your house down if you don’t agree with them when they’ve written up new laws.  I don’t like that.

Tonight, we are introducing a new segment to BlissVille.  As you may or may not know, if you’ve been paying attention, this particular run of BlissVille episodes has paid tribute to an actor among men, William Shatner.  So this next piece is my wife, Bronwyn’s, intepretation of the classic “horrors of war” speech from the Star Trek episode, “A Taste of Armageddon”.  I hope you enjoy it.

I would pray for peace, if I were religious.  I would say listen we’ve just been thrown into the fray of sexual equality, give people time.  Wisdom is it’s own reward.  Peace and understanding are what matters.  The homosexual couples who were denied marriage licenses were preaching a fantastic doctrine of new Christianity, not the old fire and brimstone kill-the-pagans Old Testament stuff, but they didn’t want Ms. Davis to be imprisoned or fined or censured, and for that I applaud them.  That’s the way to go.

NEW PODCAST: “All Outta Bubble Gum”

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“They Live” is a 1988 American satirical science fiction horror film written and directed by John Carpenter. The film stars Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. It follows a nameless drifter (called “John Nada” in the credits), who discovers the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages in mass media.

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The first time I saw the movie was on something called the Universal Debut Network; it was a syndicated movie package that Universal Pictures sold to independent networks, I saw it in 1990, it was on Channel 11 here in New York City. The Universal Debut Network was the pre-cursor to all the syndicated series Universal would show, but at first they started with movies like “They Live”, “Prince of Darkness”, “the infamous extended TV version of the movie, “Dune”, where David Lynch took his name off the credits. Apparently Lynch said, “wait a minute, this movie makes sense now, I’m taking my name off the picture!” So after this run of pictures, shows like Hercules and Xena came on the air because they were thinking about putting together a fifth network at the time.

So how do we look on politics, censorship, liberalism, conservative ideology now as opposed to 1988? In Carpenter’s fantasy, these things are just gradual with no tipping point, no rhyme or reason, but I think certain things happened to bring us a “They Live” situation, like 9/11, obviously 9/11 destroyed our country but in a slow, gradual way, like death by a million cuts.

There’s a great line in a sci-fi movie from 1982, “Endangered Species” starring Robert Urich and JoBeth Williams, where Urich says, “If what’s going on around here is organized, you don’t wanna go up against it! The government. The right wing. The left wing. Mercenaries. The mob. It doesn’t make much difference if you get in their way!”

To me, it’s allegory, like all great science fiction. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – in the 50s, it was allegory for the Cold War and Communism. In the 1978 version, it was about the “Me” Generation and pop-psychology. In the ’93 remake, it was allegory for disaffected youth and generation X.

“In Praise Of Harve Bennett (1930-2015)”

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“If I pinch his cheek hard enough, he’ll let me direct!”

 

Two days before Leonard Nimoy’s passing (why are we being told now?), a photon tube was lowered into the torpedo bay and shot into the atmosphere of the Genesis planet. Harve Bennett had extensive science fiction television credits, producing “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “The Bionic Woman” (favorites of mine when I was a kid), and “The Mod Squad”. He came out of nowhere to produce the middle section of Star Trek films – II, III, IV, and V when Paramount executives asked him if he could take over the franchise.

As a producer, he proved he could craft a compelling a story while staying within budget. Although he was a man who brimmed with ideas and ambition, Gene Roddenberry never successfully coped with the rigors of film production, and the first Star Trek movie was not a box office success – at least not the success Paramount was hoping for (in the wake of Star Wars). A string of successful staffing decisions (that of hiring Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy to direct, contracting Industrial Light & Magic to produce visual effects, and utilizing TV production crews to shoot) led to Star Trek’s most profitable phase in the film franchise up to that point.

In Hollywood though people have short memories and if it isn’t about your past success, it’s about your most recent failure. When the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier did not perform up to expectations and Paramount nixed his idea for a reboot, he left the franchise (or was fired, depending upon who tells the story). In addition to producing four Star Trek movies, he came up with the idea of bringing Khan back, he achieved the damn-near-impossible writing the script for Star Trek III:The Search For Spock and bringing Spock back to life in a credible way, and he co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Like Gene Coon and Robert Justman before him, Harve Bennett was another unsung hero of the franchise. He was the man who single-handedly saved Star Trek.