PLEASE NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT THE MOVIE.
Tommy Lee Wallace dropped by the New Beverly Cinema on October 30, 2010 to talk about his directorial debut, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” This is the Michael Meyers-less sequel of the long running franchise and it played as a double feature along with “Trick ‘r Treat.” All the “Halloween” movie fans were in for a special treat as Wallace gave us more trivia about the making of it than we ever could have ever expected.
When Wallace was brought up after the movie ended, he admitted that his reaction to watching it after so many years was that it resembled one of the strangest and most bizarre movies he had ever seen. The original plan for “Halloween III” was to work from an original screenplay by Nigel Kneale, best known for his work on the “Quatermass” series. What Kneale ended up writing was, as Wallace put it, “brilliant and deeply, darkly grim” and more of a cerebral, intellectual horror movie than your typical slasher fare. But it turned out that everyone thought the overall story needed work, and Wallace said he and Carpenter wanted to make it more commercial and scarier for audiences. As a result, Kneale took his name off the movie as he felt the filmmakers would simply butcher all he came up with. Wallace did say that he really liked Kneale’s script and hopes to put it online someday in its entirety for all to see.
While making the movie, Wallace described himself and the crew as being under the gun as it was a low budget affair like most horror movies. Understanding how to do work on the cheap, he said that all the “el cheapo” special effects taught him a lot about simplicity which turned out to be a great virtue.
As for Carpenter’s participation, Wallace said that he gave him full autonomy as he himself always expected to have it on all his movies. Joe Dante, the director of “Gremlins” and “Innerspace,” was originally set to helm “Halloween III,” but he later turned it down when something else came up. Having worked on many of Carpenter’s previous movies, Wallace was originally offered the gig of directing “Halloween II,” but he turned it down as he saw no way to top the original. But upon being offered “Halloween III,” Carpenter and the late Debra Hill told him that neither of them wanted to do a direct sequel as Carpenter hated “Halloween II.” With that in mind, Wallace jumped at the chance to direct this one which would serve as his feature film directorial debut.
The only real barrier Wallace had to deal with before accepting the job was getting the blessing of Dino De Laurentis. Wallace had previously written the script for a movie De Laurentis produced called “Amityville II: The Possession,” and he said that the one rule everyone needed to remember was that “you do not fuck with Dino.” In response to Wallace’s request, De Laurentis begged him not do the film, but Wallace said he was determined to get De Laurentis’ blessing because he would have directed the movie anyway.
With “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” Carpenter and Hill wanted to turn the franchise into an anthology of movies about the occasion of Halloween. Looking back, the original was really not about Halloween at all (the original title was “The Babysitter Murders”). But when it came to releasing this particular “Halloween” movie, Wallace said Universal Pictures did not do enough to prepare audiences for it. Sadly, audiences did not want something new. They wanted Michael Meyers back and breathing heavy while slashing over stimulated teenagers.
One of the biggest influences on “Halloween III” turned out to be the 1956 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” directed by Don Siegel. Like that one, this sequel was meant to be a pod movie and could not be mistaken as something nice. Wallace even wanted to shoot it in Sierra Madre where that classic was filmed, but it didn’t look good enough. The production team had driven all over Northern California looking for the perfect small town to film in, and it took forever to find it. Wallace said they were never as lucky as they were with Carpenter’s The Fog.” Also the town’s name, Santa Mira, is the same as the one used in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
But the big difference between “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Halloween III” is in the way each movie ended. Siegel wanted his film to close on a highway with star Kevin McCarthy screaming frantically, “THEY’RE ALREADY HERE! YOU’RE NEXT! YOU’RE NEXT!” Instead, that movie ended the same way it began, in a police station. All this did was indicate to the audience that everything was going to be alright. Wallace said the ending of “Halloween III” was dedicated to Siegel for what he tried to pull off, and it leaves the fate of the world up in the air which makes things far scarier as you mind was forced to imagine what actually happened. Universal Pictures, however, put pressure on Carpenter to change the ending to something more upbeat. When Carpenter asked Wallace if he wanted to change the film’s ambiguous climax, Wallace said he refused to do so and Carpenter defended Wallace’s decision to the studio.
Tom Atkins name in the credits as well as his first appearance onscreen generated a huge applause from the audience at the New Beverly. When it came to casting “Halloween III,” Wallace said Atkins was already a part of Carpenter’s company of actors and that his performance in “The Fog” served as his audition for the role of Dr. Daniel Challis. Wallace then went on to explain that horror movies can easily be ruined by “pretty boy casting,” and he felt that didn’t need to be the case here. Atkins naturalistic performance is commendable considering that much of what he has to deal with is utterly ridiculous. You also have to give him credit for wasting no time in bedding the main female character, Ellie Grimbridge, played by Stacey Nelkin.
Another actor who got a lot of applause was the late Dan O’Herlihy who portrayed the movie’s chief villain, Conal Cochran. Wallace described O’Herlihy as being perfect for the part and that he was always prepared and ready to go. He went on to describe O’Herlihy as a man from the British Isle, Irish, and as someone who was never afraid of getting sentimental. O’Herlihy’s performance was a fiendish mix of a friendly persona which is a cover for his grisly nature. RIP O’Herlihy.
As for Nelkin, the first question from the audience was whether or not her character was a robot throughout the entire movie. Wallace said that he honestly didn’t know and figured that Cochran’s company was really good at making robots in the first place. Nelkin was a very appealing presence in “Halloween III,” and perhaps Roget Ebert put it best in his one and a half star review of the movie:
“Too bad she plays her last scene without a head.”
Then there’s the movie’s commercial for the Silver Shamrock masks which features one of the most annoying songs that you cannot get out of your head. Alan Howarth, who composed the score along with Carpenter, was given credit for doing the jingle and putting it to the tune of “London Bridge” from “My Fair Lady,” but Wallace said it was his idea more than anyone else’s.
As for the voice on that Halloween jingle, it is Wallace’s. They were originally going to hire someone else, but when they found that the guy they wanted cost $550, it was determined that they couldn’t afford him. Wallace got the job soon after and said he got into the mood by doing the smooth tone of a “stupid radio voice from the 50’s.”
Another audience member asked Wallace if there were any product placements in “Halloween III,” and he said there were not. Truth be told, this wasn’t really the kind of movie that would allow for that, and it was also clarified that no one was ever asked to move that can of Miller Lite closer to the camera.
“Halloween III: Season of the Witch” was designed to be a diatribe against consumerism, and it didn’t turn out to be a very elegant one. The movie cost $2.5 million to make and grossed about $14 million at the box office. While it did make a tiny profit, the sequel was considered a commercial and critical disappointment. Wallace said he fell into an abject depression for months afterwards as he felt he did a shitty job on the sequel and that he would be consigned to movie hell.
Years later, however, Wallace discovered that “Halloween III” had developed a cult following and a new generation of fans. He was stunned to hear that a lot of people watch it every single year and said that people continue to invite him to speak at annual horror conventions about it. Having been originally released back in 1982, audiences have had plenty of time to reflect on the kind of movie it was and reevaluate it critically. While still not a great film by any stretch, it’s much better than its reputation suggests.
Certainly, there are other “Halloween” sequels that are far worse (“Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers” is the pits), and the moderator put it best when comparing the third movie to “Halloween: Resurrection:”
“Do you prefer this or Busta Rhymes?”