61 Days of Halloween: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Bradley Schachter in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal)

The first thing that immediately comes to mind when I think of Halloween III: The Season of the Witch is the old Shakespeare quote “What’s in a name?” Apparently the answer to many a film fan, especially devotees of the horror genre, is a lot.

The fact of the matter is I cannot completely absolve the decision to tag this film as part of the Halloween franchise, however, I do not feel it defines the film. In fact, the first time I saw this film was during a Halloween marathon and I had no prior knowledge so I did keep waiting for Michael Myers and though I eventually realized he would not be there it still didn’t ruin the experience for me.

The sad part is the title cost the film. If it had just been labeled Season of the Witch, which has every bit as much to do with it as Halloween (which is not a great deal), people might’ve been able to judge it for what it is and maybe there would’ve been a sequel to examine the aftermath of the diabolical plan. It also caused Part 4 to be subtitled: The Return of Michael Myers because this film had been lumped into the series.

It’s hard to think of a horror concept more perfectly suited for the 1980s. It all hinges on commercialism and cynicism surrounding consumerism. Yet it is also in a way about the ubiquity of television in a day and age when there was no real choice, which plays brilliantly into the plot.

Like many films in the series, however, it does deal with the countdown concept of the approaching holiday. It does so more effectively though as the countdown to Halloween is an intrinsic part of the story which is embodied in a catchy jingle and as we learn more the jingle becomes more and more dreadful.

Perhaps another place where there is a disconnect surrounding this film is that it operates on a more antiquated notion that explanations are overrated when the occurrences within the tale are frightening enough. What is the goo? Why are there spiders? How can the stones target their victims? These are all questions that you walk away with but the answers are virtually irrelevant. What matters is the impact of the story, which is massive. I’ve seen this film a handful of times and the end still leaves my skin acrawl with goosebumps.

When you get right down to the nitty gritty of horror most people are only concerned about one thing: the kills. Some of them in this film are truly memorable and one, when you learn the nature of the mask, is truly iconic.

While within the chronology the film does get to October 29th rather quickly the information does mount steadily enough from that point on that the pace never does suffer.

The music in this version, though also a departure, is quite successful and the return of Dean Cundey behind the camera assures some brilliant imagery.

What is also interesting is that the city of Santa Mira where the Silver Shamrock factory is located is rendered as sort of a cinematic precursor to Gatlin, Nebraska in the Children of the Corn. Its citizens virtual automatons who are functionaries of the company and who look with disdain on any outsider.

There are concrete facts that could be discussed further but what is most interesting about this film is that it floats many big ideas: How this could possibly be the last Halloween, The size of the cataclysm intimated by what the TV ratings may be and also the notion of simulacrum as a few times on TV you see that the world premiere of the Halloween will be airing.

This is a film that while it doesn’t technically belong within the series is still one that ought not be overlooked or underrated.

9/10

61 Days of Halloween- Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror

David Carradine in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (Dimension)

Here we are again in Gatlin, mind you that’s not a complaint. As you have seen and will see later on in the series keeping the geographical ties in this tale are quite difficult. The fact that Urban Harvest works so well in Chicago is nothing short of astonishing. No, this series didn’t have the affinity for Gatlin, Nebraska that Friday the 13th had for Camp Crystal Lake but both those series had a successful airing outs. Here though despite the many possibilities that still existed the returns to nearby towns and Gatlin itself almost always have a bit of staleness to them.

Perhaps no film in this series does more to distance you at the beginning of the film than this one does with the intro it has. Not only do you have the stereotypical college kids on a road trip but to not put too fine a point on it they’re douche college kids. Fantastic. And these are the people I’m supposed to want to see escape the grasp of smarter, more organized albeit crazed zealot children, to quote the great philosopher Ed from Good Burger “Uh, no?”

As if their intro with blow-up doll road markers and typical over-the-top fratboy-jerk-loserness isn’t bad enough we’re supposed to then think that these broad, over-the-top types have dimensions, heart and a conscience and want to save some of the of the children of Gatlin from the fate that’s befallen them. Even if the performances to this point had ridiculously exceeded what was on the written page, the script had already doomed the notion would pass the suspension of disbelief test.

It’s a ludicrous notion to want to save the children because the one thing that has always been somewhat a strength and a detriment to this series, depending on how it’s handled, is that the kids aren’t subtle. Basically, because kids just aren’t usually. They hate b.s. and subterfuge. So in an insular setting with a mob rule/cult mentality they’ll yell “Outlander!” at you and chase you with a scythe no problem. This film is not that different. The children don’t waste a lot of their time telling the students they’re trespassing on private property and that they best be on their way. They proceed to get lost and then trapped there by the children yet there’s still some trust there, some you’re willing to try and save?

Now as mentioned the acting here again is not stellar which you could almost come to expect but what makes it more difficult to take is that there were some weird casting choices. One of the students is played by Ahmet Zappa, now I can’t argue he doesn’t fit the type of character he plays but why Ahmet Zappa would be cast in anything is beyond me.

A bit more unfortunate I feel is the casting of Adam Wylie in the role of the preacher boy, Ezeekial, now I stress that it’s the casting I question here. Adam Wylie in this era was a child actor who’d pop-up in almost anything you can think of, rather akin to Nathan Gamble in as much as you saw him in many things but just likely never placed a name to the face and minus a breakout role now but talented nontheless. Wylie in the realm of a horror film was suited more to be the scared kid you’d be rooting for rather than the flip the switch type: seeming all sweet and innocent until you get on his bad side. A polar opposite of Daniel Cerny in III film.

This film also has a stellar bit of casting that sadly does little to nothing to help the film at all. David Carradine plays the role of an elder guide here. Despite the fact that he gets some decent dialogue that he’s allowed to work brilliantly with his susurrous delivery it adds a weird wrinkle to the story. In the original run of the series The Age of Reason, meaning the age at which children reach adulthood and must sacrifice themselves to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, changes clumsily. In the short story and remake it’s clear why, however, never is it adequately explained why a group with such a rigid dogma would not just allow this man to live among them but act as counselor.

This is one of the cases in this series where the film lost their religion. At certain points it seemed to vanish entirely other times fundamental precepts were change regardless of consequence or lack of sensibility. Clearly installments of this nature suffer more than most.

This film also changes the ritual of sacrifice, which is one that I can forgive so long as one character is the interpreter of the will of He Who Walks Behind the Rows things like that may shift. However, on top of everything else in this film there was a lack of explication.

The very least I can say for the film is that they did create other avenues for leaving town once a car is taken out of the equation but it very predictably goes wrong. However, it does beg the question why is a bus stopping in a ghost town? Other locals may have a handshake agreement to leave the children alone and keep their lives but a bus? Why?

Everywhere you look in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror there are head-scratching decisions. Such that my initial reaction was after this installment no wonder they felt it necessary to re-hash Isaac for the next one.

2/10

61 Days of Halloween- Children of the Corn (1984)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Children of the Corn (1984)

John Franklin in Children of the Corn (New World Pictures)

In my opinion this is a great film and here’s why: Even before we see anything we feel that the score will be of great importance in this film. Aside from a slightly electronic new wave 80s score provided by Jonathan Elias the film is also scored by a children’s choir appropriate and both chilling in tandem with the events that occur onscreen and with the theme of the film.

Like in many horror films we begin in flashback to prior event that led to current unusual circumstances with voice over narration of Job (Robbie Kiger) who is the older brother of Sarah (AnneMarie McAoy). Throughout the film these two are involved in simple activities which are banned under the rules but because of Sarah’s gift they generally are allowed to do what they wish.

What separates this film from most in the 80s is that it’s not necessarily into gore. We get dead bodies and the after-affect of the massacres. The obsession of needing to see the blade or bullet, whatever it may be, pierce the skin is absolutely eliminated and the result is even more frightening.

Joseph (Jonas Marlowe), a child displeased with the ways Isaac has placed upon the town of Gatlin, tries to escape but he is caught. All we see when he dies is a few drops of blood falling on a suitcase he was going to take with him on the road.

Film is a medium that is at times binding to the imagination. When any director, Fritz Kiersch, in this instance allows the audience to imagine what may have been done to these people it deserves notice. Another example of this being the massacre three years prior that kicks off the film we hear a mother’s death over the phone and see a father’s blood splatter over a son’s face. A lot of what makes this film great is the mounting tension that is created when we see these two trying to get around this seemingly abandoned town.

One of the most effective techniques Kiersch uses to heighten tension while the film was progressing is the use of shots from an anonymous yet subjective POV after we know the children were already out to get them. There’s a shot through broken glass that’s been stained brown, a shot of someone peering over a garbage can, low-angle shots of the corn when Joseph’s being chased. He also employs time to his advantage because the young couple does not enter the town of Gatlin where all the horrors will occur until the 39th minute of the film and even when there things creep along slowly.

There is a great use of wide-angle shots throughout to demonstrate the emptiness of the town. The audio and visual effects of this film are absolutely breathtaking, except maybe for one notable one at the very end (You know which I mean). There’s a great use of what appears to be time lapse footage coupled with the audio effect of gushing wind to signify the wrath of God. Near the conclusion of the film we hear the greatest demonic voices in the history of film (In my humble opinion). They’re deep, raspy and frightening without going overboard. And just when we think the most psychotic of all the town’s children is going to walk away from this Isaac speaks to him in that voice and delivers a line that helps make that voice: “He wants you too, Malachai. He wants you too.” The escalating horror of the climax continues when there is a gorgeous fiery apparition in the sky and later an obviously processed flame beneath it which we assume is supernatural but to say more would be giving it away.

The end of Children of the Corn is wonderful the very last scene gives you a fright which is conceivable and doesn’t seem fake at all due to some crafty editing. It takes away that artificial happy ending feeling. The happy ending in any horror movie is absolutely false because we know the characters usually have been through a harrowing experience and it’ll be hard for them to walk away smiling. Watch for the sound of the crickets and the return of a choir, this ending will run a chill through you all over again!

This film is also steeped in religious commentary. First, there is Horton and Hamilton in the car listening to a televangelist and mocking him and showing very good comedic interplay. They find a cross made of corn and Horton says in an offhand and stunned way “Jesus Christ” to which Hamilton responds “Not in my book.”

We witness a mass of those who worship He Who Walks Behind the Rows and see the irony of their words screaming at us. All the names of the children in this town Isaac, Malachai (Though spelled differently in the story), Job and Sarah are biblical figures. These are the children of God-fearing people who have twisted the scripture to suit the needs of a few sick souls who are power hungry those who stand against the clan generally have no chance. Vicky is kidnapped and hung from a cross made of corn, biblical passages are written in blood on church walls the same church where a desecrated portrait of Jesus hangs.

There is but one point where the film climbs towards the didactic and even so it’s but a moment and almost necessary because it shows how insane Malachai’s followers have gone. One other thing that make this film is unique is that we get inside the cult and see the way Isaac and Malachi differ. In what makes horror films fun we get to side with one of them over the other because if we were involved with them in any way he’s the one we’d prefer. There is much infighting with these two and it adds to the tension and adds a wallop to the climax.

9/10