With Michael Myers dead, at least for now, the Halloween series took a turn for the strange.
While the '80s were steeped with action films that found increasingly large men battling foreigners in nihilistic and thinly veiled homoerotic ways, slashers became more routine. You take a pile of teenagers, put them in a building, and turn a killer loose. The decade saw Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm St. descend into near-parody while murderous films like The Lift were thinking of more bizarre ways to kill people for everyday things.
An increased fear of technology and corporate influence inspired other films later in the '80s, but director Tommy Lee Wallace had something in mind for the Halloween franchise before the likes of They Live or Videodrome. Every year a different story could be told instead of relying on killers, and what better way to experience the visceral chill of the '80s then through a campy embrace of the way technology will literally kill the next generation.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is absurd in the best way. Its villain monologues at great length, something that we will never hear Michael Myers do, about his plan to beam death rays into the brains of every child sitting in front of the television wearing one of his masks. Consumerism is the enemy made death in Witch, where television rots people from the inside out, and can only do so if you've already purchased the accessory that makes this possible. Money feeds into money feeds into passivity feeds into death.
All of this might be too cheesy if it weren't for some very effective moments that make the mental rot a squeamish reality. The best moment is when the evil mastermind is testing his gear on an unsuspecting family who thinks they are just doing normal testing. Instead, in a ghoulish display of makeup and special effects, the son's head quickly decays as this incessant ear-worm of a theme (provided again by John Carpenter) blares in the background and all manner of creatures come crawling out. When it's over, and the monstrosities have made quick work of mother and father, the sequence's nausea-inducing imagery will stay with you.
Even the basic visuals that don't normally have a sinister air, like a child watching television excitedly, are unsettling. The colors are harsher and presented in total black a bit more than the flashes of clothing or flesh that accentuated the first Halloween.
The cackling villain is appropriate to the grand scale of the macabre plot but the heroes did not feel right at first. Their performances felt strained, like two caricatures of the determined male and overly curious so threatened by proxy female. But once they arrive in the little town held hostage by the overly kind corporate mastermind the acting takes on a creepy vibe not too dissimilar from Blue Velvet with caricatures of the American family (soon to be devoured) and ladder-climbing corporate businesswoman (complete with power suit) while cameras everywhere watch.
This is the unexpected gem of my trek through the films of Halloween. It may offer give the same visceral chill, but it's very entertaining with some strong social commentary revealed through disturbing visuals. The same trend would not extend into the next decade, where things go from strange to crazy.