Chinatown – Halloween III – Season of the Witch – tape 1645

Here’s a weird double bill for you.

First, it’s Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, an incredibly famous film which I’ve so far managed to avoid watching, somehow. Here’s it’s presented as part of the Filmworks season, and is preceded by an introduction by screenwriting guru Robert McKee. Whose CSO is just as dodgy as in yesterday’s Doctor Who.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 2nd April 1994 – 23:20

The film itself is presented in letterbox, a rarity in 1994. I like the retro title design.

Chinatown Titles

The film’s a beautiful looking, hardboiled thriller with Jack Nicholson as a private investigator who specialises in divorce cases, who’s hired by the wife of the city’s Water commissioner to investigate her husband.

Jack Nicholson

He uncovers some evidence of an affair, the results are splashed across the newpapers, then Nicholson meets the real wife of the commissioner, played by Faye Dunaway and an eyebrow pencil. She’s obviously upset about the revelations, but Nicholson pleads innocence – he was hired in good faith.

Faye Dunaway

When the commissioner turns up dead, drowned, Nicholson starts digging further. He’s warned off by some hoodlums, one played by the film’s director, Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski

Someone is dumping water from the LA reservoirs into the sea at night, despite there being a drought on. There’s a big public bond issue to build a new dam, but as his investigation continues, Nicholson suspects that there’s a massive real-estate scam going on.

Somehow, it involves Noah Cross (the director John Huston) who also happens to be Dunaway’s father.

John Huston

Nicholson is falling for Dunaway, but then discovers that she’s keeping her husband’s girlfriend prisoner in her house. But it’s not his girlfriend, she’s Dunaway’s sister.

The plot gets very twisty turny, and Nicholson starts suspecting Dunaway is the murderer, lying about her sister. There’s a deeply unpleasant scene where he repeatedly slaps her, trying to get the truth about the girl, but the truth is not what he expected. (It’s one of the more famous twists, but I won’t spoil it here).

The true villain is discovered, but the film has a tragically bleak ending. I guess, according to McKee this must make it great art. I prefer happy endings myself.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 2nd April 1994 – 23:30

After this, we switch to Sky Movies. There’s the end of some credits for (I think) Book of Love, and a trailer for the TV series of The Untouchables, and then it’s time for Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I had thought I’d covered this before on the blog, but I haven’t – although I did rewatch it recently.

Halloween III is a distinct oddity. After the original horror classic, and its distinctly lesser sequel, both featuring Jamie Lee Curtis being stalked by the implacable killer Michael Myers, John Carpenter wanted to do something different for the third film. He wanted to tell a completely different type of story, still with a horror theme, still focused on Halloween, and for this film he turned to an unusual source for the screenplay. British genre writer Nigel Kneale had been writing science fiction and horror for a long time, most famously with the BBC serials Quatermass, which mixed SF ideas with a fascination with ancient mythology.

Carpenter approached Kneale to write the screenplay, but, according to Kneale, executive producer Dino de Laurentiis wanted more blood and gore, and Kneale was unhappy with the rewrites and asked to have his name taken off the movie. Ultimately, only director Tommy Lee Wallace was credited with writing the movie, although Carpenter himself also performed some rewriting.

It starts with a man running from a younger man in a suit. He appears to get away. We cut to a news report about the disappearance of one of the bluestones of Stonehenge nine months ago, although why this is still news is uncertain. I’m sure it’s going to be important, though.

Then we get the first helping of what will become a familiar tune – the Silver Shamrock Halloween countdown advert, counting down the days to Halloween. Anyone who has seen this movie will remember this. Not necessarily with fondness, though.

It’s advertising a set of three Halloween masks (“The Halloween 3”) which every kid in America wants for Halloween.

Silver Shamrock Masks

Carpenter favourite Tom Atkins plays doctor Daniel Challis, who is on call when the pursued man from the opening is brought in. He’s clutching a Halloween mask, and seems very perturbed when the jungle plays on the TV.

Tom Atkins

Another of the creepy men in suits comes into the hospital and kills the man, then walks out, gets in his car, douses himself in petrol and sets himself alight.

Stacey Nelkin plays the man’s daughter, Ellie Grimbridge.

Stacey Nelkin

They decide to visit the last place his father visited before his death – the town where the halloween masks were made. Almost as soon as they check into the motel, they’re making out, like she hasn’t just traumatically lost her father and he hasn’t just traumatically witnessed a man self-immolating. Sometimes I wish a man and a woman in a film could just relate to each other without having to immediately fall in love. Plus, Atkins is 23 years older than Nelkin, which is borderline creepy.

The town itself is a bit weird, with a curfew, and everyone being fascinated by outsiders visiting. There’s other people visiting the plant as well. A man with his family, who won a trip there by selling a lot of the masks, and a woman there to correct a botched order.

I guess there has to be a curfew, so that the creepy men in suits can murder a local drunk without being seen. They pull his head off, which seems excessive, but it does tend to confirm the ‘add more violence’ issue that Kneale complained about.

Ugh, another sex scene, during which Atkins actually says “wait a minute, how old are you?” at least her answer is “I’m older than I look” but I don;t think that helps an awful lot.

There’s more random violence when Marge Guttman, the woman there to complain about her order, decides to fiddle about with the Silver Shamrock trademark disc that came off her mask, sets something off, and something frankly incomprehensible happens to her face.

Incomprehensible Face

Atkins sees her being taken away by a suspiciously large number of men in white coats, and the owner of the factory, Conal Cochran, played with a twinkle by Dan O’Herlihy.

Dan O'Herlihy

They visit the factory the next day, only to be told Ellie’s father left with his order. But Cochran generously offers to send out a brand new order, free of charge.

They get a tour around the factory (I think this was actually filmed at the Don Post factory, where they make latex masks from horror films) but naturally there’s part of the factory that’s restricted – Special Processing. And Ellie sees her father’s car hidden away in a garage.

Ellie goes missing, Dan escapes the pursuing suits and breaks into the factory, then, in a fight with one of the suits, discovers that they are some kind of robots.

Robot goo

Cochran takes Dan to the Special Processing chamber, curiously signposted Final Processing, and we see a large warehouse with a huge chunk of rock in the middle, and lots of sciencey people working around it. This explains what happened to the missing Stonehenge bluestone. “It has a power” Cochran tells Dan.

Stonehenge rock

Then there’s a demonstration, as the winning salesman and his wife and son are ushered into a screening room to watch a new commercial, one which activates the mask that young Buddy’s wearing, with very nasty effects.

A Sad End for Buddy

Incidentally, I fail to understand why they’re still chipping bits of the stone away, only hours before the advert is due to air. Surely they can’t be shipping out any more masks at this point?

There’s another gratuitous, violent death, as the forensic scientist friend of Dan’s realises something’s wrong with the remains of the man who burned up in the car, so Cochran has another suit finish her off, with a drill.

Cochran explains why he’s doing it. It’s because, in the dim and distant celtic past, the festival of Samhain used to feature blood sacrifice of children and animals. The planets are in alignment again, so it’s going to happen tonight.

Dan escapes, finds Ellie, goes back to the warehouse and starts playing the commercial, while pouring loads of the Silver Shamrock discs onto the science drones, who all short circuit. Cochran himself is zapped by the energy and what? Frozen? No idea really.

Popsicle O'Herlihy

Dan and Ellie escape, but Ellie’s very quiet. Then she attacks Dan in the car, which crashes. Robot Ellie’s arm is riped off in the crash, but she keeps coming like a doe-eyed terminator.

Robot Ellie

This scene might contain the most ‘back from the dead’ jump scares in any movie. At least four of them in quick succession.

Dan runs to the nearest gas station, and phones somebody who is able to get the advert taken off all the channels. I wonder who that person is, and how Dan was able to track him down on the phone in the less than ten minutes he had before the advert aired. Sadly for Dan and civilisation, they’re only able to stop it running on two of the three channels. I bet it’s Fox that keeps playing it.

After this, another movie starts, War Story Vietnam, and the tape runs out after a few minutes of this.


  • trail: Blind Spot
  • Skytext

One comment

  1. Chinatown is the greatest post-Watergate movie of the 1970s, apart from All the President’s Men which addresses the bone deep corruption head on by actually making a film about the events. No wonder Chinatown doesn’t have a happy ending, its harsh disillusionment is still relevant today. Apparently the idea was the leave the audience on a downer to spur them to make a positive difference in real life, but good luck working out what that could be now.

    Another movie that ends bleakly is Halloween III, which was the first 1980s horror I ever saw, so I have a soft spot for it. Plus it’s absolutely nuts in a risk-taking way, whether by accident or design, that I find very appealing. Dan O’Herlihy is a fantastic baddie, too. Love the ultra-creepy electronic opening titles, an ingenious variation on the first film’s pumpkin opening.

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