Saturday, October 28, 2023

Halloween III – Season of The Witch: An overlooked Halloween movie


I have a confession to make. Like many film critics in 1982, I did not understand or take a liking to Halloween III – Season of The Witch the first time I viewed the film. As the decades have rolled on, I have developed a greater appreciation for the film with multiple viewings. The film is not considered canon in the Halloween series because Michael Myers is nowhere to be found in the film. Director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill agreed to participate in the film only if it was not going to be a direct sequel to Halloween II. Carpenter's chilling music adds some greater credit to this often overlooked horror film.

It's Saturday October 23rd – eight days before Halloween. A tall middle-aged man named Harry Grimbridge, who runs a costume shop business, is being chased by a car in the opening of the film. He appears to be out of breath as he runs with a pumpkin mask tucked in his pants. He finds his way in the pouring rain to a gas station where he tells the station attendant “they're coming!” The gas station attendant takes the man to a local hospital. The man is treated by Dr. Daniel Challis, played by Tom Atkins. Challis is in the middle of a break up with his wife and is never home due to the demands of his job.

Grimbridge is later killed in his hospital bed by a man dressed in a suit. His eye sockets and skull are crushed. Dr. Challis follows the man in the suit out to the hospital parking lot as the man drenches himself with gasoline in his car and sets himself on fire. Grimbridge's daughter Ellie, played by Stacey Nelkin, arrives the following morning to identify the body of her father. Ellie finds Challis in a bar and asks for his assistance in uncovering the motif behind her father's death.

Challis and Ellie travel to a small Irish community named Santa Mira, where Silver Shamrock Novelities manufactures Halloween masks. Ellie's father had picked up some masks from Silver Shamrock a few days before his murder. When the couple arrive, they discover the entire town to be under heavy video surveillance and a strict 6pm curfew. The two uncover a plot by the Silver Shamrock owner Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) to use the masks in an ancient Celtic ritual involving a stolen boulder from Stonehenge and a triggering device inside Silver Shamrock masks to kill children when a commercial airs on TV.

Although Michael Myers is never seen, the film still has a number of brutal killings. A homeless man has his head torn off by one of Cochran's robot henchmen. Dr. Challis' lab assistant is killed with a drill in the head by another robot henchman. A child wearing a Silver Shamrock mask watches a TV commercial as his head cracks open to reveal snakes, worms and cockroaches. A business woman in a motel has her head explode from the chip placed in a Silver Shamrock mask.

Halloween III suggests that Cochran's desire to kill millions of children is like a harvest sacrifice during samhain to help provide greater crops during the next harvest season. Children being glued to their televisions as Silver Shamrock commercials air is a metaphor for the consumerist attitudes of Americans being controlled and influenced by messages we see and hear on TV.

In a recent social media post I saw about the 41st anniversary of Halloween III, many comments were offered about the film in the comments section. Most of the comments were negative reviews of the film. Some of the negative comments were directed at Dr. Challis, who jumps into bed with Ellie, a woman 20 years younger, and Challis abandons his wife and children in the film. Other comments suggested that the film has bad acting.

The main reason that many critics may not like Halloween III is because of the obvious reason – the absence of Michael Myers. In Halloween III, the solution to the mass killings is very simple – remove the Silver Shamrock mask and live. In any Halloween movie with Michael Myers, the solution is not that simple. Myers is a killing machine who stops at nothing to murder his victims. The problem is not solved simply by removing a mask. Even when Myers appears to be wounded or killed, he still gets back up and goes after his victims. The viewer never really feels this kind of horror and doom in Halloween III.

If you consider Halloween III – Season of The Witch as a stand alone film that has nothing to do with Michael Myers, you may still find it entertaining and worth your time. If you are looking for a film which connects well with the Michael Myers story, you may want to skip Halloween III and see Halloween IV instead. Happy Halloween and happy viewing.


Steve D. Stones

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Boris Karloff provides subtle chills in The Walking Dead, 1936


An excellent horror film to watch for Halloween season that more casual genre fans may not be familiar with is Warner Bros' 1936 chiller, "The Walking Dead," starring Boris Karloff. It was helmed by famed Hungarian director Michael Curtiz. Other chief cast members include Ricardo Cortez, Edmund Gwenn, Marguerite Churchill and Warren Hull.

There are no mindless zombies consuming human flesh in the lean mean 60-plus minute film. Karloff plays a down-on-his-luck musician ex-con in bad need of a job. He spent time in prison after being sentenced harshly by a stern judge.

This stern judge has just sentenced a corrupt politician to 10 years in prison. Gangsters who control most of the crime in the city have decided the judge needs to be murdered. Since Elmann was sentenced by the judge they want to kill him. The gangsters set Elmann up to take the fall for the judge's murder. Elmann is in a car with one of the gangster when the judge is murdered. He's there thinking he'll get a job, but he winds up charged with the murder.

Ellman's lawyer turns out to be a Mr, Nolan (Cortez) who is part of the criminal gang. Cortez gives a feeble effort at trial, resulting in Elmann's conviction and death sentence.

Ellman claimed during trial that a man and a woman were at the scene the night of the murder and can be his alibi that he did not kill the judge. That's true. They are Nancy (Churchill) and Jimmy (Hull). They work as medical assistants to Dr. Evan Beaumont (Gwenn), who is working on efforts to revive the dead. Threatened by gangsters the night the judge was murdered, Nancy and Jimmy attend the trial, but rather disgracefully never corroborate Ellman's claims.

Just before his appointed time of the execution, the pair finally reveal what they know to lawyer Nolan. However, he intentionally slowwalks getting the information to authorities and Elmann is executed.

At this point, Dr. Beaumont requests that he be allowed to try go revive Elmann's body, restoring life. Through a type of electricity procedure and a mechanized "heart," Elmann is revived. This is not done in secret. The resuscitation is big news as is the late-breaking news that Ellman is innocent. In fact, Nolan procures a $500,000 settlement for Elmann.

Karloff's Ellman is very weak and still being treated. However, he expresses disgust and anger when he sees Nolan, ordering him out of the hospital. At a larger gathering, Karloff displays disgust at Elmann's accomplices, all of whom are gang members, including the actual killer. This prompts the district attorney, (Henry O'Neill) to lay groundwork to investigate Nolan and his confederates.

At this point Karloff begins to make nocturnal visits to the gangsters, escaping the hospital. He is clearly getting weaker, and his hair has white streaks in it. He comes as a type of avenging angel, asking each gangster why they did what they did, telling them they cannot avoid responsibility.

The gangsters' reactions are a mixture of fear and panic. Most seem unable to actually shoot the unarmed Ellman, and they eventually die through a panicked accident while backing up, or through a heart attack. 

Nolan and the remaining gangsters eventually try to kill off Karloff. There is a satisfatory conclusion, set in large part at a cemetery that Elmann feels comfortable in.

This film has supernatural elements. It's strongly hinted that Karloff learned who the guilty persons were in death, during the period before he returned to life. Karloff gives a strong, understated performance, of a man full of outrage but not intending to kill his past tormenters. In fact, Elmann looks perplexed and concerned when he sees his tormenters' panicked, surprising deaths.

Cortez is an excellent actor, who was a big star then. His resume includes an early series of Perry Mason films. Gwenn, who gained iconic fame as Kris Kingle in "Miracle on 34th Street," plays a kindly "mad doctor" well. Churchill was very good in "Dracula's Daughter" but both she and Hull are kind of bland in this movie.

Curtiz's direction is strong. He moves the plot smoothly and keeps the horror from going over the top. There's no need to be gory. The creepy parts, the ones viewers remember, are the scenes of a forbidding, aging Karloff walking slowly to those who betrayed him, and observing the antagonists' panicked reactions.

This was Curtiz's third and final Warner Bros' horror film. Others were "Mystery of the Wax Museum" and "Doctor X," both superb pre-code films. "The Walking Dead" is early non-precode, and I suspect a lot of explicit scenes were cut. But I think in this case, a more subtle touch likely improved the film. Its success was solely in Karloff's hands, and he delivers a great performance.

- Doug Gibson

I want to give cult film expert Buddy Barnett credit for this paragraph. Interested persons can read a (short) "novelization" of "The Walking Dead" in the June 1936 edition of Movie Action Magazine. It's a fascinating time-capsule read. The link is here at the Internet Archive. You have to scroll to that month's issue.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Enjoy Bela Lugosi's poverty-row gem The Corpse Vanishes


By Steve Stones

The Corpse Vanishes is my favorite Bela Lugosi Monogram film. It is also the first Monogram film I ever remember seeing on TV as a child sometime in the late 1970s. The scene of police opening a coffin in the back of Lugosi’s car is priceless. The look on Lugosi’s face as they open the coffin is unintentionally hilarious.

Speaking of coffins, the film also stars Tristram Coffin as Dr. Foster. Coffin starred in many serials of the 1940s and 50s. Angelo Rossitto, star of Freaks and countless other Monogram cheapies, plays Lugosi’s midget assistant Toby. He is billed in the opening credits as simply Angelo. It’s interesting to note that Rossitto would go on to star in the Mel Gibson film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome some forty years later. He also starred in Al Adamson’s cult classic Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Young brides are dying at the altar and Dr. Lorenz, played by Lugosi, is kidnapping their bodies for scientific experiments to rejuvenate his countess wife’s youth and beauty. She is played by Elizabeth Russell, best known in RKO's Cat People and Curse of the Cat People. Newspaper reporter Patricia Hunter, played by Luana Walters, discovers that all the kidnapped brides were wearing a rare wild orchid. Her investigation leads her to Dr. Lorenz, who raised the rare orchids. Apparently the smell of the orchid caused the brides to collapse at the altar.

On route to Dr. Lorenz’s home for an interview, Hunter meets Dr. Foster, who warns her of Lorenz’s eccentric and weird ways. Arriving at the Lorenz home, the Countess Lorenz expresses her unwelcoming nature to Hunter by slapping her in the face. Lorenz convinces Foster and Hunter to stay the night because of the pouring rain outside.

During the night, Hunter discovers a passage to an underground mausoleum and sees some of the kidnapped brides being held there. She also witnesses Lorenz and his wife sleeping in separate coffins. Lorenz explains to Hunter the next morning that sleeping in a coffin is much more comfortable than sleeping in a normal bed. Lorenz also suggests that Hunter was having a bad dream when she thought she witnessed seeing the kidnapped brides in the mausoleum.

Hunter decides to return to her newspaper headquarters and comes up with a plan to trap Lorenz in the act of kidnapping a bride by staging a fake wedding. The wedding day is set, and Lorenz does not fall for the trap, but instead kidnaps Hunter at the scene of the wedding. Foster and the local police catch up to Lorenz just as he is about to conduct an experiment on Hunter. The film ends with Hunter and Foster getting married. This time Lorenz cannot kidnap the bride.

It’s also interesting to note that Barney A. Sarecky was the associate producer of this film. Sarecky was one of the screenwriters for the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, starring Buster Crabbe as Flash.

Any fan of Bela Lugosi cannot afford to miss The Corpse Vanishes. All of Lugosi’s Monogram films are an absolute delight to watch. I particularly love this one because of the simple plot. Watch for the scene of Lugosi whipping his laboratory assistant named Angel. It’s a precursor to Lugosi’s famous scene of whipping Tor Johnson in Ed Wood’s classic The Bride of The Monster. Enjoy watching the film here.  Also, more photos from film and a newspaper ad.