Not so many moon ago, our esteemed Mike Bracken started a recurring piece called Death Scenes We Love. This recurring feature is a celebration of the bloody, gory, viscerally-delicious dispatching featured in our most beloved of titles. If we didn't like seeing rubes get sliced, diced, crushed, and maimed, we would all go watch French New Wave instead. But as basely enjoyable as these moments tend to be, they are often also testaments to either powerful, dark storytelling or astonishing practical effects...or both. I decided that I wanted a turn at bat and have made my fatal selection from Halloween III.
Jump past the bump to witness the grizzly demise.
First, let me speak in defense of this film. Halloween III is a much maligned entry into the Michael Meyers franchise mainly because it contains not one frame of...Michael Meyers. It doesn't have anything to do with Laurie, Dr. Loomis, or Haddonfield so most have a tendency to write it off as a b movie riding the coattails of an established series. If this is true, it is the biggest backfire in the history of in-name only sequels. Halloween Ill's biggest detriment is its title and the numeric supplement therein. It's actually a creepy, atmospheric, and wholly unique 80's horror film that is completely saddled by its association with the franchise. The ties to Carpenter's original Halloween are so loose and ephemeral that removing them from this film would do absolutely nothing to weaken the plot. If you simply cut the one or two moments wherein the original film is playing on a TV in the background, Season of the Witch (thusly its stand-alone title) works beautifully as a cult, supernatural film.
Enough jibber jabber, let's get to the kill. Basically the setup is that there is an evil corporation called Silver Shamrock that happens to be the purveyors of this year's most popular Halloween masks. Despite the fact that the masks are rudimentary, gooberish, and offered in only three styles, the company has managed to create a feeding frenzy among young consumers by promising all who purchase the mask admission into a special club. This club is said to carry with it a secret prize that will be given to those lucky members who are tuned into Silver Shamrock's special Halloween night television broadcast. Sounds harmless right? Enter suspicious Tom Atkins who finds the whole rigmarole a bit hard to swallow. As he digs deeper into this mysterious company, he finally unearths the secret of the Halloween broadcast...and wishes he had just gone trick-r-treating instead.
This scene features so many horror elements I love that it's hard for me to reign it all in. First of all, I would watch absolutely anything with Tom Atkins in it; a claim tested by my suffering through the abominable My Bloody Valentine 3D. The guy just exudes an 80's cult film hero aura that wins me over every time. I'm also a bit biased by the fact that I've had the opportunity to meet the guy and he could not be sweeter if he were composed entirely of Cadbury Creme Eggs. The scene also features a bratty child getting a particularly nasty end which is karmatically delicious to me. It's like what would happen to Mike TV...if Willy Wonka were a pagan god of unspeakable evil. I also enjoy any death scene that examines one of my personal fears and, in the case of this nasty sequence, it involves being covered in bugs. I shivered a bit just typing that sentence.
Although it may not seem outwardly apparent, I find this scene to be an indicator of just how much Tommy Wallace learned from John Carpenter. For those of you that are unaware, Halloween III was directed by Tommy Wallace who served as Carpenter's editor and production designer for Halloween. One of the things I truly love about Carpenter, obviously early Carpenter, is his use of subtlety and stillness to build suspense and terror. Michael Meyers is aptly referred to as "the shape" in the credits of Halloween because of how well he hauntingly looms in the background.
While it doesn't take a genius to see that snakes and insects pouring out of what was once a child lacks that same degree of subtlety, there is a hint of reserve here that I really appreciate. The reason I enjoy this scene, and ultimately this story, so much is that the mask was a big part of what made Michael Meyers so scary because you couldn't see what, if anything, was happening underneath. In this scene, that mystery is amped up and made all the more horrific by the fact that the outcome suggests something truly vile is happening under the mask that we can't see. So while the aftermath has a strange, supernatural twist to it (that incidentally I feel was later aped in Prince of Darkness), the decision to leave the actual head-splitting or cranial explosion to occur out of sight of the audience smacks of someone taking pages out of J.C.'s book.
The final piece of this delightfully macabre puzzle has to be the music. The jingle for Silver Shamrock is basically just "London Bridge is Falling Down" with altered lyrics, but it captures the whimsical mind-rape of most commercials aimed at children. And while I desperately want to add it as a ringtone on my phone, I can understand how most people would be tired of it by the tenth time it pops up in the movie. However it takes a whole new, decidedly darker tone when played during this scene. The happy, mindless melody juxtaposed against the horrific events taking place is striking. I liked watching them cut back to Atkins face as he knew something bad was about to happen, but had no inkling of the severity of the event. As the music fades, and the child and his parents lie dead on the floor, Tom understands the full scope of the threat facing the entire world. Amazing!
I highly suggest owning this film, but if you only feel compelled to witness the nightmarish moment to which I refer, feel free to check it out below. And remember kiddies...145 days til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween...