Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: Season of the Witch



I think of the phrase “visual tableaux” when watching Cundey’s work in Halloween: Season of the Witch and like that he didn’t seem uninspired when photographing and lighting movies in the horror genre many critics and non-fans might consider unworthy of his talents. I can continue to watch Halloween: Season of the Witch even as I have my share of problems with the flawed plot as it unfolds. I'm more than a bit bewildered at some of the developments like the transport of the missing statue from Stonehenge by the evil Conal Cochran and his cybernetic minions, somehow stolen and brought to his Silver Shamrock Novelties Factory in a tiny, unassuming but meticulously watched (through carefully placed video cameras scattered all over the area) town of Santa Mira, California, a mostly Irish community, confined and quietly enigmatic, with tight-lipped locals who closely eyeball out-of-towners or when the movie’s hero, Dr. Dan Challis (a boozing divorcee and rather crummy father), is able to cause destruction to Conal’s machinery and controls that operate the equipment sending out the signals that will set off a trigger on the mechanisms that rest on the masks with bugs and snakes coming out of some sort of dimension (I really have no idea where they come from, to be honest..) and eating those wearing them alive.

That evil plot is really diabolical as it gets, the whole idea that Cochran is behind a master plan to kill children all over the country (and the fact that this movie actually shows a family destroyed, a child wearing the mask killed in ghoulish fashion while his mother passes out and father is bitten by a snake; not only does it break the taboo on child endangerment coming to fruition, but seeing those bugs and snakes coming out of the mask while he lays motionless on the floor is unsettling). You have a doctor, Challis and this young woman, Ellie, in Santa Mira investigating a death to Ellie's father who knew of Conal’s plot and tried to tell others...his death motivating Challis and Ellie to pursue the truth, placing them in unspeakable danger.

You have Tom Atkins stepping out in the lead of a film, with a character who is a rather poor father, overworked at the hospital, but when he ditches his kids again to go on the trip with Ellie it’s hard to look at him as the father-of-the-year. Heartbreaking even more when Challis tries to contact his wife to tell her to remove the masks from their kids’ heads, reprimanded for even making such a request, the estrangement of his relationship with her proving perhaps fatal.

“A good magician never explains “: this Conal uses to label how he’s using the Stonehenge statue. “We had a time getting it here," said with a smile only someone cruel as Conal could express. All of this going toward how this ancient stone and the force in the particles that come from it contribute to how the masks kill...it really does baffle me, but these details are considered unnecessary by the filmmakers, what matters is the horror produced.


It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we’d be waiting, in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal. And the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf. Halloween. The festival of Samhain. The last great one took place 3000 years ago, and the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children. It was part of our world, our craft. To us, it was a way of controlling our environment. It’s not so different now. It’s time again. In the end, we don’t decide these things, you know. The planets do. They’re in alignment and its time again.


Dan O'Herlihy personifies pure evil, man, doesn’t he? He has that smile that can twist into menace in one complete change. He does so especially when he talks, gleefully, about Samhain and his reasoning behind his masks massacring children with that damned commercial, the “big giveaway”, to Challis after showing him what his creations can do to the Kupfer family. Dan O'Herlihy is so damned good in this movie, how he’s such the perfect salesman, laying on the charm and hospitality, yet can turn on a dime and convey that rotten, black soul instantaneously. He’s a marvel to watch. He’s strangely stupid at the very end, though, his genius forsaken just so we get to see the hero upending him (but not his master plan). Conal, instead of just killing him by allowing one of his human robots to pull Challis’ head off, pulls the James Bond villain routine, by over-elaboration, bounding him to a chair, leaving him alone in a room (with the appropriately placed ventilation shaft for easy access out and anywhere in the building), and not immediately nabbing him although he knows where the man will be going..to find Ellie.

The fate of Ellie has always be a source of fascination to me. I’m confused as to why Conal bothers with her upon capture. Challis returns for her, Ellie trapped, supposedly, in one of those *cells* in the factory, and it is later learned she’s an automaton in the likeness of the young beauty he once knew (knew *very well*, we see as the two masquerade as husband-and-wife, staying at the “Rose of Shannon Inn” in Santa Mira, while trying to learn of what happened to Ellie’s father, finding /passing time having plenty of old man/young woman sex). For one thing, she accompanies Challis as he disrupts the controls in the epicenter of the Shamrock factory, the blinking pumpkins on the monitors, ongoing sound of the music jingle repeating, as he pours a box full of the mask trigger devices all over the place. If she is a robot designed by Conal, then why wouldn’t she stop Challis before he can cause such destruction (the building eventually erupting into an explosion, the Stonehenge stone, along with the devices, creating an active spherical beam)? If Challis is able to cause the Shamrock factory to go up in flames, all of the machinery exploding into sparks and fire, then how is the signal emitting? There was a point made about the differing time zones I read one time, but I can forgive that, although I’m at a loss as to how anything can happen past the point where the Shamrock factory becomes an inferno.

It is all about the bummer ending. Challis escapes, does battle with Ellie’s robot (which, for me, is just an entirely odd sequence), a wreck caused by her interference in his driving, with her parts eventually severed, head one place, arm another, mechanical guts and wires exposed. I guess the point was that Conal wanted to make sure Challis either got it from his men, the mask around his head, or from the recreation of his former romantic interest. The screenplay does a lot of this, whether it be the face mangled when one of the trigger devices, that had fallen off a mask, “misfires” or snakes and bugs coming out of a Don Post mask killing a kid--lots of weird plot developments emerge.

While thematically and storyline deficiencies are put aside, I think Halloween: Season of the Witch is definitely aesthetically pleasing, particularly how the human robots are framed in Cundey’s flawless compositions, often shooting them from the back or following their walking from the legs, creepily and quietly moving about without future victims knowing they’re there. I think these robots are purposely composed and lit similar to Michael Myers who himself operates like an unemotional automaton, a mission of destruction to its chosen target. Santa Mira is quite an ominous town, too, the curfew at night and lack of activity during the day creating a feeling of unease, as if the whole area is populated by automatons, a mirage, a falsity that works as a front for Conal, allowing him to shield his nefarious schemes from the public at large—Santa Mira carries the appearance of a functioning town, but is merely a charade to fool those on the outside. It’s a ruse that works to perfection.

The murders are more than a bit cold-blooded and done so matter-of-factly and efficiently, with a lack of pounding music to punch the gut, such as a face’s nose “rearranged”, a head pulled from the roots of the body of a victim, and a lab doc held down while taking a drill to the skull (not even seen yet still very effective). Each murder is carried out by Conal’s blank-faced soldiers, in suits, surprising the victims who are unaware and dispatched with a precision and proficiency as their programming requires.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the score which adds extra intensity to the "run rabbit run" scenes where people are trying to flee from Conal's men, as well as, intimate danger, how the human robot killers, following orders as programmed, can be anywhere, not to mention, show up out of a corner of the screen, in alleys of the Santa Mira town, seen faintly in doorways, etc. That Silver Shamrock theme/jingle just really starts to grate--intentionally, I believe--and I certainly consider its continual presence often showing up in commercials and on the radio a chilling reminder to us that these advertisements are a means to wipe out a large number of children in the ceremonial cult ritual of Samhain. The helpless expression, his final, of Atkins' Challis, trying desperately to get networks to remove the ads closes the film on quite the unnerving note.


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Enl

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Wsha

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Mouth3

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Sh fr

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Jm2

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Ms45 w

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Churcvh

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Lsho

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Vampyros lesbos

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Ckvh

Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)

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Bw5

Bw5

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Mad Love 1935

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