Kitschy Kitschy Cool

Big Eyes: written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski; directed by Tim Burton; starring Amy Adams (Margaret Keane), Christoph Waltz (Walter Keane), Danny Huston (Dick Nolan), Krysten Ritter (DeeAnn), Jason Schwartzman (Ruben), Terence Stamp (John Canaday), and Jon Polito (Enrico Banducci) (2014): Tim Burton goes low-key in this movie based on the true story behind the Keane paintings (and prints, posters, postcards…) that dominated many a living-room or rec-room in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. You know the images when you see them: sad-looking children with gigantic eyes staring straight out at the viewer.

The story behind the paintings was interesting enough that this is a remarkably faithful-to-life movie. Amy Adams is terrific as Margaret Keane, who painted the paintings but allowed her husband, played by an equally terrific Christoph Waltz, to take credit for them for a decade while she churned them out. It’s a remarkable story, and Burton hasn’t been this controlled and considered as a film-maker since Ed Wood: he lets the story tell the story, keeping camera fanciness and baroque flourishes absent from the movie. He also gets terrific performances from everyone. Highly recommended.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch: written by Nigel Kneale, John Carpenter, and Tommy Lee Wallace; directed by Tommy Lee Wallace; starring Tom Atkins (Dr. Daniel Challis), Stacey Nelkin (Ellie Grimbridge), Dan O’Herlihy (Conal Cochran), and Wendy Wessberg (Teddy) (1982): Ah, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which I’ve managed to miss despite wanting to see it since it came out in 1982.

Far and away the most hated Halloween movie, possibly because it’s not really part of the series — the original Halloween‘s Michael Myers does show up on TV in the movie, because the first two Halloween movies are indeed just movies in the universe of Halloween III.

Nigel Kneale of the great British Quatermass series wrote the original screenplay. He asked to have his name taken off  Halloween III: Season of the Witch because he thought the finished product, rewritten by producer John Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace, was too violent — but it’s still recognizably Kneale at points: quite enjoyable, often clever. 

It’s dazzlingly cheap looking in a way specific to films of the 1970’s and early 1980’s, to the extent that it almost looks as if it were shot on videotape. And the bizarre plot, which involves evil robots, malign mass-produced Halloween masks, and a magically apocalyptic use of Stonehenge, ultimately makes the whole thing seem like a Philip Hinchcliffe-era Doctor Who serial in which Doctor Who fails to appear. 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is also a product of its time in that the lead, Tom Atkins, would never be the lead in a movie today, even if he shaved off his adorable cop mustache. But he’s very likable, never moreso than when the filmmakers have him running around in a too-tight windbreaker that keeps riding up on his stomach. You may best remember Atkins as the father in the frame narrative for Creepshow, though he’s done tons of film and TV work.

Next to an awful lot of horror movies, Halloween III: Season of the Witch seems unfairly maligned. Recommended.

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