Conal Cochran, the villain of Halloween III, is played by Dan O’Herlihy, an Irish actor of such stature that one wonders just how the hell anyone convinced him to do this movie. Not that the movie isn’t great, but let me be frank here; O’Herlihy was not a B-movie actor. He was used to acting in such things as Orson Welles’ version of Macbeth (1948), Luis Bunuel’s Robinson Crusoe (1954) and Sergei Bondarchuk’s Waterloo (1970) – all of which is some pretty high-brow, A-list stuff. He even went toe-to-toe against Marlon Brando at the Academy Awards. (Brando won, but O’Herlihy gave him a run for his money.) While guys like Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence and Vincent Price each had to act in some extremely shitty films just to make ends meet (which is the true sign of a devoted actor, let me tell you), most film snobs would probably cite Halloween III as being the “worst” film on O’Herlihy’s entire resume (which just goes to show how good his track record actually was). And considering the film’s budget, I highly doubt that he was paid that much for doing it. So what the hell was it about Halloween III that made this legendary thespian say, “All right, I’ll do it”?
The great and formidable Dan O’Herlihy
I’ve read interviews with Debra Hill, John Carpenter’s co-producer on most of his 1970s and early 1980s films. In one of them, she discussed working with Dan O’Herlihy while Halloween III was in production. According to her, he knew an awful lot about the true origins of Halloween, and he told stories about this subject to the rest of the film’s cast and crew. These stories were apparently so enthralling that everyone took to calling O’Herlihy “Mister Halloween.” It’s unfortunate that Hill couldn’t recall the specifics of what O’Herlihy said during these conversations, but I can certainly imagine what they must have been like. After all, Halloween III is one of only two films ever made in which the word Samhain is actually pronounced correctly, in the original Gaelic. (The only other film in which this happens to be the case is 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat.) It is O’Herlihy himself who says its beautiful name in his native Gaelic tongue, and I suspect the filming of that scene must have gone something like this:
O’Herlihy (acting): “Halloween…The festival of Samhain…”
Tommy Lee Wallace: “Cut! Uh…Mister O’Herlihy, you said that word wrong. It’s ‘SAM-HANE,’ not ‘SOW-wynn.’”
O’Herlihy: “Don’t be ridiculous, boy! This is the way we say its name in Ireland.”
Tommy Lee Wallace: “Really?”
O’Herlihy: “Why yes, of course. It’s plain Gaelic, my boy!”
Random Crew Member: “What’s Gaelic?”
O’Herlihy: “All right; sit down, everybody. Let’s start all the way back at the beginning, when the Tuatha de Danaan went forth to wrest the land of Eire from those dreadful Fomorians.”
Debra Hill: “What the hell is he talking about?”
(I don’t know if anything like that actually happened or not, but it makes me feel happy to imagine that it did.)
In any case, I’ve never seen anything to verify the following speculation; but I have a powerful hunch that Dan O’Herlihy became interested in Halloween III for its (mostly peripheral) references to Irish culture. Considering the long list of films in which he appeared, it’s interesting to note that almost none of them have anything to do with Ireland (either culturally, historically, mythologically, etc.). And I get the feeling that O’Herlihy was really into his cultural heritage; just look at his children’s names! This fellow immigrated to the United States in 1947, but he named his three kids Gavan, Olwen and Lorcan. That’s a very unusual thing for immigrants to have done during that time (especially when you consider how Irish immigrants were treated in particular). But the fact that this man was willing to give his kids traditional Gaelic names tells me that he just didn’t give a fuck. And based on that, I bet that when O’Herlihy’s agent handed him the script to Halloween III, he probably read it grudgingly; then he became convinced that he just had to play Conal Cochran. I think he literally jumped at the chance to do something – anything – that had to do with Irish culture.
Unfortunately, there are people who see Halloween III as an “anti-Irish” movie, and this sadly appears to have been intentional in the original script. Nigel Kneale was apparently very racist against Irish people, and his entire idea for the story came out of wanting to justify that hatred somehow. I’ve never read the original script, so I have no idea how this idea played out (and I don’t care, either). All I know is that this is one of the biggest reasons why John Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace needed to re-write the script several times. Not only did they need to translate Kneale’s ideas into broader terms that American audiences could understand; they also needed to get rid of all the racist bullshit. But if Dan O’Herlihy was willing to be in the movie, then Carpenter and Wallace must have done a good enough job cleaning up the story; I’m pretty sure he would never have signed his name to anything “anti-Irish.”
O’Herlihy really enjoyed this role.
O’Herlihy had a few things to say about Halloween III in an interview that happened toward the end of his life. He couldn’t remember too many details, but he did remember having a lot of fun on the movie. He also said that if he was ever approached to play Conal Cochran again, he would love to do so. Knowing that he actually said this makes me very happy; I’m glad there were never any sequels to Halloween III, but I sometimes wish there had been. As much as I appreciate the Michael Myers character, they could have explored so many more interesting ideas with Cochran…but I’ll discuss that further in a later post.
“Twenty-two more days ‘till Halloween,
Twenty-two more days ‘till Halloween,