In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

The 31 Days of Halloween III – Day #14: Your Grandmother Might Be a Robot

When Ellie Grimbridge is abducted by Conal Cochran’s assassins, Dr. Daniel Challis chases after them (and is also chased himself) to the Silver Shamrock factory in Santa Mira. The first thing he finds when he gets there is an old lady who’s knitting something in a darkened room. Challis demands to know where Ellie is, but the old woman doesn’t reply. Becoming angry, Challis shakes the lady…and her head falls right off. Challis hollers in fear, thinking he’s killed this poor old woman; but then he notices that her insides are made entirely of clockwork. She’s a goddamn robot! And just as Challis comes to understand this, one of Cochran’s assassins closes in for the kill…

It isn’t until this sequence in Halloween III that the true robotic nature of Cochran’s goons is finally revealed. As Cochran himself explains later, “The internal components were quite simple to produce, really. The outer features took much longer to perfect; but in the end, it’s just another form of mask-making.” We are then left to wonder just how many of Silver Shamrock’s employees are actually artificial humans; are any of them real flesh and blood at all?

At one point, Cochran gets a little upset because of what Challis did to his knitting robot grandma. He mentions that she was “a rare piece; German, built in Munich, 1785.” For the longest time, I thought this was just something the filmmakers made up for the movie; there’s no way in hell they could make robots like that during the Enlightenment period, I thought. Well imagine my surprise when I found out that there actually were real androids made in the 18th century (and even earlier than that, to boot!). Clockmakers and carpenters like Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz in Switzerland were famous for building androids and gynoids (i.e., robot women) that could actually draw pictures, write words or play musical instruments. Granted, they didn’t look quite as life-like as the robot grandma does in Halloween III; but these things are nevertheless real, and many of them are still on display in museums today. Check it out!

Again, it’s hard to be sure of who’s really a robot in Halloween III and who isn’t (which the film shares in common with Blade Runner). But it’s pretty certain that all the characters who never talk and who physically attack Dr. Challis are robots. In fact, Cochran’s robot assassins are very similar to Michael Myers in the original Halloween (1978). They behave exactly like he does; never speaking, never running, just walking silently after their prey. Unlike Myers, however, the Silver Shamrock droids are not immortal; they can be easily blown up or deactivated (provided that you have some idea of what you’re doing). In this way, Cochran’s bots resemble cheap imitations of Myers; they behave just like him, but they also prove unequal to his tasks.

If you think this is unintentional, think again. By the early 1980s, the horror film market was completely saturated with an endless supply of slasher films (from 1980’s Friday the 13th to 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre). There was literally a point where it seemed like a new Halloween remake was coming out each week. Just about the only thing they’d change in these things was the masks the killers wore and the weapons they preferred to use; aside from that, they were almost all silent and unstoppable stalkers just like Michael. The fact that Halloween III features an entire army of such Myers clones (that have been mass produced by a major business corporation, no less) is a self-aware commentary on the early 1980s slasher craze.

This theme is also explored from another angle in terms of the robot grandma from Munich. 18th century automata were mostly designed and built by people who would have been considered “middle class” in today’s world. At the time in which they lived, the middle class was only just starting to emerge; most of society was still sharply divided between the insanely rich minority and the hopelessly poor majority. The makers of these automata were regarded as technical wizards, and their creations were truly amazing to behold. But nowadays, robots are nothing extraordinary; they exist in our computers, our coffee makers and our soda machines, but we almost never think about them. We are over-saturated and jaded with the mass-marketed technology that we have today. Whenever something new and revolutionary comes out, we become bored with it almost immediately. (Even the fact that they’ve been developing real life replicants in Japan is barely noticed or discussed by anyone.)

Much the same thing happens with movies. Take the first Halloween and Halloween II (1981), for instance. The first was a humble, low-budget independent film that was as much a labor of love as it was a commercial venture; yet its immediate successor was a nothing more than a major studio cash-in on films that were already cash-ins to begin with. The difference between the two movies is like comparing a carefully hand-crafted gift from some mom-and-pop store to something that was made on a Wal-Mart assembly line. Or to put it another way, it’s like comparing the Jaquet-Droz automata to something like Nintendo’s Rob the Robot (which is only good for Angry Video Game Nerd fodder). Ironically, Conal Cochran has much the same perspective when it comes to his own artificial people. He genuinely laments the knitting grandma robot, describing her as a “rare piece” and planning to have her replaced; but he doesn’t seem to care as much when his android assassins get banged up. What does it tell you when even Pure Evil recognizes the value of craft production over mass production?

“Seventeen more days ‘till Halloween,
Halloween, Halloween,
Seventeen more days ‘till Halloween,
Silver Shamrock!”


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