Exclusive: HALLOWEEN III’s Wendy Wessberg Recalls Drill to the Head!
Halloween III: Season of the Witch has long been considered the “black sheep” of the Halloween franchise. Released in 1982, the original idea of revising the brand into an anthology of holiday horrors (sans Michael Myers) didn’t exactly pan out… and as such, the third installment is a bit of a stand-alone oddity. But in the last few years, we have seen quite the reappraisal for this little tale of terror. And if you can learn to love that incessant Shamrock jingle, there’s actually a lot going for Halloween III.
Shockingly, some have even claimed the film as their second favorite in the series! Not simply for its bizarre plot, but also because it is not bogged down with the complexities of the Michael Myers story line. Well, that and swag daddy Tom Atkins, of course.
Now, a lot of the cast have embraced the film’s newfound rep – but there’s one face that seems to have fallen off the map. Prior to gallivanting off with a younger woman to investigate a murder-suicide, Dr. Challis (Atkins) meets up with Teddy, a coroner’s assistant. Their brief discussions – most of which occur over the phone – lead audiences to believe Teddy is a former flame (of course, she is).
In her role, she attempts to assist Challis in deciphering the film’s mystery. But even from afar, she unfortunately becomes a casualty of the doctor’s meddling in an even bigger Halloween conspiracy (that’s just good storytelling).
For me, it’s always the little moments in these bloody soap operas that truly shine… and Teddy is the kind of supporting role who holds more weight than one might realize (she never even got that dinner date…).
The character was played by actress Wendy Wessberg, who has somehow avoided all publicity related to the film. You won’t find her having participated with any DVD/Blu-Ray releases and you won’t find her at conventions (or will you?!). This wouldn’t do. Teddy may have been just another notch on the old Atkins belt… but in our geeky hearts, she’ll always be Challis’ sweet, sassy and helpful pal.
Fittingly, her first interview was conducted over – what else? – the phone! And she still sounds the same, people!!!
As she reveals, Wendy Wessberg began acting while still in college. Aside from Halloween III, her short-but-sweet career consisted of appearances on The Greatest American Hero and St. Elsewhere. “I did a few little things but nothing huge. They were all fun, though. [Acting] was just one of the things that I pursued. I did some other things really well, too, so I kind of pursued those more. And I started to have a family and all of that stuff.”
Despite having stepped away from the film world, she shares something in common with a fellow scream queen. Like Friday the 13th’s Adrienne King, she actually made her film debut as an uncredited dancer in a John Travolta musical. For King, it was Saturday Night Fever. For Wessberg, it happened to be a little film called Grease.
“The producer of the movie, Allan Carr, went to college with my family in Illinois, and he would visit a lot. When Allan was making Grease, I was living in California because I was going to college and he said, ‘I’ll make you an extra.’ I was a very glorified extra. We worked a month. I made more money than all of my friends did working that summer. I was in the two big scenes – the dance at the show [“Those Magic Changes” & “Born to Hand Jive”] and the carnival scenes at the end [“We Go Together”]. Because of Allan, I had a few close-ups which was fun. I was the wallflower at the gym.”
Detailing her first scene, Wessberg explains, “John [Travolta] and Olivia [Newton-John] are sitting, in a quiet moment, in the middle of the dance. The camera starts on feet – then they scan up to me getting up to dance. So, I called it the wallflower scene.” She laughs, “I scored a lot of points with my kids later on. Who knew it would be such a big deal?”
(NOTE: After finally checking out Grease, just a heads up: Frankie Valli’s theme song is a true head banger.)
“We had [dance] rehearsals and all of that stuff. We rehearsed for a week and then shot for three weeks. […] The cast was really nice, but you know what, in the position that I was in, you didn’t fraternize too much. But we had lots of big names stop by. Billy Wilder would stop by… George Hamilton… because it was Allan and the prestige and then John Travolta, so that was fun. You never knew who was going to come by that day.”
Speaking of Halloween III, she says, “This is how my part happened. First of all, they shoot the movie. I know everybody involved because my husband is friends with Debra Hill, the original producer who has since passed. There were just these little connections. I worked for an actor named Robert Walden – he was friends with all of these people who knew John Carpenter – all of these things. So here comes Halloween III.”
“I get an audition – through my friends. I audition [and] I don’t get the part. The part was for Tom Atkins’ wife who is in the movie, but they cut the part drastically because after they shot the whole movie, they decided that the part of the wife was boring. They cut most of it out and created this part [Teddy] – maybe a past love of Tom’s and maybe another murder. They didn’t have enough murders, they felt, so they created the assistant coroner. So that’s how that happened.”
If you notice, Teddy’s story runs parallel to the main action. It’s a little-known fact that the character was never intended to be in the film – not in Nigel Kneale’s initial draft or in later revisions (most of Challis’ phone calls were scripted to be with the sheriff’s department). The most ardent Halloween fans will also notice she’s completely absent from the Dennis Etchison novelization.
“I shot the movie after it was already done,” she says. “It had already been edited and they were going to put my stuff in later. They remembered me from earlier and hired me for that. I worked for about five days because there were a lot of trials and tribulations that happened.”
“As a matter of fact, I used to say to my husband, ‘I think this could be called Wendy’s Halloween III,’ because they kept injuring me,” she laughs. “The extra with the drill caught my hair so it didn’t actually go in my ear – so the director freaked, and they called it for a day. Of course, in the movie business, if they hold you for a certain amount of time, they have to pay you. So, the job got held for lots of different things. That – and then something happened with Tom Atkins. He couldn’t show up or something. I don’t remember what. But for me, as a young actress starting out, it was a really good deal because I think it paid my health insurance for two years.”
“[Director] Tommy [Lee Wallace] ended up having to be the killer in my scene because he didn’t trust any of the stuntmen because they had hurt me the day before. So, he straddled and killed me. That much, I dealt with him. He didn’t hurt me! He was fine. I don’t think I could pick him up out of a line-up, though.”
Comparing the experience to Grease, she tells us, “It wasn’t the same pressures in a way. It was a smaller crew. [But] I had my own trailer. It was fun. Tom was nice. I only really acted with him, you know. I don’t even mean the word acting. I just existed with him. Because my scenes were either alone or with him.”
Upon release, Halloween III: Season of the Witch received some pretty polarizing reviews from fans – something not lost on Wessberg. “When you would go into Blockbuster in those days, they would always have Halloween 1, 2, 4 and 5. They never had Halloween III. It was kind of funny.”
“Here’s a funny thing. When my parents and my grandmother went to go see the movie, my grandmother turned to my mother and said, ‘Oh, I’m so happy that she didn’t get that part,’” referring to Stacy Nelkin’s Ellie, “because she showed her boob once.”
After filming wrapped, Ms. Wessberg briefly stayed in contact with a few from the Halloween universe, seeing Tom Atkins “a couple of times.” Speaking of the film’s producer Debra Hill, Wessberg remarked, “She was friends with my husband. She was nice. She was driven. For a woman, at that time, to produce a big movie like that was a big deal […] After the movie was shot, I started going to the same exercise class as Jamie Lee Curtis. And because of the ties, as she was good friends with Debra, we hung for a bit. […] Now, they clamor to her! She is the Halloween experience!”
Somewhere in the midst of our conversation, the topic turned to Lorenzo Lamas, who also appeared in Grease. “Many, many years later, I got married and had children. And my husband’s a television producer and he produces a TV show called Renegade, which Lorenzo Lamas starred in. So, we had a lot of fun with that. Certainly, he probably did not remember me from Grease, but I remembered him only because it was his first movie and he was Fernando Lamas’ son.”
My mind immediately alerts that Lorenzo Lamas was once married to Halloween 4’s Kathleen Kinmont (doesn’t everyone know this…?). Had these two Halloween alumni possibly met during Kinmont’s years on Renegade? You betcha!
“As a matter of fact, I brought my friend to one of those Halloween signing convention things. We just went to see, and Kathleen was there. I didn’t realize that she was in a Halloween movie until that moment; it was kind of funny. But I was at their wedding and all of that stuff—”
Wait a minute… Has Wendy Wessberg ever attended a Halloween convention? “Not as a guest,” she says. That’s what I thought… so how does this make sense?! Turns out, for all you autograph hounds out there, Ms. Wessberg was, in fact, a spectator at the Halloween: 35 Years of Terror convention back in 2013! Right in front of us and practically incognito!
Speaking of her “undercover” appearance, she tells us, “People at [my husband’s] office are very into all of the Halloween stuff. They do a lot of special effects make-up and they told him about the 35th convention. So that’s how that came about.”
“Oh, it was interesting. I’m always amazed. It was fun. Everybody looked like they were having a wonderful time. We sat for some of the lectures. They showed some of the scenes, so it was a kick for my friends to be with me and to see my scenes on a big screen again. It was just fun. I enjoyed it. As I said, I didn’t know that Kathleen was in the cast so that was sort of a ‘Wow!’ I got to see Atkins again. I hadn’t seen him in thirty years. We hung out a little bit […] Someone had went for In-N-Out burgers and it was lower-key because it was after the movie was already done. But it was fun.”
“I kept a little momentum from the show. It was the pumpkin mask – those masks that the kids put on their heads that causes them to change. I had Tom sign it. I had a couple of people sign it… Stacey Nelkin… I did see Tommy Lee Wallace there.”
It’s always fascinating to hear from those who have since moved on from the film industry. I mean, domestic life coupled with such cult films as Grease and Halloween? How does that gel?
“Oh, both were really fun for when you’re hiring babysitters or tutors. My kids are old now, they’re in their thirties. But when they were younger, if my daughter liked the tutor or liked the babysitter, it would always end with, ‘Have you ever seen that movie Grease?’ She would be dying to disclose that I was in it. If she didn’t like the person, she didn’t say a thing. So that was always sort of funny in our family. Grease just carried, oh my god. If I had had five lines in that movie,” she laughs.
“I was with my friends a couple of weeks ago and because it is the month that it is, I could find [Halloween III] online. I wasn’t looking for it; it was just like ‘Halloween classics’ or something. And there was my face! And I thought, ‘Oh, let me look at this!’ So, I showed them all and they had not seen it. You know, we’re all in our sixties now. We’re not the targeted audience but I had a good time with it. My family just doesn’t know the difference. This was all way before my children were born.”
“We joke in my family, ‘Do not bother me in October because I’m opening up all of my fan clutter.’ And, you know, those checks roll in… a dollar-fifty… two-twenty… so my family knows to stay away since I’m ego-driven; no, I’m kidding you!”