Book Interview: Halloween – The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series

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Publisher: CreateSpace

Release Date: October 20, 2018

A Conversation with Ernie Magnotta

Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series meticulously examines John Carpenter’s original classic in an effort to determine the qualities that made the film an enduring classic. He then dissects each of the film’s sequels comparing their various elements to those in the original film to determine why these films never quite lived up to the original. As a result, the resulting text is an illuminating read that should be required reading for anyone who works on any of the following sequels from this point forward. It should literally be a contractual obligation. Fans of the series will also want to add it to their collections as the pages are packed with information and plenty of visual stimulation (there are over 200 full-color photos throughout the length of the book).

Ernie Magnotta (the book’s author) kindly agreed to give us his thoughts on the iconic Halloween series and fills us in on what can be expected from his new book.

CL: It is somewhat difficult to believe that a book about this immensely popular film series hadn’t been published before your book was released in October. There isn’t even a book about the making of the original film available. What gave you the idea for this comprehensive dissection of the series?

EM: In 2013, I was writing for a handful of retro film magazines and, one day, I made a list of ideas for future articles. I hate rehashing what has already been written/said, which is why I didn’t do a “making of the Halloween series” book. This material has been covered on all the DVD/Blu-ray releases. Comparing Halloween’s filmmaking techniques to those of the sequels seemed like something that hadn’t been done before. However, I quickly realized that this idea was too big for an article and would have to be done as a book. I felt qualified to write it because I’ve studied filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in New York and have spent decades trying to figure out exactly what made that great film the classic that it is.

CL: Could you describe “Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series” for our readers and what your intentions were in writing such a book?

EM: The book goes into great detail about each major filmmaking technique of the original Halloween—cinematography, direction & composition, story, characters music, suspense, theme, etc.—and then each sequel is given its own chapter where I discuss how these techniques were used incorrectly (as well as correctly) in order to show why the sequels have never been able to match the original film. In the concluding chapter, I talk about the elements that I believe would make a solid sequel to the original. Besides wanting to create an interesting read, I was honestly hoping that my book might help to make future sequels even better than the sequels we already have.

CL: What were the biggest challenges in making it a reality?

EM: There was just a lot of material to cover. I mean a lot. I knew it wouldn’t be a breeze, but I didn’t think it would take me five years to write. I had planned on releasing it no later than 2016, and actually thought I might have it out in 2015. (Laughs) Silly me.

CL: John Carpenter’s original Halloween is one of my favorite horror films and is unquestionably the ultimate film of its kind. What set this film apart from those that came before it?

EM: At the time of Halloween’s release, many horror films were either somewhat shoddy, low-budget jobs which were quickly forgotten by most or big-budget Hollywood films with major stars and stunning special effects like The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Omen.

Halloween proved that you didn’t need a large budget, big-name stars, or elaborate special effects to make an effective and beautiful-looking horror film. Amongst other things, the low budget wonder contained a simple, engaging premise, solid (but mostly unknown) actors, and an extremely talented writer/director familiar with the filmmaking techniques from the golden age of Hollywood.

CL: You mentioned before that the sequels never lived up to the original. Have any of them come close?

EM: In my opinion, the only sequel that comes close to the original film is 1981’s Halloween II. It has its problems, but it’s the closest in style and scares to the ’78 classic mainly due to most of the original cast and crew returning; especially cinematographer Dean Cundey and, of course, John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Director Rick Rosenthal’s mimicking of Carpenter’s directorial style also helps quite a bit.

CL: How does the Halloween series differ from other popular horror franchises?

EM: Although some of the sequels have their fair share of gore, the Halloween series is thought of, first and foremost, as films of suspense and scares unlike, say, the Friday the 13th series which has become synonymous with bloody special effects. I believe that suspense, fun scares, suggestion, and mood separate the series from other horror franchises that go for more in-your-face violence and gore.

CL: You decided not to include a chapter about Halloween III and chose instead to focus only on the films that focus on Michael Myers. What was your reasoning behind this choice and what are your thoughts and opinions about that film?

EM: The only things that Halloween and Halloween III share are their titles and that their stories take place on Halloween night. They are two completely different films, so it would make no sense to compare them. That being said, I love Halloween III. I think it’s a terrific film and that Tommy Lee Wallace did a superb job directing it. If it wasn’t for the title everyone would love this movie and it would be considered a classic today. I actually believe that it’s better than all the Myers sequels that followed it.

CL: It is interesting that the films in this particular franchise actually offers fans a choice of timelines (or continuing stories). What are your thoughts and preferences as to the various timelines offered?

EM: I don’t like that the series keeps starting over. It annoys me and I think that it annoys a lot of viewers. It’s no secret that I love the first two films. I liked Halloween 4, but they had complicated the simplicity of the original way too much by H6. H20 and Resurrection were a little too Hollywood/Dawson’s Creek for my tastes. I actually like Rob Zombie’s remake, but would have preferred that he had changed the names, locations, etc. and made that film as his own original slasher movie rather than as a Halloween remake.

CL: I actually had those very same thoughts about the Zombie remake, although I didn’t really love it as I’m not a fan of most of Rob Zombie’s work. Your annoyance with the various timelines makes me wonder what you thought of the recent sequel reboot by David Gordon Green. What did you think of the title? Did you enjoy the new score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies? How does it differ from John Carpenter’s original classic?

EM: I was pretty excited about seeing this film, but I have to admit that I was let down. I expected a lot more from it. I would have preferred a different title. This wasn’t a remake. It was a sequel to the original film, so it shouldn’t have been titled Halloween. I did enjoy the score. I loved hearing the “Halloween Theme” as well as “The Shape Stalks.” My only complaint is that we didn’t get some of the other classic Carpenter themes from the original film; mainly “Laurie’s Theme.” The main way that the film differs from Carpenter’s original is that it wasn’t very scary. Carpenter’s Halloween was terrifying, and the new film had very few scares. Also, although the Shape went back to being a random killer and a force of evil, some of his other traits were either missing or were changed. For example, when he first arrives in Haddonfield he kills a few people in a matter of minutes. The Shape of the original film took his time and watched and played with his victims for quite a while before the kill.

CL: The title annoys me beyond words. I did think that Jamie Lee Curtis gave a wonderful performance, and this brings me to my next question. Which is your favorite of the slasher films that Jamie Lee Curtis starred in following Halloween (not counting Halloween II or H20)? Why do you prefer this one over the other?

That’s not an easy question to answer. I dearly love the original slasher cycle of the early 80s. Not counting Halloween and Halloween II, there are really only two slasher films which feature Jamie Lee; Prom Night and Terror Train. I don’t count The Fog or Road Games because, although both are excellent, they aren’t really slasher films. The Fog is a ghost story and Road Games is a Hitchcockian thriller. (By the way, if anyone reading this hasn’t seen Road Games, I highly recommend it.) Of the two, I’d have to pick Prom Night. I honestly don’t know the reason why, because I also love Terror Train. Maybe it’s the familiar school setting or the wonderful soundtrack (created in only a few days by Paul Zaza). It could be the killer’s eerie whispering voice which reminds me of Italian gialli films. Of course, there’s the always likable Jamie Lee. I don’t know the exact reason, but I seem to like Prom Night more than Terror Train. Not by much, though.

CL: You discussed Halloween II as the best sequel of the series. Are there any others that you admire more than the others? Which is your least favorite?

EM: After Halloween II, I consider Halloween 4 to be the best sequel involving Michael. Like H2, it has its problems, but director Dwight Little really tried to be respectful to the original and he succeeded quite a bit; most notably by going for pure suspense and scares over gore. Also, the writing was extremely solid; especially the characters of Jamie Lloyd and Rachel Carruthers. Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell were excellent in these roles. And we have the return of the great Donald Pleasence as our beloved Dr. Sam Loomis.

My least favorite Halloween film would probably be Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. The reason for this is because it seems like the writer/director went out of his way to not make a Halloween film. Michael is barely in costume, Laurie and Loomis both die, there is no Halloween music (until the end credits), etc. Although extremely interesting, it’s also a very depressing film which, again, is the exact opposite of the fun original as well as the rest of the series.

CL: What do you think the future holds for the iconic series?

EM: That’s hard to say. I think a huge problem is that for the past twenty years the series has been distributed by major Hollywood studios Dimension and Miramax. These studios seem like they want to make each Halloween sequel a big budget blockbuster event mainly by having big name stars attached to them. In 1998, H20 ignored the previous three sequels in order to bring Jamie Lee Curtis back as Laurie Strode. The original film was remade in 2007 with superstar Rob Zombie directing.

None of the sequels are not supposed to exist in the newest film. [It] continues on from the classic original with John Carpenter as executive producer and Jamie Lee returning as Laurie once again. Although exciting, I think this is a mistake. The studios are concentrating too much on star power. They forget that even though the original Halloween became a phenomenon, it was still a low budget film with only Donald Pleasence as its “name” value. (Donald was certainly well-known, but he wasn’t a “hot” [and] “in demand” star in 1978.) A huge part of Halloween’s success came from intelligent and masterful filmmaking techniques.

I love Jamie Lee Curtis and Laurie Strode but I honestly think that the actress and the character should not appear in any more Halloween films, because there’s nowhere left to go with Laurie. To be honest, she shouldn’t have come back for the 2018 film. Think about it. Didn’t we pretty much see most of this twenty years earlier in H20? The only reason I am glad that Jamie/Laurie came back for the new sequel is that the character was much better written in this film than she was in H20. Jamie was excellent in the role (which is no big shock to anyone).

But to answer your question, I’m not sure what the future holds for the Halloween series. If it were up to me, I would concentrate less on hype [and] adding name stars and more on making an effectively scary film using the excellent filmmaking techniques of John Carpenter’s original.

Interview by: Devon Powell

Autographed copies of “Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series” can be purchased at the book’s Official Website and normal copies are available on Amazon.

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Book Interview: The Essential Films of Ingrid Bergman

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Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Release Date: September 15, 2018

It doesn’t matter what you’ve read or what you may have heard about the importance of Alfred Hitchcock’s collaboration with Grace Kelly. Ingrid Bergman’s place in the master’s legacy is every bit as important and possibly even more interesting. Needless to say, any book examining her work is worth reading for fans of the director as well as for those who admire this incredible actress.

In “The Essential Films of Ingrid Bergman,” Constantine Santas and James Wilson look at what they consider her most notable performances (and they had plenty to choose from). Her career began in Sweden in the 1930s and lasted until the year of her death in 1982, but this text focuses on the 21 films that they consider her most noteworthy. Special attention is paid to those aspects of her acting that made her stand…

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Book Review: Shoot Like Tarantino

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Aug 01, 2015

Christopher Kenworthy’s Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is a strange animal. It is a book written and arranged for burgeoning filmmakers in an effort to help them learn from Tarantino’s camera techniques. Kenworthy does an admirable job at explaining his intentions in the book’s introduction, and they bear repeating here:

“…This book shows you why the best moments in [Tarantino’s] films work so well, and how you can take that knowledge to make your own films work more effectively.

You don’t want to copy Tarantino. Hundreds of people copy Tarantino without understanding what it is that makes him brilliant and the result is usually a lot of swearing and pointless violence. When people copy Tarantino badly, it makes for an embarrassing mess.

You want to be an exciting and original filmmaker, but when you learn the shots, shortcuts, and creative setups that Tarantino has mastered, you will become a better filmmaker. An understanding of how he works should give you more opportunities to be creative with the camera… The films explored in this book show that no matter how good your actors or your script, you need to explore the magic of the camera to make your story work on the big screen.

The scenes chosen for this book range from unforgettable masterpieces to more functional moments, to show that a good storyteller must make the most of the shot, whether it’s the best scene or one of the minor plot points…

…By the time you have reached the end of the book you should have a good grasp of how Tarantino sees a scene, how carefully he sets it up, and how he films creatively. You’ll be able to shoot your own scenes with a better understanding of the visual techniques that make a scene come to life.” -Christopher Kenworthy (Introduction, Shoot Like Tarantino, 2015)

It is good that Kenworthy makes it a point to discourage the reader from merely using the information in the book in an effort to copy the director’s methodology. The book is meant to illuminate the visual language of the cinema and how Quentin Tarantino is able to filter this language through his own voice. It is the language that the reader is intended to learn. The voice that this language is filtered through should absolutely be their own. It is a similar concept to how great painters once learned their craft by painting the works of the great masters that proceeded them. Only after learning their craft could they filter this through their own unique subjective voice to create art. Luckily, for anyone with innate talent, their material will automatically be filtered through their own unique perspective without any pretentious effort on their part—but they will need to learn and understand the language, and this book is an extremely fun way to do this (even if it doesn’t cover the entirety of this language).

For those learning film direction, this book is best used as a supplement to more in-depth texts. This point should absolutely be stressed, but there is another audience for this book. Fans of Quentin Tarantino may very well find that the book is a great resource when it comes to gaining an understanding into this unusual director’s working methods. The book was originally released in August 2015—a few months before Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was released into theaters, so this film isn’t covered at all in the book’s pages. Death Proof is also noticeably absent—although, this is likely due to the fact that the film is considered to be his weakest effort. What’s more, none of the films discussed are covered in their entirety as such an approach would require several volumes!

Kenworthy merely takes a few scenes from Tarantino’s canon in order to illustrate various intentions or tasks (each of which is given its own chapter and covers a single scene or sequence): “Raising Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Subtle Conflict” (Jackie Brown), “Anticipation” (Inglorious Basterds), “Unbearable Tension” (Inglorious Basterds), “Minimal Cuts” (Django Unchained), “Impending Violence” (Django Unchained), “Deliberate Anti-climax” (Kill Bill, Vol. 1), “Breaking Normality (Pulp Fiction), “Controlling Space” (Pulp Fiction), “Group Conversation” (Kill Bill, Vol. 2), and “Losing Control” (Reservoir Dogs). Those who have read his three volume Master Shots series will have a general idea of the basic structure and presentation of the book.

Obviously, certain readers might disagree with some of Kenworthy’s comments as to the intentions and effects of Tarantino’s shooting choices, but this doesn’t ultimately matter. The important thing is that it forces the reader consider these shots and how they are used in Tarantino’s work. Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is well worth reading for both Tarantino fans and anyone attempting to learn the craft of filmmaking.

Book Review: The Sound Effects Bible

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Oct 01, 2008

The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create and Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects has been marketed as “the complete guide to recording, editing, and designing your own sound effects” and it nearly lives up to this promise. Rick Viers covers a variety of topics with varying levels of detail and is comprehensive enough to give the reader a decent foundation to build their knowledge and experience upon. In fact, it probably offers information that you may never need. It will make a very good reference for those who have specific sound effects needs as it covers such topics as sound design, equipment and microphone selection, digital audio, how to create a Foley stage, sound editing, field recording, and much more. Burgeoning filmmakers will want it in their reference libraries.

Book Review: Cinematography for Directors

 

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: August 01, 2009

Jacqueline B. Frost’s Cinematography for Directors utilizes original interviews with the following cinematographers:

Roger Deakins

(Sid and Nancy, Barton Fink, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, A Beautiful Mind, The Village, Jarhead, No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Revolutionary Road, Prisoners, Sicario)

Rodrigo Prieto

(Amores Perros, Ten Tiny Love Stories, 25th Hour, 8 Mile, Frida, Alexander, 21 Grams, Brokeback Mountain, Babel, Broken Embraces, Biutiful, We Bought A Zoo, Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence, The Irishman)

Matthew Libatique

(Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Phone Booth, Gothika, She Hate Me, Inside Man, The Fountain, The Number 23, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Miracle at St. Anna, Black Swan, Noah, Straight Outta Compton, Chi-Raq, Money Monster, Mother!)

John Seale

(Witness, The Hitcher, The Mosquito Coast, Rain Man, Dead Poet’s Society, Lorenzo’s Oil, The Firm, The Paper, The American President, The English Patient, Ghosts of Mississippi, City of Angels, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Perfect Storm, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Cold Mountain, Spanglish, Mad Max: Fury Road)

Daniel Pearl

(The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [remake], Captivity, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Friday the 13th [remake], The Apparition, The Boy, Mom and Dad)

Nancy Schreiber

(Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, November, Loverboy, The Nines, A Beautiful Life)

Richard P. Crudo

(American Buffalo, American Pie, Dirty People)

She also interviews Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza, Grumpy Old Men, Richie Rich, The Associate, Miss Congeniality, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Welcome to Mooseport, My Life in Ruins) in order to give the reader a director’s perspective.

Block quotes from these original conversations intermingle with quotes taken from American Cinematographer magazine to provide the meat of Jacqueline B. Frost’s text, which is certainly required reading for anyone who is looking for a foundation on which to build a knowledge of cinematography—especially those looking for insight on how a director collaborates with these artists and artisans.

Frost provides contextual structuring while allowing these quotes to inform her readers and illustrate how different cinematographers and directors tend to have very different sensibilities and working methods. Such a format makes for interesting reading, but it must be said that the result is decidedly repetitive. With some finesse and a lot of editing, the book’s page count could probably be cut in half without losing any pertinent information. It sometimes reads as if Frost has forgotten that she has already covered certain material (sometimes nearly verbatim).

Cinephiles are also likely to be somewhat irritated that many of the included screenshots that provide illustration to Frost’s text have been horizontally stretched. Frankly, stretching a film’s photography is downright careless and almost unforgivable in a book that is all about how a film’s image is paramount to how an audience interprets a film. A book about cinematography should present such illustration much more care than this one does. Neither of these issues should discourage the burgeoning filmmaker from picking up the book, but it is difficult not to lament these missed opportunities and careless oversights.

Book Review: The Film Director’s Intuition

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: Sep 25, 2003

Judith Weston’s The Film Director’s Intuition: Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques is a book that will probably divide the future filmmakers that it targets. The title doesn’t quite give one a clear idea as to the content of the book’s 334 pages. It could’ve easily been entitled Directing Actors: Volume Two as Weston’s focus is very much on the relationship between directors and their chosen actors and the role that script analysis plays in directing the cast of players. It’s nice that such a book exists since an actor’s performance is so pivotal to the success of a film.

The back of the book claims that the text is intended to help “directors, actors, writers, designers, producers and executives tap into the imagination and instincts, which will help them create the films they always dreamed of” but if the filmmaker works by previsualizing his intended shots ahead of time, they may find that Weston’s methods fly in the face of their plans. She seems to dislike this approach and does everything except state this verbatim. However, it should be possible to use this book as a way of expanding one’s concept of how a film should be shot and what a director should expect of their actors. What’s more, there is no reason that some of these techniques shouldn’t work within the confines of a filmmaker’s more rigid shot planning. There is certainly no law that says that the reader can’t take the information that feels useful to them and ignore that that doesn’t. There is no one way to make a movie any more than there is a single right way to approach giving actor’s direction.

Book Interview: Hitchcock’s Heroines

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: May 01, 2018

A Conversation with Caroline Young

From his early days as a director in the 1920s to his heyday as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock had a complicated and controversial relationship with his leading ladies. He supervised their hair, their makeup, their wardrobe, and pushed them to create his perfect vision onscreen. These women were often style icons in their own right, and the clothes that they wore imbued the films with contemporary glamor.

Quite a lot has been written over the past few decades regarding Alfred Hitchcock’s use of women in his films—some of it from a scholarly or theoretical standpoint and some of it from a sensationalized tabloid angle that only serves to muddy the waters of responsible scholarship. However, it must be said that this new Insight Editions release of Caroline Young’s Hitchcock’s Heroines doesn’t quite fall into either…

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