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 Making of Dunkirk

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: July 18, 2017

The Making of Dunkirk” tells the incredible story of how Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy) brought a historical moment in World War II to life on the screen using innovative film-making techniques that give the film a gritty, exhilarating realism rarely seen in modern cinema. Those who haven’t seen the film itself should correct their oversight soon. It tells the story of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, France, in a daring endeavor that saved them from certain defeat at the hands of enemy forces. Featuring a stunning ensemble cast that includes newcomers Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Harry Styles, as well as acclaimed actors Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk offers a breathtaking glimpse at a turning point in the conflict determined by not only the ingenuity of the British forces but also the bravery of British civilians who sailed into war-torn waters to save them. The film has already received an incredible amount of box office and critical success—earning 3 Golden Globe Nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Score) and 8 Academy Awards Nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing).

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James Mottram’s coffee table account of the creation of Dunkirk gives a surprisingly comprehensive account of production. Interviews with the director and key department heads give the text a more authentic resonance and offers the reader first-hand accounts of the film’s creation. Of course, the information is richly illustrated with never-before-seen imagery from the shoot, concept art, storyboards, and other documentation. The accumulative effect is both enjoyable and informative, and the book is essential reading for fans of the film or for anyone who admires the director.

Book Review: The Coen Brothers – The Iconic Filmmakers and Their Work

Cover.jpgPublisher: Aurum Press

Release Date: November 09, 2017

Ian Nathan’s wonderful new book on the Coen Brothers and films can best be described as a career biography that blends “behind the scenes” information with scholarly analysis. It is an essential text for anyone with an affection for those with an affection for the Coen filmography. The in-depth and informative text re-examines their entire output with an emphasis on the films that they directed themselves. It covers their early lives to their indie debut with Blood Simple to their most recent release of Hail Caesar! Packed with stunning images from the Kobal archives, the book also mentions their upcoming mini-series, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

What’s more, the presentation is really quite special as the hardback book is housed in an attractive slipcase that is extremely sturdy. Everything about the book earns our enthusiastic approval and recommendation.

Book Review: Tarantino – A Retrospective

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: October 03, 2017

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963, Quentin Tarantino spent many Saturday evenings during his childhood accompanying his mother to the movies, nourishing a love of film that was, over the course of his life, to become all-consuming. It is just as well, because he would grow up to be one of American cinema’s most celebrated filmmakers. Known for his highly cinematic visual style, out-of-sequence storytelling, and grandiose violence, Tarantino’s films have provoked both praise and criticism over the course of his career. They’ve also won him a host of awards—including Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA awards—usually for his original screenplays. His oeuvre includes the cult classic Pulp Fiction, bloody revenge saga Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and historical epics Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight. This stunning retrospective catalogs each of Quentin Tarantino’s movies in detail, from My Best Friend’s Birthday to The Hateful Eight. The book is a tribute to a unique directing and writing talent, celebrating an uncompromising, passionate director’s enthralling career at the heart of cult filmmaking.

Make no mistake about this, Tarantino: A Retrospective isn’t merely coffee-table fluff with a lot of great photographs and artwork (although, there are plenty of great photos to be found throughout the book). This is an informative examination of the director’s career! Tom Shone’s text is a seamless mixture of career biography, retrospective appreciation, and film criticism. Surprisingly, there aren’t many essential books available about the director. This makes Shone’s text all the more essential for fans of the director, but it almost seems a bit premature when one considers the fact that Tarantino has consistently insisted that he will only make ten films before he retires from making movies. With eight films under his belt, one wonders why Shone didn’t wait a few years to release the book so that it could include those two new projects. We can’t answer this question with any authority, but we can say with absolute certainty that fans will be very happy that they didn’t have to wait!

Book Review: Reconstructing Strangelove – Inside Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Nightmare Comedy’

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Publisher: Wallflower Press

Release Date: January 2017

Mick Broderick offers Kubrick scholars a rare glimpse into the creation of what may very well be the director’s most important film: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The text makes use of Kubrick’s own production papers from the Stanley Kubrick Archives in order to dissect the film’s creative evolution as well as its legitimacy in terms of how accurate the film’s depiction of nuclear warfare policies actually were. Several popular myths about the film’s production are proven false even as others are confirmed. Broderick doesn’t try to document the film’s creation and the reader shouldn’t expect a comprehensive examination of the film’s creation. Instead, we are given a scholarly examination of how the film was shaped by the cold war environment, the scientists and world leaders who created that environment, and Kubrick’s creative collaborators. It earns an easy recommendation for fans of the director and for those who admire the film itself.

Review by: Devon Powell