Classic Cinema Directing Filmmakers

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


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.

Classic Cinema Filmmakers

Book Review: The Films of John Carpenter

The Films of John Carpenter

Publisher: McFarland

Release Date: March 2, 2005

John Kenneth Muir’s The Films of John Carpenter is divided into six units:

A History and Overview of John Carpenter’s Career

This unit is 50 pages of information that discusses the situations surrounding the production of each John Carpenter film. One might say that it is a brief look at the creation of every important film in his filmography. This provides context for the chapters in the second unit. One might prefer that the information in this section be a bit more comprehensive, but this book prefers to focus on a theoretical analysis (and review) of each of the director’s films.

The Films of John Carpenter

The meat of this text is contained in this second section, which reviews each film that had been directed by John Carpenter through 1998. (It is important to note that Ghosts of Mars (2001) and The Ward (2010) are not discussed in this book). The discussion of each film begins with various quotations from critics from reviews of each film. There is then a list of credits. Muir then includes an extremely detailed synopsis of the film being discussed, and follows this with an in depth theoretical commentary (or review) of each film. His essays are extremely fun to read, and never become too dry for the average reader. One can tell that Muir has a sincere admiration for John Carpenter, and this comes across even when his reviews lean towards the negative.

Films Written and Produced by John Carpenter

Five films that are either written by, produced, or based on an original script or treatment by John Carpenter are discussed here. Some of these films have an extremely limited Carpenter influence, so this unit might be less interesting to some than the previous sections. Muir covers each of these five films in the exact same manner that he covers those that were actually directed by John Carpenter.

John Carpenter on Television

This segment focuses on John Carpenter’s telefilms. However, Elvis is merely mentioned in the introductory section, and isn’t given a review. [Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) and Body Bags (1993) are covered here.] These reviews are in the exact same format as the other films, but are less comprehensive.

Epilogue: We Are Transmitting From the Year 1999…

This short epilogue looks forward to what the future may hold for John Carpenter. Muir mentions that Ghosts of Mars has been announced.

Overall, Muir’s work probably falls short of being absolutely essential. However, few books worth reading about Carpenter’s work has been written. This text helps fill a void, and die-hard fans should be thrilled to read the book if they haven’t discovered this text already.

Review by: Devon Powell

Classic Cinema Filmmakers

Book Review: On Set with John Carpenter

On Set with John Carpenter

Publisher: Titan Books

Release Date: October 21, 2014

On Set with John Carpenter reminds one of a high school yearbook. The difference is that instead of remembering the hell that is high school, the reader can remember a few of John Carpenter’s best films.

Carpenter’s producing partner Debra Hill hired photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker to be the unit photographer on Halloween, and Kim soon became part of Carpenter’s film-making family, going on to shoot stills on the sets of some of his most iconic films (Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and Christine). She also worked on Halloween II, which was written and produced by Hill and Carpenter. The book’s 176 pages are filled with Kim Gottlieb-Walker’s excellent still photography from the set of these films.

The book is 90% photography. Short quotes from the cast and crew of the films act as captions. These captions add context to the excellent photographs. Kim Gottlieb-Walker’s short introductions are also incredibly interesting. This book proves that the still photographer is a valuable commodity on any film set. Her perspective is unique and valuable. Her photography is excellent. This book is recommended to fans without hesitation.

Review by: Devon Powell

Classic Cinema

Book Review: Monsters in the Movies

Monsters In the Movies

Publisher: DK ADULT

Release Date: September 19, 2011

“…This book is meant to be fun. It is not some heavy tome on the meaning of violence in the cinema, or a ponderous examination of film theory. This is a book with a lot of photographs of monsters in the movies. The films represented here are included not because they are necessarily good or bad films, but only because of the monsters that appear in them.

As for any movie monsters that are omitted, my only excuse is the finite number of photos my publisher would allow in the book…” –John Landis (Forward of Monsters in the Movies)

Filmmaker John Landis poses with his book, "Monsters in the Movies."
Filmmaker John Landis poses with his book, “Monsters in the Movies.”

This is an accurate description of John Landis’ coffee table book. Monsters in the Movies is pure eye candy. Much of the text is in the form of captions for the book’s many photographs. There are short introductions for each of the chapters (each of the chapters focuses on different kind of monster). These introductions are nice, and give the reader a bit of information on each kind of movie monster.

This is the standard layout for the book.  This sample is for the chapter on Vampires.
This is the standard layout for the book.
This sample is for the chapter on Vampires.

Better than these introductions are the conversations that Landis conducts with various filmmakers (such as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, and Christopher Lee). Each interview is about two pages in length and covers the same territory. This makes each of the interviews all the more interesting due to the conflicting answers given by each filmmaker.

This is the standard layout for the book. This sample is for the chapter on Werewolves.
This is the standard layout for the book.
This sample is for the chapter on Werewolves.

If you are looking for pure eye candy (and are fond of movie monsters) this might be an amusing purchase. There are worse ways to slay boredom.

Review by: Devon Powell