The Halloween Handbook

Author: Jack Wolfe

The Halloween Handbook
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This little work, “the halloween handbook,” is not a movie review nor a making-of retrospective; and though some analyses and evaluations are involved, neither is it film criticism, for it avoids formal standards of content and presentation. To further clarify, this handbook does not cover the franchise as a whole, but only the original movie; and neither is it meant as an exhaustive treatise on all things related thereof, but only those elements deemed core components, or core essentials. Furthermore, neither is this handbook intended as one long persuasive essay for Halloween’s legendary status, for it assumes the film is already judged a legitimate work of art. Rather, this handbook is an examination in the form of an observational guide, a type of cinematic autopsy, dealing with the core components of John Carpenter’s Halloween, engaging with both technique-related inventory, and some content-related inventory.

Some time ago, I was eager to learn why Halloween is considered a masterpiece, and to know precisely what separates it from all its sequels, along with the Slasher sub-genre it helped spawn. I further wanted to know the answers to these questions with as much understanding as possible. Thus, as just indicated, the purpose of this handbook is to identify, enumerate, distill, elucidate, crystalize, and magnify the core essentials to Halloween’s prowess. As indicated, this handbook was primarily created for me, for it possesses the material I was originally searching for, but could not locate anywhere; and it’s the type of Halloween information that fascinates me most because it interacts with the art of visual storytelling (either directly or indirectly), and attempts to provide practical responses, with concrete concepts, to this basic question: “Why, exactly, is John Carpenter’s Halloween great?”
There is a sense in which Carpenter was too hip and too artistic for the general viewing audience (myself included), thus, to fully appreciate his movie, one needs to view it similar to the way a film-school instructor would grade a student project. However, having never attended film school, or informally studied cinema, I was completely ignorant of the filmmaking process, and therefore ill-equipped to examine Halloween with the much needed critical eye.
Therefore, over time, I set about to gain a firm grasp on the rudiments of cinematography (particularly still photography composition); but also including editing, and sound design; along with pertinent facets of film history and screenplay writing (though script writing is still somewhat of a mystery to me); as well as familiarizing myself with John Carpenter’s career, biography, and the Halloween franchise as a whole. Ironically, one of the best ways to learn about the original film is to observe the antithetical qualities displayed throughout the ever-increasing franchise.
Perhaps most helpful has been in learning some of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful techniques, which has a direct correlation to Halloween, and in listening to other filmmakers discuss cinema. Peter Bogdanovich, in particular, has been a treasure-trove of information, as well as having incredible stories at his disposal. I’ve read countless articles, reviews, books, and have seen numerous documentaries, interviews and movies related to Halloween and the subject of filmmaking—I have immensely enjoyed and continue to enjoy the education.
Moreover, while I have studied much about John Carpenter’s Halloween, from what others have said and written, I have also studied the movie itself, a lot, forming my own thoughts, insights, and interpretations, at times contrary to popular opinion. A great way to study the film is by pouring over it without sound, free from distraction and free from becoming absorbed in the story (not an easy task).

This handbook possesses three primary sections—the first is labeled Halloween’s Context, and provides three applicable backdrops, each one possessing a more narrowed focus (Halloween’s Era; Halloween’s Establishment, & Halloween’s Essence). In these articles, I’ve simplified matters greatly, using large brushstrokes in an attempt to paint a quick thumbnail sketch of the movie’s background. Here, I briefly discuss the artistic period the film was created; how it was conceived; and the genre classification within its cinematic DNA.
The second section is titled, Halloween’s core, and there I discuss three foundational components that encompass the movie as a whole (The Cinematography; The Sound & The Suspense); then, I close with three outlines of the film (The Skeleton), serving as templates for its (1) artistic anatomy (2) the main theme, and (3) sub-themes.
The third and final section is titled, Halloween’s Killer, and examines the most notorious, highly debated horror-villain of all time. I look at three primary elements surrounding Michael’s character design (The Uncertain; The Uncanny & The Unknown), and finish with a two-part guide, or cinematic blueprint, featuring his precise on-screen utilization (The Unseen). Then, after closing with a postscript, there is a brief study guide (Study Suggestions) for anyone eager to do their own deep-dive exploration of the movie.

 

AUTHOR BIO
Jack Wolfe is a self-described cinephile, with a peculiar interest in John Carpenter’s Halloween. Other favorite films include: The Rules of the Game (1939); The Third Man (1949); and The Exorcist (1973). Contact: fallingleafinfocus@gmail.com


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