Critical Response Paper about Halloween

3-5 page Critical Response Paper that outlines and engages the arguments of one
or more of the authors we have been reading. You will be asked to explain the questions
the authors pose and how they come to the conclusions they do. Be critical and pay
attention to the rhetoric of the arguments: how did they convince you or not convince you?
Think about what they are not saying: what other points or connections might or should
they be making? Provide your own insights.
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Drake Stutesman
Halloween: Suspense, Aggression and the Look
Author(s): Steve Neale
Source: Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, No. 14 (SPRING 1981), pp. 25-29
Published by: Drake Stutesman; Wayne State University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/44111788
Accessed: 29-03-2018 03:36 UTC
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Drake Stutesman, Wayne State University Press are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,
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Through an analysis of some aspects of John Carpenter’s
Halloween (1978), this article proposes to consider some of the
textual, cinematic and psychoanalytic mechanisms involved in the
horror film and particularly in its moments of suspense.
The narrative of Halloween is simple and straightforward,
basing itself upon a series of barely differentiated repetitions both
at the level of enunciation and at the level of the enounced. In the
opening scene, Michael Myers kills his sister Judith at their house
in Haddonfield on Halloween night. Fifteen years later Michael
escapes from the asylum in which he has been kept since the killing, eluding his psychiatrist, Sam Loomis, who is convinced that
Michael will return to Haddonfield to repeat his crime. The film
then introduces a further set of characters during the course of the
following day, principally Laurie Strode, an adolescent girl of about
the same age as Judith; Tommy, a young boy for whom she is due
to babysit that Halloween night; and Laurie’s schoolfriends, Annie
and Lynda. Laurie seems to be being followed by Michael, who
appears a number of times during the course of the day, though he
remains unseen by any of the other characters. Later that night
Annie, Lynda and Bob, Lynda’s boyfriend, are killed by Michael,
who, when disturbed by Laurie, pursues her into her house. She
seems twice to have stabbed him to death, once with a knittfug
needle, once with coat hanger, but he attacks again for the third
time, at which point Loomis rushes into the house and shoots
Michael. However, when he looks out of the window for the body,
it has gone.
The film begins with Michael entering a house, climbing the
stairs and stabbing a teenage girl to death. It ends with Michael
entering Laurie’s house and failing to kill her after a repeated series of attacks – and a repeated series of apparent deaths. Altogether we see four killings, all set in Haddonfield on Halloween
night. Each killing involves either strangulation and or stabbing
with a huge, phallic knife, and in the assembly of the elements it
repeats, each killing implies punishment of a woman who asserted
a sexual appetite. The film is careful to avoid in its multiple series
of repetitions an overstatement of the principles behind them hence the variation provided by the killing of a male. However,
Bob, unlike Judith, Annie and Lynda is neither stalked at length
nor signified as the object of Michael’s voyeuristic gaze; structurally, his death functions largely as a preliminary to the killing of
Lynda. It is noteworthy, in this respect, that neither Michael nor
the spectator see Laurie in a state of undress. She is differentiated from the others in that she is depicted as both sexually timid
and inexperienced. In babysitting on Halloween night while her
friends anticipate a night of sex, she is cast in the roles both of
virgin and mother, two roles which are signified elsewhere as
exempt from Michael’s aggression. Of the four adolescent women
who are attacked, it is therefore, logically, Laurie who survives.
At the level of enunciation, Halloween works through a
codification of violence and suspense across four distinct and
separate textual sections: the first scene (the murder of Judith);
the second scene (the escape from Smith’s Grove asylum); the
sequences set in Haddonfield during the course of the following
day; and the sequences at night with the murder of Annie, Bob
and Lynda and the final attack on Laurie. In each of these sections aggression and suspense are articulated differently. A cumulative and repetitive elaboration eventually weaves them all together
until they establish a system across which the repeated violence of
the last section is played out. Judith’s killing is shown in a single
shot, marked, in retrospect, as having been taken from Michael’s
point of view. The camera hovers outside the house, peering through the window as Judith and her boyfriend go upstairs to her
bedroom for sex, then moves round to the side entrance and into
the kitchen to pick up a Halloween mask and a knife from the
kitchen drawer as the boyfriend comes down the stairs and leaves
through the front door, up the stairs and into her room for the
killing, then down the stairs again and finally out the front door
to confront the parents. Then reverse cut to a crane as the camera
swoops back to show Michael, six years old, dressed in Harlequin
garb and clutching the knife in his hand. The second scene, set
at night like the first one, opens with a dialogue sequence between
Loomis and a nurse as they drive toward the asylum in the rain.
Through the windscreen they see a number of the inmates wandering around and Loomis realises something is wrong. He gets out of
the car to investigate. Through the r~ar window of the car a figure
briefly appears as it leaps onto the roof. An extended sequence
follows in which the figure (Michael) attempts to get into the car.
Throughout this sequence the camera is positioned at various points
inside the car. The tension is elaborated spatially around the question as to where Michael will appear and attack and temporally
25
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around the question as to when he will do so. Eventually, while the
nurse is looking in one direction, Michael’s hand appears behind
her through the car window to smash it and to grab her by the
throat. She struggles free and escapes from the car. Loomis runs
to her aid as the car drives off in the distance. ·
Suspense, aggression and violence are articulated in two different ways in these scenes. The opening scene turns upon an elaborate, unidentified point of view shot. Tension and suspense arise as
a conjunction of a number of different mechanisms and processes.
The shot functions so as to faterweave together three separate
looks: that of the camera, that of the spectator and that of what
is at this point still a character unknown to the viewer although it
is known to Judith and her parents. They call it by name: Michael.
But the audience does not know who Michael is. There is disjunction in knowledge between the audience, the characters and the
narrative subject. The tension lies exactly in the way this disjunction is articulated across the specific, unstable combination of looks
involved in the construction of the shot. This tension gradually accumulates throughout the span of the shot until it culminates firstly in an act of apparently motiveless violence and secondly in the
shock involved in the gut that gives the spectator the identity both
of the killer and (hence) of the camera’s point of view. For if the
cut serves at last to separate the first two of the three looks from the
third (a condition of mainstream narrative film) and to provide
simultaneously the knowledge desired but frustrated during the
span of the opening shot, it undermines any position of relative
certainty that may have been reached after the killing itself by
identifying the killer not as some psychopathic adult male, as the
convention would have dictated, but instead as a tiny, wide-eyed
child. Overall the scene functions firstly to set the narrative in
motion by disrupting diegetic equilibrium and by introducing
elements which will be elaborated in the fonn of repetitions throughout the rest of the film (night, killing, Halloween, lengthy
point of view shots, aggression and suspense); secondly as a consequence, to ‘suspend’ the spectator’s knowledge, position and
sense of certainty (with the exception, of course, of the certainty
that knowledge , position and certainty will come with the film’s
resolution); and thirdly to associate marked but unmotivated point
of view shots with Michael and thus with the agent of violence and
aggression in the film. Such shots will funcion henceforth to slgnify Michael’s potential (if not actual) presence and therefore
danger to those characters who are caught as objects in the frame
demonstrating the incidence of this look.
The second scene at the asylum, involves similar elements of
aggression and suspense, but they are articulated differently. The
conversation in the car between Loomis and the nurse serves both
to introduce the characters and to indicate an ellipsis in diegetic
time, while re-marking Michael as agent of violence and threat.
Point of view is again identified with narrative disruption but this
time with a number of crucial differences. Firstly, the conjunction
is operated from a specified point of view (that of Loomis) and its
object is displaced in relation to the agent of disruption itself (we
– and he – see not Michael but other inmates of Smith’s Grove
asylum wandering in the road). Secondly, the point of view is that
of the subject of diegetic violence (i.e. Loomis not Michael’s point
of view). Thirdly, point of view here does not coincide with an act
of aggression. It simply inaugurates the suspense of its possibility.
When Michael first appears (fleetingly, as he jumps onto the roof
of the car), he is the object only of the looks of camera and of the
spectator. These looks, however, are both mapped onto each other
and differentiated thl’ough recourse to a compositional device that
recurs frequently throughout the film: the use of a frame internal
to the image-frame. In this instance, the rear window of the car
acts as a frame within the frame of the image. At this point, the
nurse is looking out of the car’s windscreen: her look as (potential) victim and our look as spectators are thus disconnected, but
she shares our knowledge of Michael’s presence, having heard him
as he lands on the roof. With the camera from this point ori being
in the car, the knowledge and the view of the nurse and of the
spectator are suspended, and a tension is constructed precisely
around their lack. When Michael’s hand appears it appears to the
spectator but not to the nurse. It then immediately begins its attack. The temsion increases as it is focussed on the question as to
whether the nurse will be killed or not, before it’s relaxed when she
escapes from the car. Again, then, suspense and aggression are functions of a lack of knowledge and adequate viewpoint on the part
of the spectator. They are articulated here, however, not around
a point of view shot as such, but rather around fields of vision as
marked by the frame. Importantly, whereas point of view (specifi<;ally the point of view of the agent of aggression) coincided in the first scene with the death of its female object, here the system of frame, field of vision, camera and spectator look results in aggression and violence directed at the female victim, but not resulting in her death. Although sharing a suspense and aggression articulated in tenns of (a lack) of position, knowledge and an omniscient look on the part of the spectating subject, the first two sections are marked by distinct modes of cinematic construction, the one centring on point of view, the other on space, field of vision and frame. These two modes are then woven together into the systems that comprise and articulate the third section: the daytime sequences in Haddonfield that follow Michael's escape. The sequences consist essentially of the introduction of Laurie, Tommy, Annie and Lynda. Laurie and Tommy walk to school discussing Halloween and pausing on the way at the old Myers' house. Next we see Laurie in her classroom during an English lesson, then Tommy in the playground with some other boys after school. Laurie walks home with Annie and Lynda, then goes up alone to her room. It is these sequences upon which I wish to concentrate, since it is they that are marked strongly by suspense and threat. They are interspersed with and followed by Loomis' discovery of the body of a truck driver whose clothes have been taken by Michael, Laurie and Annie going for a drive to come upon a store robbed by Michael of a Halloween mask and a knife, and Loomis' visit to Judith's grave to find that her headstone is missing. In all of the sequences I want to discuss, Michael appears in a very distinct and particular manner. He appears in two different ways. Firstly united by a disjunction in knowledge between ourselves as spectators and the other characters in the story (who are all at this point ignorant of Michael's existence and hence of the threat he poses) and secondly by the fact that the menace he represents is at no point translated into physical violence. We see him on the one hand as the object of Laurie's point of view, in which case he appears in full figure in all but one instance. In each case, point of view and looking are re-marked through a set of compositional devices: framed by the schoolroom and car door windows while seated at the car; framed on the left of the image by a hedge behind which he subsequently disappears while Laurie walks home with Annie; and, finally, framed by Laurie's bedroom window as he stands in the garden next door. In eaeh instance too, these point of view shots are repeated in a classical structure of shotcounter shot, and each time there is such a repetition Michael's figure has vanished from the frame. A potential victim's point of view once again inaugurates threat (with the aggressor in full view) 26 This content downloaded from 134.29.69.230 on Thu, 29 Mar 2018 03:36:14 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms ually never coincides with an act of aggression as such. The system threatens, so to speak, but never attacks. It is in the final section that the agression breaks loose. This last section of the film combines elements of the system of the cinematic articulation of suspense elaborated during the course of section three (itself a combination in a number of respects of the systems that marked scenes one and two) with a number of other elements from the opening scene (night-time, a voyeuristic gaze at the female victims in a state of semi-nudity, sexual activity, sequences set in enclosed, interior spaces). What it adds, increasingly, is Michael's presence within the frame as a stable and consistent object of the look of the viewer as distributed across a series of shots in this sequence. Rather than give an exhaustive description of this section I would simply like to emphasise one or two moments and aspects of its composition. Firstly, there is the darkness, which functions largely to amplify at a number of points our difficulty in seeing where Michael is, increasing the frustration of our knowledge as to his position and of our wish for an omniscient gaze. Secondly, there is the continual frustration of the possibility of seeing Michael on the part either of his victims or, importantly, of Laurie. Where in the previous section she had seen him, albeit fleetingly {she indeed was the only character to do so), here he is never the object of the point of view until he attacks her in the bedroom where Lynda is killed as she discovers Annie's body on the bed with Judith's headstone. The only character who does see him is Tommy (as, again, he is framed in point of view through a window) and when Tommy persuades Laurie to take a look he has gone {the shot-counter shot system of the previous section being split here across two points of view). Finally, there is the elaboration of the inscription of Michael's body in the frame as the object of the point of view of the spectator, of Lynda, of Laurie and, lastly, of Loomis. Michael stabilises, firstly, as the object of the look of the spectator, appearing at length in full figure as he stares up at the body of Bob. Next, he appears to us and to Lynda from Lynda's point of view, but draped in a sheet and wearing Bob's glasses so that Lynda in fact thinks he is Bob while we know it is Michael. The tension in the shot is not, then, a function of a disjunction of looks but rather solely a function of r::: a disjunction in knowledge between the spectator and Lynda. Fin~ ally, he is caught in Laurie's gaze and in ours as he appears in full ~ figure to attack her, pursuing her into her house and there attack~ ing her again. Throughout this sequence, as there has been before in this section as well as in other parts of the film, there is a play of coincidence and disjunction between the knowledges of the audience and the character together with a play of mapping - separatwould confirm or deny that possibility of that would specify defion between the audience's and the character's points of view. This initively his spatial location. In each case but one (the shot that tension is further amplified at a number of points by a lack of tracks Laurie and Tommy from across the street as they walk in the direction of the Myers' house on the way to school) these shots knowledge as to Michael's precise spatial location. Having twice survived apparent death (in both instances reviving and attacking are held until a fragment of Michael's body appears in the frame. Laurie from behind while we watch him approach) Michael finally What is interesting about the cinematic construction of these appearances is that although point of view is strongly marked, none is caught in Loomis' sight, something which has been missing since of the shots in question turn out to be point of view shots in the Loomis' initial appearance in the film. Loomis shoots straight at the strict sense, i.e. shots designated as being from the exact position camera. This is followed by a cut to a reverse angle as Michael pulls of one of the characters {in this case Michael's). The function of off his mask and staggers towards the window. Cut to the ground this is threefold. Firstly, the structure of these shots serves effectoutside as he falls - once again apparently dead. Loomis' gun shot ively to combine together the point of view system inaugurated in into the camera in a sense recalls and reverses the opening shot. the frrst scene with the framing system predominant in the second While there the camera, spectator and Michael were united in a one: threat and aggression are a funtion both of Michael's point of point of view that traced the initial aggression, here we have the view and of the limits on our vision as spectators provided by the reverse angle, so to speak, in which the aggression is erased by an articulation of the frame. The look of the camera, of Michael and act of aggression in return in which the violence is directed towards, of the spectator are codified first as identical and then they separrather than away from the camera, in which the camera is the obate. Secondly, this identification and separation generate an aggres- ject rather than the subject of attack. But not quite, because this sive tension in relation to the frustration of our knowledge and, time the camera is not signified as Michael's point of view. It is at hence, of a position from which we can stably dominate the procthe right angle, ... Purchase answer to see full attachment

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