We always had a good feeling about Tales Of Halloween. For starters, an anthology horror set on Halloween is about as “our cup of tea” as it gets, and then there was the talent involved: Neil Marshall, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, Adam Gierasch, Darren Lynn Bousman, Mike Schifrin, Dave Parker, Mike Mendez, Andrew Kasch and Jon Skipp. Not to mention the fact that genre legends like Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, John Landis, Barbara Crampton and Adrienne Barbeau appear on screen.
So we were very happy when we saw the film: a gleefully entertaining, imaginative and gory tribute to our favourite holiday that went down a storm at this year’s Film4 FrightFest.
We got the chance to talk to Carolyn and Marshall about what inspired them to make the movie, which of their horror friends surprised them with their seasonal tale, what Halloween means to them, and geeking out over Adrienne Barbeau doing her Stevie Wayne voice.
So is it fair to say that this movie comes from your love of Halloween?
Axelle Carolyn: It is, but the first idea was to make an anthology movie with all the friends that we have in LA. All of our best friends work in horror movies in some capacity, and it’s such a great community. Where any time you go to a horror event you’re going to bump into the same people, and you can always say “Hey there’s a screening of The Reflecting Skin” or something, and even if it’s an obscure movie they’re like “Yeah I can’t wait, we’re all going, shall we do a Facebook event to make sure everyone can go?” There’s a real community spirit.
So many of us are writers or directors or actors, it’s perfect to make something together. So that came up three or four years ago, “Let’s make an anthology movie.” And then the Halloween idea was something that was born early last year when I thought “What can we do together?” We spend six weeks a year celebrating Halloween, it’s my favourite time of year. We have this little sign on the door that counts down the days to Halloween.
Neil Marshall: It’s a big deal for the entire group of friends.
AC: So we thought yes this is perfect, there’s Trick R Treat, but otherwise there’s not a lot of movies recently that have taken place on Halloween. Let’s give it a shot.
So getting people involved was pretty easy?
NM: Yeah, it was like a weird infection that spread throughout the horror community. We started out quite small, it was going to be done ultra low budget and just a few of us banding together, but slowly but surely, as it came together, as we started to shoot it, more and more people wanted to get involved and then it took over the whole community for a while. Everybody was coming along.
AC: Just getting the directors together was fairly easy because we know these guys. I pitched it to Neil, and then I mentioned it to Mike Mendez on the way to Monsterpalooza, and then I pitched it to Adam Gierasch when we were at a birthday party. When we saw how enthusiastic everybody was about the idea, it felt like it was going to be pretty easy to get people on board.
And usually you have the enthusiasm from the creative side but then you have no money whatsoever. But here Mike Mendez said “I had a great experience with Epic Pictures on Big Ass Spider so just talk to these guys.” He pitched it to them on a Wednesday and we met on the Saturday, and they were like “Yeah, we’re on board, let’s do this!” Over the course of a week, I pitched the idea, had people involved, found the financing and got greenlit to write the script. It was pretty awesome.
Even from the first announcement, it seems to have come together very quickly.
NM: This. Never. Happens. [laughs]
AC: I really credit Epic Pictures with that. They bought this crazy idea of “Hey I have a bunch of friends and we love Halloween and we’re going to make something, do you guys want to put money in it?” There were no scripts, there were no pitches, we didn’t know what the stories were about and they came on board at that stage. When we presented them with the script we said “The one thing we really want is we want to have a lot of freedom on this, we want to have final cut,” and they were like “OK guys.”
They were very supportive throughout the whole process. If we really needed more money for something they wouldn’t make cuts, they would say “OK, I could see that this would elevate the picture, let’s just put more money in the budget,” and that kind of understanding is so unusual and so brilliant. Really feeling their support throughout the whole thing, that’s what allowed us to make it so quickly.
NM: They immediately got what we were trying to do and I think that they cottoned on to the idea that we were creating something unique and special, and not only encompassing but enhancing and expanding the horror community.
AC: It’s amazing to have producers who really care and really want to put this film out there and they really want to support you, but they didn’t want to send notes on the scripts. They were like “No, we have you,” because I was putting together notes from everybody and wrangling the creative side of it. Sometimes you have producers who do that but they’re very hands off in other aspects too, like “No, we’re not going to push this movie, we don’t care that much.” But in all the places where you want a producer to be present, they were right there.
Did you give the filmmakers any rules?
AC: Yeah, it had to be a similar universe. So it had to be the same town and the reference we gave was Haddonfield [from John Carpenter’s Halloween, but you already knew that]. The length had to be roughly between 6 and 10 minutes, and Epic came up with no found footage.
NM: Nobody intended to do found footage anyway.
AC: No, but that was pretty much the only rule. The other thing was we had to make it a collaborative process. Everybody had to be willing to hang out on a regular basis and discuss the script and make it all work together, and then we were sharing the same equipment and production team. So it was kind of scheduled as a feature and people knew that there was a rough budget that they needed to fit within.
NM: And everybody agreed from the start that Axelle would be creatively in charge of the development of the scripts in terms of making sure that nobody was doing the same story, that the tones were similar and there would be crossovers with certain background characters and things like that all the way.
I really liked that there’s kind of a spirit of fun throughout. None of them are mean-spirited…
NM: Yeah, you give 10 horror directors essentially carte blanche to come up with whatever story they want, and although some of them are violent or gory, none of them are mean-spirited, they all have a sense of fun or mischief. It’s a complete love letter to Halloween, there’s nothing vindictive about it at all.
AC: It’s what Halloween’s all about, Halloween is not about hurting people or scaring them to death, it’s about having a good fright and it’s about spooky fun. That was kind of the direction: spooky fun. It’s gotta fit within the horror genre, you can’t go and make a romantic comedy that’s based on Halloween, but it has to be something playful. I think that even without discussing it as a guideline, everybody had kind of gone in that direction in any case.
Did any of them surprise you?
AC: Yeah, a lot of them. The fact that Neil did a comedy. It’s very you in many ways, it’s very inspired by John Carpenter, but it has that very dry sense of humour
NM: You’ve seen my first movie haven’t you? [laughs]
AC: Yeah, but at first Neil’s idea was “I’m going to make something really scary, how can I scare people?” And then one day he shows up and was like “I’m going to make a killer pumpkin story.” I didn’t see that coming!
NM: Neither did I! But it felt much more in keeping with the spirit of Halloween, of fun and spooky fun rather than trying to be shocking or scary or whatever, I think we all went down that route.
AC: Adam Gierasch wanted to make a romance, do you remember that? His first idea was a romance. He thought the punk rock thing to do was something really soft and sweet and then we talked him out of it.
NM: “No, Adam.”
AC: Nobody could expect would Lucky McKee did, that’s for sure, because that is wild and amazing and awesome. Even having read the script, I was like “OK, dude, I don’t quite get it, but I trust you enough to know it’s going to be great.” And then seeing it on set I was still like “Wow, there’s these amazing performances, I can see something coming together but I don’t…” He sent different versions and every version was more weird and atmospheric. And the actors are so good too.
NM: Pollyanna’s [McIntosh] the best visual effects you could hope for. Put her on the screen, it’s just “whoah!”
AC: Showing up on set I wanted to see what the red witch looks like and then Marc [Senter] comes up and I’d never met him and he shows up in his lederhosen and the full outfit. I was like “Oh, this is so awesome.”
Were there any found-footage rules you set out to keep to or ignore?
NM: We toyed with the idea of having a wrap around or a linking narrative throughout and at some point we all sat down and said “Actually, when you’re watching an anthology you just want to get on to the next story.”
AC: I had a little” I told you so” moment with that because from the beginning I was like “There are ten stories, there’s no room for a wraparound, let’s just cut to black and go on to the next one,” but it doesn’t sound very exciting. So there was a lot of resistance but, having tried many things in the edit, we said “How about we just put them together and cut to black in between?”
It’s brought together by the animation too. We knew that we wanted something that showed the idea that this is all in the same town, so we wanted to have a map that goes from one place to another, and gives a sense along with the music of “Don’t expect something scary, don’t expect something that’s going to be shocking and leave you depressed and horrified at the end of it.” It’s very playful from the beginning and I think that Anthony Thorpe who did the animation captured that really nicely. And Lalo Schifrin who did the theme music obviously, but he’s no amateur!
NM: And of course we’ve got Adrienne [Barbeau] playing a DJ which is hugely significant to horror fans, reprising, in a way, a role that horror fans will be familiar with.
AC: She got it straight away. She showed up on set and was like “Do you want me to do the Stevie Wayne voice?” “…Yeah!” A whole bunch of geeks looking at her going “Yes please!” And on set when we were filming it, I was there, Neil, Dave Parker and Mike Mendez, and we were all huddled in a little corner of the room and just giggling. “This is great!”
NM: Sitting in a recording booth with Adrienne Barbeau doing her Stevie Wayne voice!
A lot of people talk about how the mid-level budget for horror has disappeared, it’s either tiny or massive. Have you found that to be the case still?
AC: Thankfully we had an amazingly huge budget on this. [laughs]
NM: It’s a shoestring movie and we elevated it. We wanted it to have production value no matter what. We wanted to shoot on the best camera available. We went into it saying “I’m not going to make something that looks cheap” and we didn’t.
The love of Halloween really comes through on the movie, where do you think yours comes from?
AC: I grew up in Belgium. There’s no Halloween there whatsoever, and I heard about Halloween through hearing about the John Carpenter movie, but there’s also the Donald Duck cartoon with the trick ‘r treaters. I used to have that as a poster in my room. Every October 31st from the age of 8 I started doing little parties, we had this spare room in my parents’ house and I would just decorate the room with whatever I could find, I would draw little skeletons and stuff.
NM: I remember growing up in the ’70s and we tried to do Halloween. My dad would make masks for us and we’d have people round and we’d dunk for apples and maybe we’d make jack o’lanterns and stuff, but we didn’t have pumpkins, we’d have to make them out of turnips, which is the traditional way, and it was all just a bit naff!
AC: I have a fantastic memory of the second year I tried to do Halloween. My parents allowed me to use the living room. I think there’s a lot of resistance to it in Europe of “It’s a pagan holiday, it’s an American holiday, we don’t want to celebrate that, I’m not part of this.” And so my dad didn’t show up in the beginning, and an hour in, this sinister creature walks down the stairs. He was wearing this long robe and this weird old wooden Mexican mask that he had in his office, and he wouldn’t talk, he was just walking among us. Maybe ten minutes in, he still hadn’t said a word, he took off the mask and underneath he was wearing a pantyhose on his face and it was completely distorting his face, and I was like 9 or 10, I was like “Holy shit, dad, that’s amazing!”
NM: We got married on Halloween, so it’s very much a part of our lives.
Do you guys have anything else coming up?
AC: Trying to, I’ve got a script that I’m writing that I’ve been sending to a few producers, but nothing that’s really about to happen yet.
NM: I’m trying to make a genre film in January..
AC: Caught the bug again!
Is that The Sentence?
NM: Yeah, that’s one of the options! But there’s another one that I’ve written as well and it’s a question of which one goes first. I just hope one of them goes, that’s the main thing.
Finally, what’s your favourite movie set on Halloween?
AC: Oh, too many! Can I have tons? I love Donnie Darko, it’s not about Halloween but I love that film. I love Idle Hands, I don’t know why, perhaps because it caught me at the right time.
NM: It’s fun. Halloween of course, Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, which is a huge inspiration for my film.
AC: Trick R Treat is really good. Satan’s Little Helper, little seen but I really like it. Nightmare Before Christmas. Any you want to add?
NM: Isn’t that all of them?
AC: Ed Wood has a really good Halloween scene.
NM: ET’s got a great Halloween scene. That’s all of them, that’s them done.
AC: There are loads more. It’s weird, around the time Trick R Treat came out I wrote a column on IGN on the best Halloween movies, and here I am about six years later making a Halloween movie. So it’s pretty cool!
Tales Of Halloween will be released on 16 October in the US. No UK release date has been announced. Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.