As the closing film at this year’s Fright Fest, there was a lot of anticipation for new horror anthology Tales of Halloween (reviewed here). A couple of hours before it screened Horror Cult Film had the opportunity to sit down with creator Axelle Carolyn (Soul Mate) and one of the directors, plus her husband, Neil Marshall (The Descent). Note that this interview was conducted on 31/08/2015 which was also the sad day of Wes Craven’s death. Here we talk about him, along with the new anthology and the art of a horror short.
HFC: So how did this project come about?
A: I just came up with this idea of making an anthology movie because we have a lot of friends who are really talented directors or writers or actors, and everyone’s kind of united by a common love of horror movies. We live and breathe the genre. Throughout the year we meet at screenings, we meet to discuss the movies, we share our adventures and out stories making movies. And most of all we celebrate Halloween for weeks every year – that’s a huge a huge event for us. So the first idea was since we’re all into horror movies why don’t we make something as a group. Then the idea of making it about Halloween is what brought it all together – it’s such an easy concept to grasp. Everything takes places in the same town on the same night, and it’s Halloween. And there won’t be a shot in the movie that won’t have a jack-o-lantern or something that looks spooky. So I pitched it to the others, Neil, Mike Mendez and Adam Gierasch, and they were all very excited about it – so it just came together.
HFC: You have a very talented who’s-who of modern horror behind the film. Is there anyone that you wanted to get but couldn’t make it for one reason or another?
A: Well there was one that was on board and was part of the development – even wrote a script. It was Joe Begals (director of Almost Human) but about a month before we started shooting he had to pull out to do Mind’s Eye. But it turned out great for him and for us too because we got to bring Lucky McKee on board. We had to replace him and thought ‘Lucky would be awesome’.
HFC: Might get him on next time.
N: Yeah, there’s a number of directors we’d like to work with. If there was to be another one.
HFC: With your own shorts how did your individual ideas develop?
N: I can’t remember – I don’t know if I was shopping for food when I was in the vegetable section and was like ‘how about a killer pumpkin?’ I can’t remember when it clicked into place but as soon as it did everything else followed very quickly – what the story was going to be and what the characters were going to be. I had nothing for a while, then bam! I was maybe one of the last to come up with a story idea.
A: I had several ideas that I pitched to the other directors to see how they’d react, because we all worked very collaboratively. And the first couple didn’t really work so much, but then I thought about this ghost story I’d made called Soulmate – that played here a couple of years ago – it was kind of slow but it was more about characters than scares. And I’m very proud of it, but one thing it didn’t do was show that I could terrify people. And I thought it’s quite a challenge to do in 7 minutes, but I thought of an idea I could do that’d be very simply and that would have a creepy atmosphere and a couple of jump scares. I thought if I could make a jump scare that really worked then I’d be extremely excited. And so far so good. I’ve heard people scream when they watch it and it’s the best thing that can happen.
HFC: It seems there’s a definite art behind making a full horror arc in 7 minutes – was it quite a challenge distilling it down to the main essentials in that short a space?
A: Yeah – especially being scary, because you have to create a character people like. Because if it’s someone they don’t give a shit about then they’re never going to jump – it’s not going to happen. There’s the villain too – you have to set up what the danger is. You set up the character, you set up the danger, and then there’s almost a technical exercise in trying to make something work. I thought it was really fun.
HFC: Shorts are probably a very good way of someone showing their skills as a director.
A: I don’t think we took it as a showcase as much as a chance to do an idea about something we really liked. It was really that opportunity to do exactly what we wanted. In my case I really did want the audience to scream because of my previous film where the audience would respond slowly. But everyone brought in part of them. Mike Mendez did a piece that’s really Mike Mendez. Dave Parker did something that’s very close to his personality. Neil, you did something that has that very dry sense of humour that you have.
HFC: If you can do something with your friends that’s probably a great thing too.
N: Yeah – what a bonus, to do it with your mates.
HFC: Excellent. So what are you guys working on at the moment?
A: I’m mostly promoting this – we have this festival then a couple of others. There’s one in Mexico I’m really excited about. I’m also writing a script at the moment, it’s kind of about witches and I hope to do something with it. Though it’s not there yet.
N: Same thing – I’m hopefully going to get a genre feature done in January. I think doing Tales of Halloween has given me that appetite back to really want to do another feature. Doing the rounds of horror festivals and genre festivals makes me think I just love this scene.
HFC: With horror do you tend to find it’s considered a bit low brow?
A: I feel like that was mostly the case in the 90s where it was a step above porn. You’d say you liked horror and I remember the way people would look at me. But then you’d have these horrors called psychological thrillers instead like Silence of the Lambs. But I think that’s evolved and we’ve had more commercial hits. Perhaps also because we’ve found our own circles of freaks and geeks that like the same stuff so nobody seems to act like that anymore.
N: In my experience that attitude still exists in certain circles. And certainly within the studio system – the temptation is don’t call it horror. Call it a psychological thriller! Call it a supernatural thriller! But don’t call it horror. It is that whole dirty word idea. And why, I don’t know? Maybe it’s a good thing – I’d rather keep it that.
HFC: People tend to call good horror films by something else. I’ve even heard The Shining get called a psychological thriller.
N: It’s definitely a thing – but fine. If horror’s a dirty word let’s keep it that way because we have people who really appreciate it.
HFC: Are there any particular films that got you into the genre?
A: Yeah, well because of today being a very sad day for horror movies I’ll mention Nightmare on Elm Street. I grew up with Freddy way before I was even old enough to watch it I was obsessed with the character because it was such a great design and such a good idea. Then my first few horror festivals I remember seeing Scream and thinking ‘this is amazing – this is cool’. So many times Wes Craven films have renewed my passion for the horror genre and so many times he’s surprised us.
HFC: It’s impressive to think the same guy revolutionised the genre three times with Last House on the Left, Elm Street and Scream.
A: Yeah, and every generation of horror fans has been hit by something he’s created.
N: I was more of a Carpenter fan with The Fog and The Thing. Also, Alien really defined it for me. And The Shining – that psychological thriller.
HFC: Guys, thanks for taking time out.
N: No problem.