STARBURST: How would you both describe Tales of Halloween?
Axelle Carolyn: It's an indulging movie of ten stories that take place on the same night in the same town. Each movie is directed by a separate person. They're all different in tone, but they all have a unity between them. It's all part of a shared universe.
Neil Marshall: I did describe it as a love letter to Halloween from a bunch of people who live and breathe horror.
How did the idea come about?
AC: We used live in London and visit LA and we'd always hang out with the same people. We all met at some Fangoria convention, shared a love of the same horror. We go to the same screenings. I had the idea that it'd be cool to have something that brings everybody together. It's a group that's very mixed. There are a lot of directors but there's also a lot of writers, journalists, actors and a lot of people who have that common love for the same type of films. When we moved (to LA) I came back to that idea. Then the idea of Halloween came up – a concept beyond 'hey, let's do something together' and Halloween seemed like a natural idea. I've always been obsessed with Halloween since I was a kid.
You've both made horror films in the past, but none specifically during the Halloween period. So how did you go about choosing an idea for your own segments within that sandbox?
NM: In my case, I struggled. One of the great things about the project is that we were given creative freedom to do whatever we wanted. In some ways, that's one of the worst things to be presented with. It's such a broad spectrum of, well, what? I just couldn't think of an idea and then, at some point, and I don't know what triggered it off, was the idea of a pumpkin coming alive and taking revenge for all the pumpkins that get cut up and gutted every Halloween.
AC: For me, the process was really fun. Once we'd set up to do this we would all meet in the backyard of our house or the cafe all often visit, and start talking about stories and exchanging ideas. You'd pitch and you can look around and see on their faces if they were into it or not. I had a few of those where it was like, 'I like the idea but I can see a lot of blank faces when I explain it...' I thought 'what can I do?' I'd made this ghost story called Soulmate, which is a psychological drama. I love that movie but it's not what you'd expect when you watch Insidious or something like that. I wanted to make a ghost but this time I'm going to make it scary! And it looks like it works. I've seen audiences jump out of their seats.
It is one of the scarier ones, where most of the others fall more on the comedy end of the spectrum. Was it always part of the plan that Tales of Halloween would veer more towards humour?
AC: Neil always says that it’s funny that you give Carte Blanche to ten directors who make horror movies and they all want to do comedies! There's a huge variety of tones within those comedies – there's the gross-out comedy, there's the crazy Mike Mendez Friday the 31st story...
NM: There are different levels of humour. I don't think any of them are played to be broad comedies, as such.
AC: Yours is so dry, I heard someone go 'I didn't like the one with the pumpkins because it’s really serious but they don't seem to realise that the pumpkin is not scary!'
There's always one.
NM: Uh-huh. I think also because the project is borne of friendship that there's a rich sense of humour throughout anyway. Most horror people who make horror films are generally really nice people. It just naturally flowed from the material.
AC: Halloween is fun. It's not so much a horror movie as a Halloween movie. The holiday itself is about being playful and cheeky.
We seem to be seeing quite a lot of that recently, where horror is turning away from the grimmer torture side of things, more towards the fun and action. Why do you think that might be?
NM: It just goes through phases. I think we get a bit tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. The whole torture porn thing, it went through its cycle and wore out its welcome after a while.
We've talked about how you, the directors, are all friends and very close, but is there anyone you wanted for Tales of Halloween but couldn't get?
AC: Originally we had Joe Begas who did Almost Human, attached to it and then just before we started pre-production – we had his script, it was part of the full script – he had to drop out because he got greenlight for Mind's Eye. We had another friend who we hadn't been able to approach because he's less often in LA. We flew him over for the shoot and that was Lucky McKee, who'd done May and The Woman, and all those films that I hugely admire. That was pretty cool.
NM: We tried to talk James Wan into joining us, but he was slightly busy doing some car movie. I don't know (laughs). We got him a cameo instead.
Axelle, how did you find the experience of co-ordinating so many directors on one project?
AC: It was great fun. That's not just the party line, it really was.
NM: That's not to say that it was easy.
AC: It was fun but it was very hard at times. The first stage was putting the scripts together at preproduction. I kept saying to people 'you have the right to do whatever you like; you just don't have a license to suck.' If the script wasn't quite there, it was always a question of collecting other people's opinions. They could do whatever they wanted with it, but it's very strongly suggested that if you do that, you'll have the sucky one. Nobody wants to have the sucky episode.
How did you manage that all of the interconnecting elements of the stories are carried through by each director?
AC: Once I had all the scripts, I tried to put them in a rough order that I thought was good. I had to balance out the comedies with the scary stuff. We had to make a timeline of who dies at what point so that they don't come back in another episode. Then see what pops up.
Neil, how did you find the experience of working on a shorter film, compared to the features you've been known for in the past?
NM: It was the toughest shoot I've ever done. In terms of having three nights to shoot something that was wildly ambitious for its size. It's only a ten minute film, but there's a riot scene and lots of practical effects which are very time consuming. We really struggled. When we were filming the sun's starting to come up and you're still trying to do a night-time scene. But we got there.
Unlike a lot of recent anthology movies, Tales of Halloween is notable for its absence of found footage. Was this a conscious decision when putting it together?
AC: The producers said early on, because they produced the V/H/S movies. They didn't want to do something like that again. But Halloween's not... there's a visual aesthetic to it that's very appealing and you can't find that in found footage. And we wanted that unity of look in all the episodes.
NM: As an aesthetic, I think it's used up now. It's been done and we're not really into it at all. From a practical point of view, if I'd done mine in found footage, I still have to have a practical pumpkin and if I'm shooting that on a camcorder or decent camera, it doesn't make any difference from that point of view. It wouldn't have made it quicker or easier or cheaper – it just would have made it look bad.
Have you been approached for any anthology movies before this one?
NM: I have been approached for one of them, but I can't remember what...
AC: You were approached for ABCs of Death 2. We've been approached for V/H/S 3, but as a couple. Like, no.
NM: Again, they're heavily dominated by found footage. Nah, not interested.
Do you think we'll see a sequel to Tales of Halloween?
AC & NM (in unison): That'd be awesome.
NM: We'll have to wait and see. Maybe next year. Who knows?
What's next for you both?
AC: Right now, promoting this. Then I have a script that I'm finishing right now.
NM: I've just shot an episode of Westworld for HBO. I'm hopefully going to be doing a feature in January.
Finally, how do you celebrate Halloween yourself?
NM: Well, Halloween is our wedding anniversary. It's not so much the one night as the whole season. There's usually any number of things to do.
AC: Last year, we had a party and we organised it at Adam Gierasch's house. He made that episode Trick. The party was on Halloween and he filmed less than two week's late. He just left the decorations up and we filmed in the same house. When we say that this is a movie about friendship, this is how real it is!
Tales of Halloween has yet to be given a UK release date, but you can see it at Manchester’s Grimmfest in October.