It’s a brisk but beautiful November evening in Los Angeles when this writer walks onto the set of TALES OF HALLOWEEN on Day 5 of principle photography. The current segment being filmed behind me is Neil Marshall’s BAD SEED, which although early in the shooting schedule would later be picked as the closing segment for the anthology pic. But more exciting is the idea itself behind this particular film. 11 well known and respected indie horror filmmakers crafting 10 shorts all set on Halloween night, all taking place in the same town, and all exploring the various themes, tricks and treats of the celebrated holiday. Even though at the time of this set visit, Halloween had just ended, the spooky vibe is very much alive and well and the hope is that the Halloween spirit will translate into the movie so that genre fans can celebrate anytime they like!
With Neil knee deep in his production and on a tight schedule, I pulled aside co-producer and contributing director Mike Mendez (LAVALANTULA, BIG ASS SPIDER, THE GRAVEDANCERS) to get the full scoop on what “The October Society” gang is up to. Keep in mind, during this chat, Mendez hadn’t filmed his segment yet! So stay tuned for more interviews from his segment FRIDAY THE 31ST in the next few days.
Blumhouse.com: OK, so TALES OF HALLOWEEN is a great concept and idea. And you’ve got a great roster of talented & interesting filmmakers. How’d this all happen?
Mike Mendez: It was Axelle’s idea. She came up with it at Son Of Monsterpalooza really and said, “we should all do an anthology.” My first reaction mentally was “well that’s going to be a pain in the ass!” But… at the same time, when I knew that Neil was serious and would do it too, I thought – look, if Neil’s in and Axelle’s in and I’m in, we can really do something cool here. I know it’s going to be a bumpy road, but I think it’ll be worthwhile to do it and so, she told some of the other guys – Adam Geirasch, Andrew Kasch, and they got really excited about it. So we thought let’s just ask some of our friends. So we asked Darren Lynn Bousman, he said sure. I’ve never had a project come together faster. She came up with it on a Friday or Saturday, by the following Wednesday I told Epic Pictures (who produced BIG ASS SPIDER) and we had a meeting by Saturday and they were in pretty much from that point. I’d say it’s been about 6 months from it being a concept up to us being on set shooting, which has never happened for me before on any other project.
BH: The original pitch was for an anthology, but was it always a given that it’d be centered around Halloween?
MM: Yeah. That was the thing. We all just love Halloween. But it was tricky because we already have a great Halloween anthology with TRICK ‘R TREAT. So we really thought about what we could do that would be different. The bottom line is we’re horror filmmakers, we love Halloween, we should do it. We all looked at it as an opportunity of creative freedom. An opportunity to do something that you don’t usually get to do, or something that’s a little more risky or out there, and I think that was a lot of the appeal for a lot of us. And again, the comradery! To be able to make a movie with your friends is fun. I feel lucky that a lot of my friends are people I’m huge fans of. I’m an unabashedly huge fan of Neil Marshall. I think he’s the shit! And a lot of the guys, Lucky McKee I’m a huge fan of, I love (Dave) Parker’s work and Adam Gierasch’s stuff and I enjoyed Axelle’s feature SOULMATE. So here are your friends, but also people who you like in real life and you like their work and the idea to be able to collaborate with the coolest kids in school is great! That’s awesome. Epic was in and on went the journey to get it made. The hardest part was the creative part. Wrangling 11 filmmakers to do stories. We looked at all the other anthologies and saw what worked for them or what the weak spots were for some of them. Even though a lot of modern anthologies have great filmmakers and great segments, sometimes they feel very disjointed. We felt like we wanted to talk about making segments that were in a continuous universe with cross-over characters that are in the same town and had a similar vibe. Obviously we have distinct voices, but we want it to feel like you’re watching one thing. You’re in a world that’s going to continue through.
BH: In terms of collaborating on the stories – did you all come up with your own Halloween themed story and then pitch it to everyone else?
MM: The trick was – You’re free with your story, you could do whatever you wanted as long as it was in the same town on Halloween and we were looking for stuff that was more horror than comedy, because I think these things tend to lean towards comedy, although we do have our fair share of goofy ones in this mix too. A lot of anthologies tend to steer towards comedy, but there had to be an approval process. We all would read each other’s segments, talk amongst ourselves and then give notes. We had a few hard conversations initially with some of these filmmakers. But for me, I love getting notes from Neil Marshall! I love it when it’s from filmmakers I really respect! I’m used to getting notes from producers. But here are people you actually respect and like that want you to succeed, giving you notes. That’s what I would tell people who would get defensive. I’d say, you’re missing an opportunity. You’re not looking at it the right way. We’re not here to tear each other down, we’re here to support each other and help each other out and make the best thing we can possibly make. And if we’re giving you notes, it’s because we care and we want it to be good. So it was a bumpy road but we got through it. Finally, we got to a script that we were all pretty happy with. Then came the journey of trying to get it made. The challenge is we’ve all had basically 2 days to shoot these shorts and all of us want to make the best one. We all want to do something really ambitious and different. And it’s hard. There’s a stress that I see amongst the filmmakers so far that although we’re having a good time, we’ve got to make our day. We’re doing it very differently from any other anthology where we’re treating it as a movie. The crew’s change slightly but we did a solid run. It’s the same camera and equipment and we’re doing it for 24 days consecutively. I think it’s different than giving out a check and saying, “go make your segment and bring it back to us.” For ours, here’s your schedule, here’s your line producer, here’s your AD. Here’s your camera and crew. How are you going to do this for this amount of money? Because they are very low budget. We didn’t do it for any money. Everyone here is doing this because we want to be here.
BH: So tell me about your segment?
MM: Mine is called FRIDAY THE 31ST and it’s what happens perhaps to masked mongoloid killers on Halloween night. (Laughs)
BH: Does it have your sense of humor and comedic style? Because I always think you’re strongest when you’re embracing that aspect of yourself because you’re a funny guy!
MM: It’s definitely a funny one, but gory! Because it was a chance to not have rules or anyone to answer to so I knew I wanted to go as gory as fucking possible. I want to see gore like I’ve never seen on big screen since DEAD ALIVE. So my whole thing is I am doing a show like no other. All of my money is going towards blood pumps and severed limbs and chainsaws and it’s going to get pretty serious! It’s only a 6 minute segment so I’ve never had so many craftspeople focused on just making this gore spectacle. I’m super excited about it! I didn’t care about cameos for mine because it didn’t make sense. You can have a horror name if you want, but mine’s about a mutant and a pretty girl. I sort of felt like I was going for a pulpy, archetypal thing. I wanted a babe and a mutant! So I got a babe and a mutant. (Laughs) It’s mostly up and coming people, but Nick Principe is playing my killer. You won’t recognize him! But it is him.
BH: That sounds great! Who’s doing the FX on yours?
MM: I built a huge team. Eric Porn, who used to be with Almost Human is heading up a lot of it. Jerami Cruz from Toe Tag FX is providing some of the dead bodies. All the other directors are making cameos as corpses. So he’s working on that. And another friend who was on FACE OFF Eric Fox is doing some of the wounds and impaled instruments. George Frangadkis from Immortal masks helped us with the killer. We really went for it. I figured I need about 10 people to mutilate 2 people. (Laughs)
BH: Which of the directors are you most excited to see tackle their segments? Are there any you’re personally curious about because they’re doing something different than what we’d expect?
MM: I’m really excited about Neil’s because this is definitely a goofier side than we’ve seen from Neil. His segment is called BAD SEED. I’m excited about Dave Parker’s which is a segment called SWEET TOOTH. He’s created a cool new Halloween myth with that one. The one I’m most curious about is Paul Solet’s because he’s kind of the most artistic of the bunch and he’s doing a “Spaghetti Western,” set on Halloween night with kids on bikes in masks. I have a tough time picturing exactly what that will be like so I’m excited to see that one. You’re joining us on Day 5, this is the last night of BAD SEED, so after tonight we will have the first 2 in the can! Adam Gierasch shot the first one. And then Axelle and then Paul and then myself. Then we have another block in December. Which will be Bousman, Ryan Shifrin, Parker, Lucky and Skip & Kasch. Really excited for it all to come together!
TALES OF HALLOWEEN opens in select theaters and will be available on VOD October 16th.