It’s a few days after director Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT, DOG SOLDIERS) has wrapped his segment of TALES OF HALLOWEEN, and now he’s resting comfortably at one of the tables by the crafts services while his wife Axelle Carolyn (SOULMATE), one of the producers and contributing directors on the project, is in a room not too far off from us staging a scene with a group of partygoers that includes directors Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon, as well as actresses Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie and the great Lin Shaye!
Despite being mid-November at the time of this production, with this many familiar genre faces present and all in costume, it still very much feels like Halloween. And the whole point of this anthology film is meant to continue the celebration and maintain the spooky, fun vibe of Halloween. Fueled with a cup of coffee, I join Neil at his table and start picking his brain about all the madness I saw ensuing during the filming of his segment BAD SEED!
Blumhouse.com. So I’ve heard from some of the other filmmakers, but from your perspective, how’d this all come about?
Neil Marshall: It’s weird. Now it seems like a no-brainer. But this has been circle of friends that have known each other for years. And Axelle and I are kind of the late comers to that, in some respects. I mean Axelle’s known most of the group longer than she’s known me in some cases, but we only met everybody when we got together. What’s become very clear is it’s a tight-knit circle of friends. As much as we tried to get some of the directors together in London, it just never really happened, probably because of the geography of London! But here, so many of us live in close proximity. So we have so many wonderful friends that are filmmakers, writers, journalists and directors. And it just seemed like a no-brainer to do this. It took Axelle to kick start it and say, “hey guys, let’s all make a film together.” Plus anthology movies coming back in vogue again in a way that makes them commercially viable has helped. People will invest in them again. So it was a combination of those two things, us moving to LA, anthology movies doing well. And then Axelle gave us a kick in the ass to make it happen. It’s all fine and well to say let’s do something together, but what can a bunch of directors work on except for an anthology movie? Maybe a TV series? On a Wednesday, Axelle came up with the idea, by Friday she pitched it to all of us to see if we wanted to partake and we all did.
BH: Halloween was always the idea though?
NM: It was. What do we love? And what do we all share a love about? And what hasn’t there been a lot of? For us, an anthology set around Halloween was something we loved and can watch every year. To us, everyone watches the same movies every year! You watch John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. You watch TRICK ‘R TREAT. You watch HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH again. There’s got to be something else we can watch! So we wanted to corner that market a bit and do our own love letter to Halloween. Mike (Mendez) had just done BIG ASS SPIDER with Epic Pictures and that was our doorway that allowed us to meet these guys straight away, and they were instantly like “yeah, we’ll do that. It sounds awesome.” The price for doing it quickly and in such a short amount of time was to do it low-budget and for next to no money. That’s the thing we’ve been battling with is how to make it happen on time and on budget.
BH: Despite the budget, the general sense I’ve gotten on all the shorts so far is that everyone wants to be here, everyone wants to work on this movie because it’s a love letter to Halloween and because it’s all of you guys involved. Between the cameos and the crew, it seems great!
NM: Yeah, in a way, if there is such a thing as the old guard and the new guard, we wanted to include them all. This is a gift to some of the newer directors that may only have a few features under their belt. It’s like, come on and make a film, it’s going to get distribution! And everyone has a lot of creative freedom on it. So it’s a real gift to all the directors. What made sense to us was to have this group of friends as the directors. But then it was also an opportunity to bring in Stuart Gordon and Mick Garris and I had Joe Dante in mine. It’s so awesome because they’ll all amazing characters and they’ve been in front of the camera in their own films! We wanted to get in on that game.
BH: I was so thrilled to have never seen John Carpenter’s BODY BAGS until last year and I was so pleasantly surprised to see all the great cameos in there! Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper… I still get a kick out of that sort of thing.
NM: That was something I picked up on in the late 80’s, mainly from Spielberg and Lucas movies and them doing in jokes, not casting in jokes, but in jokes you get as a fan. And when that happened in horror, you start watching a John Landis movie and they’re loaded with cameos. You start seeing Roger Corman. And Spielberg turns up in BLUES BROTHERS and you think this is kind of fun! And then Joe Dante starts putting everybody in his movies. In his films, I love the cameos. Mick Garris does the same thing. On SLEEPWALKERS, there’s the great scene with Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper and Stephen King. So we wanted to have a go at doing that as well! In my short, I’ve got Joe Dante, but also there’s one scene in mine where all the other directors appear in the police station playing cops and criminals, pending on what they chose. It was an opportunity to have a lot of fun and work with friends and just make it almost like a who’s-who of horror.
BH: What’s your story BAD SEED about and how did it come to be?
NM: I really struggled to come up with a story, and initially I was struggling to come up with something I thought would be scary. And I don’t know, I got this brainwave notion of what about a pumpkin that gets revenge for all the pumpkins that get slaughtered and carved every Halloween? I’d seen some images of pumpkins being stabbed and having their guts ripped out. And then it clicked with me, what if it was a genetically modified pumpkin? Let’s make it political as well! Political and daft! It was a chance to make an 80’s style horror thing. It’s a little bit GREMLINS, it’s a little bit JAWS. It’s a little bit of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES all rolled into one. Do it with practical FX, build a killer pumpkin and make this really silly movie about a police investigation into a series of murders with this killer pumpkin on the loose. It fell into place and I wrote this thing very quickly and luckily everyone thought it was great fun.
BH: I’ve heard from the other filmmakers that they’re excited to see you tackle something a little on the goofy & fun side!
NM: It’s definitely a change of pace and more comedic than anything I’ve done since DOG SOLDIERS, I guess. I love doing this over the top horror stuff. Splashing the blood around is key to that! But doing something that’s a bit more lighthearted is fun! I do have a sense of humor! Nobody seems to think so, but it’s there! Somewhere!
BH: What does Halloween mean to you? Because I spoke to Axelle about what Halloween was like in Belgium growing up and I found it fascinating. What was the holiday like for you growing up?
NM: She made it a thing in Belgium! She hosted her own parties when no one else was doing it over there. In the UK, it’s probably been around as long as I can remember in some small form. We used to go trick or treating when we were little kids, but nobody dressed up their houses there for Halloween. I remember we started out with turnips! We had turnips, not pumpkins! Because we couldn’t get them in the UK! In the 70’s, we couldn’t get pumpkins in the UK, so we used turnips. And they were a bugger to carve, I tell you! I remember having masks, but it was very small scale. There were a few traditions and people had parties, but it started to grow over the years. There’s more stuff happening in the UK now for Halloween. Pumpkins are available. (Laughs) People started to make up their houses and put skeletons up. A lot of bars do a lot of Halloween themed stuff. It is becoming bigger, noticeably bigger. I think at the end of the day, as soon as people realize they can make money off of something, they’ll do something about it. Christmas is as big over there as it is here because people make a fortune on it.
BH: When did you get a sense of the American way to celebrate Halloween? Was it when you and Axelle were out here?
NM: We got married on Halloween! We hadn’t experienced a Halloween here in the States at that stage. But we made our wedding a big Halloween party in Edinburgh. There’s a huge parade at midnight every year there. It’s all this pagan stuff. With guys in skilts dressed as werewolves! It’s crazy! This was literally all happening straight outside the door of where we’re having our reception in, so we all pile out into the streets and there’s fireworks and all sorts of crazy pagan stuff and they’re burning an effigy. It was a pure WICKER MAN style Halloween. Again, very different from here. My appreciation of Halloween here isn’t so much the commercial side. I get that. The reason it’s so big is because people make a lot of money off of it and that’s fine. But it is the artistry for us that we love about it. The way people decorate their houses or make their costumes. The effort and imagination that goes into it. I really appreciate that. It looks beautiful. It’s that time of year, fall is coming in, and it’s our favorite time of year. Halloween is our favorite season of the year, more so than Christmas. We just love it and it’s our busiest time of year! We’re dragging it out even further with this film now. (Laughs)
BH: Let’s talk about some of the actors you’ve assembled for your segment.
NM: Sure. Kristina Klebe is the lead in it. She plays a detective. I originally wrote the character as a guy, but I met Kristina at a signing at Dark Delicacies. (In Burbank.) We’re leaving the signing and Axelle said, “did you ever think of making the detective a woman? Because Kristina would be awesome for that.” And I thought that was great, because she looks tough. So I asked her if she’d be interested in being the lead and she said, “fuck yeah.” So I re-wrote the character as a woman, which wasn’t that big of a shift really. And she came on board as the lead. That was the easy part! Pat Healy is in it too.
BH: What about some of your cameos, because I thought I saw Drew Struzan on your set?
NM: He’s never done a cameo in anything! Which is astonishing to me. All the people he knows and all the people he’s worked with? I mean, maybe he’s appeared in something before that I didn’t know about but it was through Frank Darabont. I tried to get Frank as the police chief but he was unavailable. I was going to get Dana and Shawn Ashmore to play the couple at the start, but Shawn was unavailable, so we got Dana to play the coroner. And then through her and Ryan Shifrin, I got in touch with Drew and I just asked him. And he said sure. The gag is he plays the police sketch artist! And they make fun of his sketch. We made a gag out of it which was great fun. We got Joe Dante in there and we’re good friends with him, so that was awesome. We thought “who’s going to play the mad scientist?” Well it’s got to be Joe Dante, naturally!
BH: What about Greg McLean? Most genre fans know him as the director of WOLF CREEK!
NM: The great thing about working with a director is that they understand what you’re trying to achieve. And when you say “I’m going to splash some blood around,” they say sure, of course, because if I were in your shoes I would do the same thing! They don’t mind the waiting and understand the low budget side of things. So Greg worked out great and again, just so much fun. These are cameos fans will spot and like. Axelle and I got invited to a writer’s lunch and Greg was there, and I had no idea he was in LA. Met him for the first time there and we hit it off, and became good mates quickly. So it was like, “hey, do you want to come have your head bitten off by a pumpkin?” “Sure! Alright!” Axelle suggested Cerina Vincent. She was in Paris so she came straight in and agreed to do the short. John Savage is great.
BH: It’s fun seeing Graham Skipper and Adam Green as your cops and they appear in a few segments.
NM: I got my agents in there. Graham and Adam as you mentioned. And all the other directors are in the police station, except for Shifrin who was in the hospital becoming a dad! And Bousman too. Our producers Shaked Berenson and Patrick Ewald are in several scenes and constantly being changed and used as extras in scenes. They are so awesome and so pro-active and trying to help out as much as possible. They’re great.
BH: Whose segments are you most looking forward to or excited about because it’s different from what you’d expect from them?
NM: Well, I can’t wait to see what Axelle does with hers. I think we’re more excited to go to each other’s sets and see how we each work! Because how often do you get to see each other work as directors? So it’s just exciting to see your friends direct. I’m curious to see everyone’s style. That’s fascinating to me. And I can’t wait to see all the films.
BH: You have a giant animatronic killer pumpkin in your segment. So who was your FX crew?
NM: I had Jason Collins as Autonomous FX and him and his crew did an absolutely amazing job with the pumpkin. I’m hopefully going to do a project with them next year, so I got introduced to them and thought let’s me work with them now. He was so enthusiastic that I knew he was the guy to help me pull this off.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN opens in select theaters and will be available on VOD October 16th.