A few years ago, Todd Tucker wasn’t sure how he felt about Hollywood and the way that film distribution, among other things, was being handled.
The head of a major make-up effects company, Tucker had also directed a couple of films at the time and even had a pretty cool list of acting credits. Still, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to helm another film.
Time passed, and Tucker decided the time was right to try again, but he knew that if he did, it would have to really mean something. He set to work and before long The Terror of Hallow’s Eve was born. The premise came from his own experiences with bullying as a teenager. Add a dark twist, and he soon had a horror film that is simultaneously nostalgic and new.
The next step, naturally, was bringing together the right ingredients.
“I really wanted it to feel like you were just watching what was going on in this kid’s life rather than like someone is acting out a story,” Tucker explained. “So it was really important that the real world stuff felt grounded but when we got to the fantasy stuff, I just went balls out!”
Balls out might just be the best description for the story that unfolds in The Terror of Hallow’s Eve.
Tim, the fifteen year old protagonist, who has a talent for designing monsters, has not had the easiest life. His father is gone; his mother is at her wits’ end, and to top it all off, three bullies decided to kick the crap out of him today. Little does he realize when he finds an odd book in the attic it is the key to payback. He also didn’t realize that the payback would cost him everything.
After reading from the mysterious tome, a character from its pages enters his own reality. His name is the Trickster and he tells Tim, in no uncertain terms, that he’s there to grant his wish: to scare his bullies to death.
“I love the Trickster! He is so cool,” Tucker laughed. “I truly believe if the Trickster hadn’t worked, this film wouldn’t be what it is.”
Fortunately for Tucker, the Trickster did work, but it took a lot of patience and one talented character actor to finally bring it together.
“It started out as a fully animatronic puppet,” the director explained. “It looked cool and it had a really cool effect, but it just wasn’t giving us what we needed.”
As luck would have it, Doug Jones was already working on the film as an ominous, okay terrifying, character named Scarecrow. Tucker called Doug in and asked if he would take a pass at the Trickster after filming was already completed. With some make-up, a little CGI magic, and a shoot in front of a green screen, the Trickster finally, and brilliantly, came to life. They even gave Jones the opportunity to use his own voice in the film, which is a rarity for the prolific actor.
For the real characters, Tucker searched high and low for actors who could not only play bullies, but who honestly looked like the bullies from his past. He asserts that the three actors (JT Neal, Mcabe Gregg, and Niko Papastefanou) look almost exactly like the boys he remembers from his youth.
Then came Sarah Lancaster and Christian Kane who play Tim’s mother and absent father in the film.
“Sarah really embodied my mother well,” Tucker says. “There was a scene where things get aggressive between Tim and Mom, and I actually had to step away for a few minutes and chill out. It was so real and so true to what had actually happened in real life. But that’s what I wanted. I knew that if it felt that real to me, it would feel the same to other people. That’s not only what I wanted, but also what I needed for the film to work.”
Caleb Thomas, who plays the 15 year old version of the director, was really the final piece of the puzzle for Tucker who hired the actor without a formal audition.
“I had to find someone who could be the introverted, nerdy kid with a slightly dark side that I was back then. I had a short conversation with Caleb via Skype,” he explained. “He was working in Italy on a film for Nickelodeon and by the time we were done speaking, I was ready to hire him. I knew he was the guy.”
On a final but oh so fun casting note, Juliet Landau, who you might remember as the dreamy and deadly vampire Drusilla from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, also makes an appearance, adding to that nostalgic feel of the film. Todd, once again, had a little surprise for me when we were discussing her role, however. It turns out she also stepped in to play one of the shadowy creatures who haunts his bullies in the film.
“She used to be a dancer, and she has this cool control over her body movement,” the director said. “So, we had her do this cool, really weird walk stepping out of the shadows and it was horrifying! In fact, it almost made my actors cry.”
As the elements fell into place, with beautifully colored textures for the nightmarish sequences and terrifyingly real looking monsters, Todd Tucker knew he’d found just the right recipe for his film.
“That was the trick of the whole thing, trying to make it feel like a brand new movie that you saw 20 years ago.”
Mission accomplished, Mr. Tucker! The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is ultimately a horror film with heart and an anti-bullying message that is subtly but effectively played, and that’s something you just don’t get to say very often in this business.
The Terror of Hallow’s Eve will premiere at FrightFest in London the weekend of August 28th! Check out the trailer below, and when you see the film look for Mr. Tucker himself, playing Tim all grown up at the end of the film in one of the coolest meta twists I’ve ever seen!
(Featured image by Michael Garcia at Think Jam)