Interview: Filmmaker Axelle Carolyn Talks TALES OF HALLOWEEN

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Writer, director and producer Axelle Carolyn talks to SHOCK about the anthology chiller TALES OF HALLOWEEN, opening today in select theatres.

By now you’ve likely heard a bit of the buzz gathering around TALES OF HALLOWEEN, a new October-themed anthology that’s funny, gory, and so reverential to the candy-coated iconography of the season that it could rot the molars right out of your skull. Behind all of the vile and violent fun on screen is a spirit of peers collaborating in celebration of both of the Halloween holiday and the horror genre itself. One of the film’s creepy coterie of creators, the radiant Axelle (SOULMATE) Carolyn, took the time to speak with SHOCK on the eve of TALES’ release, to spill the pumpkin-guts on the global appeal of October thirty-first, her anthology’s awesome assemblage of horror heavyweights, and her newfound thirst to see you jump…

SHOCK: Despite originating in Europe, I understand the festival of Halloween is celebrated much differently there, if even at all. What was your relationship to Halloween growing up in the U.K.?

CAROLYN: I actually grew up in Belgium, so Halloween was an even smaller thing over there than in the U.K. I lived in the U.K. for ten years, but that was when I was a little bit older. When I was a kid, I lived in Brussels, and I remember seeing the movie HALLOWEEN—or at least seeing parts of it on T.V. I remember seeing all those posters that had the Jack-o-lantern on them. I knew it was associated with something, but trick-or-treating I was completely unaware of. And I was into spooky things since I was little, since I saw the ‘Silly Symphony’ from Disney with the Skeleton Dance. So it seemed to me, like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a holiday that celebrates that stuff? Something about ghosts and skeletons? That’s amazing!’ I have a picture from when I was nine or ten, where I roped in my parents and my little brother. We were all dressed up and celebrating Halloween. I didn’t have my first trick-or-treating until I was in L.A… maybe six years ago? This twenty-eight or twenty-nine year old woman, knocking on doors, saying, ‘Give me candy!’(laughs)

SHOCK: TALES OF HALLOWEEN is an anthology movie, which can often be a risky proposition for filmmakers in terms of tone and consistency. What made you decide to tackle the anthology format?

CAROLYN: It was actually not about trying to make an anthology movie… The first step was when I moved to L.A., I was quickly embraced by this whole community of horror filmmakers and writers, and everybody totally got the genre. I thought it was such a weird and special thing; we’d meet up and discuss each others’ films and support each other, and it always felt like it would be so great to work together. And you know, you always bitch about how hard it is to get your film off of the ground, and how hard it is to get the money in. So for a financier, it might be exciting to get the next Lucky McKee movie, but it’s even more exciting when for the same amount of money you can get the next Lucky McKee movie, the next Mike Mendez, the next Neil Marshall, the next Paul Solet. And combined, they make something bigger—bigger than the sum of its parts. So it was very much something where we could all go in and have final cut, and do what we want. Because we’re all friends, we can work on it together and make it part of this shared universe. The team work clicks in, and so the anthology format just seemed the most appropriate (for the project). It was more of a means to an end.

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SHOCK: As you mentioned, you’ve recruited quite the all-star roster of horror filmmakers. Did everyone come on board organically through personal connections, or were there agents and managers pitching their clients?

CAROLYN: No managers… It was basically everyone we hang out with. It really is. We didn’t get everyone (we wanted) involved, some people were not available, and we thought ten (directors) would be good—we had to cut it off at some point. I would hang out with people like Mike Mendez and his partner—hardly a day goes by when I don’t talk to them. So once I had the idea and felt like it was a cool concept, I mentioned it to Neil. Then I mentioned it to Mike on the week of Monsterpalooza, when we went to that convention, and he thought it could work. Then there was a party the night after that, and I saw Adam Gierasch and Andrew Kasch and a couple of others, and I mentioned it again. They were super-excited, and it kind of grew from that. I called up a couple more people, and we all kind of live in the same area too: we’re all five minutes away from each other, so that made things easy. The only one that was a little more complicated was Lucky McKee, because he lives out of town. So it was just before pre-production that Lucky joined.

SHOCK: Was there any framework or rules to which the filmmakers were told to adhere in their segments, or were they given free reign?

CAROLYN: Well, the only thing that the producers said was that they didn’t want ‘found footage’, and that was extremely acceptable to everybody (laughs). The guidelines that we ourselves came up with were kind of self-imposed. I came up with a set of guidelines just to keep everything cohesive, but we were doing (TALES) for fun—to do something special, to do something amusing, and to do a monster film, so we didn’t want to have too many constraints that came from somebody else. We wanted one of the filmmakers to be in charge of wrangling the others, and that ended up being me, so my job was to worry about the meetings, keep track of the things we were discussing all together, and pitch stories to each other. The guidelines that I gave were that (the segments) have to be about Halloween; it can’t just be a series of events that happen to take place on Halloween. Is has to be about some aspect of Halloween, because that’s much more fun. So they were about candy, or trick-or-treating, urban legends, pumpkins… and they had to take place on the same night, in the same town. So once we had all the scripts and they were all developed and we were all happy with them, I kind of looked at the story and the through-lines, and logically at the order in which the events would take place, Even NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (a film which is shown in progress on various T.V. sets throughout the course of TALES), I had to say that in this episode, (NIGHT) needs to be in its beginning, and here, by now, it needs to be near the end. So that was kind of the idea in terms of the world the episodes were taking place in.

SHOCK: TALES is loaded to the brim with cameo appearances, with many beloved faces from the world of horror popping up on-screen. Was it another case of enlisting friends, or did you have a wishlist you pursued?

CAROLYN: It was a bit of both. Again, there are a lot of people that we know and admire and really wanted to work with. Like Lin (INSIDIOUS) Shaye; she’s a really good friend of mine, and I had wanted to work with her for a long time, so I wrote the part thinking, ‘Oh, this would be good for (Lin)’. So it was partly that, and partly everybody putting together a list of who they could contact or get in touch with. Then when we were writing, we’d look it over and go, ‘We still have to find a role for this person,’ or, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a cameo by that person?’ Then there were people who were really good friends but had a project going, and just wanted to hang out. Felissa Rose was fantastic; her kid is in one of the episodes, so she would just show up on set and we’d throw her in front of the camera, in a crowd scene or something… I think it hits all those levels of, like, ‘How much of a horror fan are you? Who can you spot?’ There some people who can spot John Landis or Joe Dante, of course, but they may not spot someone like James Wan, who has a quick cameo.

SHOCK: TALES is out in wide release on October 16th, but it has already accumulated many kind words from reviewers—us included. How does it feel to release a film with such positive word around it already?

CAROLYN: Well, I don’t know if all the reviews are going to be great, to be honest! (laughs) But it’s been pretty great so far. I’m really, really happy. Really lucky. (TALES) just started out as something that was fun among friends, and then evolved into something much bigger than what we envisioned at first. I think that’s totally a testament to how talented all of those guys are; they just pulled out all the stops. There was no competition in the sense of anybody wanting to be the best at the expense of somebody else, you know? If you’re up against your friends, and the reviews will say, ‘This one is good, but this one is not good,’ you don’t want to be that one, and we’re all reading the same reviews. So everybody put one hundred percent into it. And it’s very, very cool that people have embraced (TALES) so far. Also, I’m curious to see how it plays when people watch it at home—which episodes are going to benefit from that and which ones are not. On the big screen, watching mine is a lot of fun because a lot of people get caught up in the jump scares… But, yeah, I’m very curious to see how it builds from now on.

SHOCK: So my last question may be a little premature, but what would you like to do next? More collaborations, or another solo project like your previous film SOULMATE?

CAROLYN: I have a couple of scripts in development right now, but I don’t know which of them might go first. I’m developing one that’s also holiday-related, but it’s a completely different story and it’s not an anthology—it’s a Day of the Dead story that I wrote, the Mexican Day of the Dead. It’s got skeletons, all kinds of crazy monsters. Then I have another script that’s more contained, more of a scary story. It has witches, but it’s a little more complicated than that. I really enjoyed watching people react to my (TALES) episode here, watching people get scared, and so I’m kind of addicted to that now! (laughs).