Today is the day that the UK horror community have been waiting for, Frightfest begins. From around 6pm this evening until around 11pm on Monday, Cineworld Leicester Square will be home to the dark heart of cinema, showcasing the very best in horror and alternate cinema. The penultimate film of the festival will be 80’s horror homage, The Terror of Hallow’s Eve directed by Todd Tucker.
Todd may have only recently started directing films, but he’s been in the industry for many years and has worked solidly within the special effects arena. He’s had a hand in many projects including Watchmen, Pirates of the Caribbean and Van Helsing, and is now President of Illusion Industries.
Terror of Hallow’s Eve follows a teenage boy whom turns the tables on his tormentors one Halloween with the help of a strange being known as The Trickster. It also starts with the notice that it’s based on a true story. We thought that that sounded a little strange so we tracked down Todd to find out where the truth lay and how his pre-festival nerves were going:
How are you feeling about Frightfest?
We’re getting all our prep together and getting everything ready, so we’re excited.
Have you been to England before?
No, this will be my first time ever, I’m coming with my producer Ron Halvas, he’s been there before, but I have never been there before. It’ll be my first time, I’m really excited.
Your film is the penultimate film of the festival. Are you going to be able to enjoy the festival, or are you going to be a bundle of nerves?
You know what, it’s funny, I’m not nervous at all. I’m actually just so happy to be there, I’m really going there to enjoy myself. I’m going to see other movies, I want to meet a bunch of people and just have a great time. For me it’s just a real fun experience, there’s no nerves, I’m pretty confident about the movie too. I’m really excited to see people’s reaction when they watch it.
The Frightfest audience are one of the best, they really get behind all the films and have great questions during the Q & A’s afterwards.
I’m really looking forwards to it. One of our main artists here – I have a special effects studio called Illusion Industries in Burbank – and one of the main artists we have here, he’s from London. He was filling us in on Frightfest and when I told him that we got in he got really excited and I thought it’s good to hear it’s that cool. He was explaining everything and how prestigious it is, and how the fans are and everything.
And on the main screens as well, it’ll be up on the IMAX…
Oh wow! Oh my God, I din’t know that! (laughs)
That’s going to be really cool. Awesome! Now I’m nervous (laughs). I was fine before, now I’m a mess!
The film starts by saying it was based on true events – where is the truth in the story because it obviously goes off into some quite fantastical places?
Basically the entire first thirty-five minutes are based on my childhood at fourteen years old. It’s as completely exact as it could possibly be. Long story short, I was a little kid with no brothers or sisters that was that kind of kid making monsters in my garage. All the neighbours thought I was weird and didn’t want their kids playing with me. I had this crush on this eighteen-year-old girl that worked in the local Seven-Eleven where I got my Fangoria magazines. I was like thirteen so she was way out of my league, and much older. I finally got up the nerve to go and talk to her at one point when I was buying my magazine, and she was really nice to me. As I walked out her eighteen-year-old boyfriend came walking in and she made a comment that I was a cute kid. He came outside while I was looking at my magazine and got his two buddies, who were waiting for him, and they beat the crap out of me, for no reason at all. Really badly too, like I had a concussion, I was beat up pretty bad. There were three of them and they were like 6′ 3″, and I was like 5 foot tall so it wasn’t even a fair fight in anyway shape or form. So then I went home, my mum was a single parent so she was never around, so I was there by myself in my garage, bleeding all over my sculptures while I was trying to sculpt a monster, and I was really upset. I ended up going back that night to the place because I knew the guys would be waiting for her to get off of work because I’d seen them there before. I went back and confronted them, called them all these names and she came out and saw I was all beaten up, and she started screaming at them. I had a brick behind my back in my hand and I pulled out the brick and I threw it through the window of the guy’s Camaro and they ran after me, and ultimately I took this experience, everything I just said is in the first thirty minutes of the film.
So then what happens in the film is the boy races back to his house and lures the boys back to his house, and he’s made a deal with this creature that’s come out of the shadows when he made a wish to scare them all to death. Now the house has transformed into poltergeist of dimension and creatures and all kinds of crazy stuff. From that point on it’s obviously not based on true stories. But everything in the first thirty minutes absolutely is true and its kinda the ultimate 1980’s genre film, anti-bully horror film (laughs).
That really sucks that that happened to you, but I’m glad the demon part wasn’t the true part.
(Laughs) No, no. I was wishing I could make all that stuff happen, but no. I sat in my garage sculpting, trying to forget everything that had happened, but I was bleeding so bad. I was just sitting there thinking I wish I could become a monster and go back there and beat the crap out of those guys. I remembered all of that so when I started putting the story-line together it was easy to put the old pieces together and to flesh them out.
How did the creature designs come together?
So Doug Jones, who is the number one creature performer in the world, he was the silver surfer, he’s every character in Pan’s Labyrinth, he’s Abe Sapien from Hellboy, he’s our lead character. He actually plays two of our characters, the lead character of the film is called the Trickster. Doug plays that character and he is amazing in it. He’s so good. We used his voice – no one ever uses his voice – he’s such a good actor. We also have another character called the Scarecrow that Doug plays. That’s one of the creatures in one of the dimensions that one of the bullies end up in.
All the effects are practical effects, we built everything here at our studio. It’s very 1980’s style. We were absolutely doing a kind of Stranger Things, but with more monsters. It’s very 1980’s vibe. We also actually got featured music by John Carpenter in the film. So it’s got a really cool John Carpenter soundtrack, lot’s of cool eighties stuff in there.
There’s a creature towards the end that seemed like a bit of an homage to H R Giger, was he an influence growing up?
You know the character at the very end is actually The Trickster again transformed again into his natural form. So The Trickster character goes through these three different looks and ultimately transmits into that last character. Yes it’s kinda a cross between a Giger character, and almost a little bit of of a Pumpkinhead. It’s a giant animatronic puppet, a twelve foot puppet that we created. It has its own look, it has these like branch things coming out of its head, but I was definitely a big fan of Aliens. The Queen alien to me was really cool so that was definitely in the inspiration.
You seem to wear a lot of hats – Actor, Make-Up, Director, Writer – do you think you’ll ever settle down into just one area, or do you prefer the variety?
I’m not interested in making films about war time stuff or romantic comedies or anything like that. I’ve done special effects for so long that the films that we want to create are mainly genre films. Horror films, science-fiction and fantasy. I really enjoy wearing the different hats. We’re moving more into creating films, which is more writing and directing for me which I really enjoy. So that’s really where I want to land. We have about four other projects right now in development and we’re moving forwards on other projects too. We’re hoping to have The Terror be the first of many to come.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in SFX? What’s the most important skill to have?
People skills. It’s much harder to understand etiquette in the film industry. It’s much easier to learn how to do your craft than to actually understand how it works and how to react to people in this industry. A lot of times I speak at this school called Mud where I’m on the council. When I speak at the school I don’t even talk about make-up. All I talk about is situations and how to deal with different situations when you’re working on set. That’s where the real challenge is. You have to not only do your job, but then you have to be able to interact with the different personalities, including your actor, including the director and the producer, all the people. Everyone’s got an ego and everyone’s moving fast so there’s a lot of tension, and possibility for pressure, so working on set is the difficult thing to master. Unfortunately that comes with experience, you can’t really be taught that.
But for any make-up artists trying to move forwards there is all kinds of information on the internet. Videos you can watch to learn out of your house and start moving forwards. There’s a lot of avenues for aspiring make-up artists to learn without having to spend lots and lots of money to go to a school if they don’t want to do that. It’s hard, there’s a lot of people doing it now too. When I started there wasn’t a huge amount of people that did it so it was a little bit easier, but now there’s so many schools and so many kids out there that have grown up on shows, and television that show how to do make-up effects and stuff, so it’s a little bit more competitive.
With movies like Beyond the Gates, The Void and Terror, there seems to be a wave of films throwing back to the bygone era of horror movies. What was it about horror films of the eighties that made them so special?
Well I have to say the horror films of the 80’s are by far the best horror films ever! I don’t know if anyone will ever be able to match that. The reason why is because in the late 70’s, right around the time Spielberg was doing Jaws and Poltergeist and all those movies, the studios weren’t as involved. You had directors with visions, and they were allowed to create their film. Then you also had video come up. So you had all of these outlets. Your movie didn’t have to go theatrical to come out on video. There were all these great movies that came out in this time frame, and the classics that everyone refers to like John Carpenters Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Aliens, just stuff we had never seen before. Finally, at that point was when make-up effects was really, really booming and there was creatures and monsters and things we’d never seen before. It was a time of great movies, great discoveries and fresh ideas. After the nineties and going into the 2000’s it was hard to come with a creative idea because you could always compare it to something, because everything had been done to a point. It wasn’t like that before, there was nothing to compare it too. Now the challenge is to come up with stuff that you haven’t seen before because you’ve seen so much. The eighties, definitely the vibe and the pacing of the movies, and sometimes the cheesiness of it, it was the best time-frame for horror movies other than the old Universal black and whites which were the other group of great movies.
What are your favourite horror movies?
I was permanently scarred by Jaws. Jaws messed me up big time as a kid. I have not been in the ocean since. So Jaws was a big one. I love that movie, I saw that movie so many times, and Star Wars was a huge thing because there was nothing like it at the time. As far as horror goes specifically, I have to say the movie that did the most damage to me was Halloween. I’d seen The Exorcist as a little kid and I’d seen some other stuff, but when I saw Halloween I had nightmares like I’d never had before. That was the one that really got me and I just became obsessed with horror films at that point. I have to give it to John Carpenter on that one. I was so fortunate that when we did this film I actually reached out to his wife, who’s his manager, about getting the music and I can’t believe – he doesn’t let anybody license his music – he let us use his music. He checked us out and his wife knew us, but to be in the presence of John Carpenter and Halloweeen in our film was a dream come true. Halloween really was the one for me that got me into horror.
The film celebrates Halloween, is it a big event for you?
I have two daughters and we’ve been putting on these Halloween parties at my house for years. Every year I would have to dress up in full make-up and host the party. We did fill haunted houses in the backyard and then we’ve done a number of parties at our studios. They were just really big, blow-out parties, 300 – 400 people. We had people doing make-up, performers, Chris Hart – who is Thing from – was doing close-up magic. We had all kind of cool celebrities doing a lot of fun stuff. Halloween is a huge thing in my family. They are obsessed with Halloween, I’m not sure why. It’s such a fun holiday, especially for people in a horror movie. The that we have over here are all these Halloween amusement park like Universal studios and all these places were you can go to these amazing haunted houses that scare the crap out you.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
We have a movie coming out this year that we did special effects for, a big studio film called Geostorm. We also have a television series that we’re pitching to Amazon and Netflix called The Bayou. It’s a big X-Files type thing. Then it starts in about a month and we filmed it last year, but I’m the celebrity judge on The Food Network’s Halloween Wars. It’s food people who are sculpting beautiful, amazing creatures and settings using all foods.
You’ll be at Frightfest for the full festival, has anything taken your fancy?
They’re playing the new Chucky film, that would be a really good one, I’d like to see that. They also have a new Leatherface movie also, and there’s a couple of others that I can’t remember the name of, but they sounded really interesting.
What do you hope the Frightfest audience get from watching The Terror of Hallow’s Eve?
The one quote that I keep hearing from people who have seen the film – we did a cast and crew screening and had a bunch of additional people who had never seen the film at all at the screening – and they came all energised and all kinda said the same thing. The film took them back to their childhood. If you’re a fan of eighties films, then hopefully this is a film that you’re going to love.
The Terror of Hallow’s Eve screens at Frighfest on Monday 28th August from 6:15pm.