Interview: Axelle Carolyn, Producer/Director on Tales of Halloween

Interview conducted by Nia Edwards-Behi

Axelle Carolyn is the mastermind behind the massive Tales of Halloween anthology film, soon to be unleashed by Epic Pictures. Big thanks to Axelle for taking the time to answer a few questions for us about the film!

BAH: Anthology films are experiencing a bit of a comeback, in the horror genre and beyond. What was it about the format that made you want to give it a go?

Axelle Carolyn: The format was a means to an end, in a way. The spark was that when I moved to LA, I found this awesome group of friends, this community of horror fans who all live and breathe horror and make movies for a living – actors, writers, directors, and thought it’d be fun to make something together. The anthology format seemed the most appropriate to get a lot of filmmakers involved. The success of recent anthologies like ABCs of Death and VHS, which all gave the sub-genre fresh new twists, helped make the idea more appealing commercially, which helped us set it up fast.

BAH: Can you tell us a little bit about how the project came together?

AC: Well I knew I wanted this anthology to be about the LA horror community, and celebrate the genre that brought us together, but it wasn’t until I thought of Halloween as the central concept that things really started to happen. It seemed like a natural fit because it’s the one time of the year where the whole world catches up with our obsession, and I’ve been crazy about Halloween since I was a kid. I pitched the idea to Neil Marshall, and Mike Mendez, then Adam Gierasch and a bunch of others and everyone was very excited. Mike brought on his Big Ass Spider! producers and when they came on board, we started developing the scripts.

BAH: Were there any particular anthology films or Halloween-themed films that were inspirational when putting this project together?

AC: We watched a whole lot of anthologies to see how they’d been done. Specifically I wanted to see how to make ten stories fit together without a wraparound story. At the end of the day, because the idea of ten stories, as opposed to the usual 3 or 4, was pretty unique, we made up our own rules. But of course I’m a big fan of Creepshow, Trick ‘r’ Treat, Black Sabbath – I’d say for this specific project those were my top 3.

BAH: Tales of Halloween stands out from many recent anthology films due to its slightly different format: the segments work together as one, giving us snapshots of a street on Halloween night, rather than offering a string of separate segments on a theme. Was this deliberately done to stand out from other anthologies, or was there more practical rationale?

AC: It seemed like a good idea, to make the best use of the fact that we’d be working together from start to finish. Writing the scripts around the same time (with me collecting them into a reasonably coherent feature), scheduling the shoot like a feature, helping each other out on set – that all helped ensure all the films would fit into the same universe. I thought from the start that with ten different stories, a wraparound would be too heavy, we’d be better off moving quickly to avoid viewer fatigue. So instead, we concentrated as much as possible on making it all seem part of the same coherent world, with some characters, like the cops or some trick or treaters, come back, and using Adrienne Barbeau’s voice as a host of sorts. And the opening sequence introduces the town and the world the stories take place in.

BAH: As producer of the film can you say little about what it was like wrangling such a large roster of directors? Did that ever pose any problems?

AC: Hahah, every once in a while. Adam Gierasch said recently that my official title should be cat herder. We wanted it to be a collective effort, so most decisions were submitted to the group and debated. But beyond the decision making process, just the fact that every time you have a meeting or a location scout or an event you have to get 11 people involved was already complicated.

BAH: What was it like working with so many people that you’re also friends with?

AC: I like to say that working with my friends was both the best and the worst part of the process… The worst, because sending friends script notes and playing the part of a producer isn’t always easy. You don’t want to be seen as an asshole. The best, because having your friends around to support you, to be a sounding board, to give you advice when needed, to recommend crew members they trust… all that is invaluable. You share the stress, the tough times, and the successes. If we hadn’t been such a tight knit group to begin with, it wouldn’t have been possible.

It was also awesome to get to see what everyone is like on set; there’s as many ways to direct as there are directors and it was really interesting for me to spend time on set for each episode, seeing how each of them preps, uses resources, addresses their crew, etc.

BAH: Your own segment, Grimm Grinning Ghost, is one of the scariest of the film. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with it?

AC: After my first feature Soulmate, which also deals with a ghost but is very much a drama, I thought it’d be fun to make a ghost story that was just pure tension. My DP Jan-Michael Losada and I gave it a bit of a Gothic fairy tale touch, but it really is a 7-minute setup to a jump scare. It’s a technical exercise: it only works if the framing, pacing, performances, sound and music all come together. It was great fun to pick up the challenge, and I love seeing audiences jump and scream!

BAH: Your segment features some excellent cameos too – how did these come about?

AC: Again, we’re lucky enough to be surrounded with friends who are fantastically talented, so I wanted to include as many of them as possible. Barbara Crampton came all the way from the Bay area for her cameo, and she brought Lisa Marie; they’d just worked together on We Are Still Here and I love her work. Stuart Gordon and Mick Garris are close friends and directors I hugely admire. Lin Shaye is not only a dear friend, but also an extraordinary actress, perfect to bring to life the campfire story which opens the segment. And then of course there’s Anubis, who I’ve vowed to cast in each of my movies because she’s so photogenic and she so loves working on set. The scene wouldn’t have worked without her!

BAH: The film has been playing many festivals across the world. Have you had any interesting responses to it from countries which don’t celebrate Halloween in such an elaborate way?

AC: Surprisingly, it seems the concept has worked in countries where Halloween isn’t really a thing. I went to a screening in Portugal and asked who celebrated Halloween, and not a lot of people raised their hand, but the reception to the movie seemed really good. In Mexico of course they have Dia De Los Muertos, but it’s not quite the same, and yet they really got into it. I think that while the holiday itself may not be super familiar to everyone, the idea of paying homage to the genre we love and the people who make it great is something that horror fans around the world understand and appreciate.

BAH: Are there any further collaborations in the pipeline with the people you worked with on Tales?

AC: Nothing planned so far, but if people go see the movie when it comes out and there’s a demand, who knows? We’d certainly love to work together again in the future!

Thanks again to Axelle for taking the time to chat with us about the film. Tales of Halloween is available on VOD from October 16th, and there are still chances to see it on the big screen (recommended!) in the UK: at Fanomenon, Leeds, and at Abertoir Horror Festival.