The Austin Chronicle

Tales of Halloween Aims for Spooky Fun

New horror anthology screens this weekend

By Richard Whittaker, October 16, 2015, Screens

When Axelle Carolyn was a kid, she had a cousin who would tell her the most terrifying urban myths. Now, as one of the 11 directors of new anthology horror Tales of Halloween, she gets to share a small but perfectly formed spooky tale of her own. She said, "Horror lends itself to bite-size chunks of spookiness."

A few years ago, Carolyn was living in London, traveling regularly to Los Angeles. There she met a cabal of horror enthusiasts, including Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV), Adam Gierasch (Toolbox Murders), Lucky McKee (May, All Cheerleaders Die), and Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones). Dubbing themselves the October Society, the undectet joined together to conjure 10 mini-nightmares for their hybrid creation. Carolyn said, "We've seen anthologies that have 26 stories and anthologies that have three, and we're in the middle."

Once a mainstay of horror, the anthology is undergoing a resurrection since Michael Dougherty's modern classic, Trick 'r Treat. Both V/H/S and The ABCs of Death have become full-blown franchises, while hell-headed road trip Southbound was a Fantastic Fest 2015 hit, and all-female directed XX is one of the most eagerly awaited horror films of 2016. Carolyn suggests the appeal to audiences is simple: "It's that campfire feel." Behind the camera, she sees anthologies as a way for directors to tell a story "without fitting into a career plan." For example, Marshall is best known for cerebral shockers like Dog Soldiers, "and he comes up with this goofy killer-pumpkin story." The format also allows lesser-known directors like Ryan Schifrin (Abominable, whose father Lalo Schifrin composed the Tales' theme) and Paul Solet (Grace) to be part of a much bigger production. She said, "If you can finance a film for Neil Marshall, that's great, but if you can finance it for Neil Marshall and Mike Mendez and Lucky McKee, that's fantastic."

The instructions to the directors were simple: Everything happens on Halloween night in the same fictitious Middle American town. Carolyn's personal favorite segment is "Sweet Tooth": Written and directed by Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red), it's a bloody tale with more to fear from trick-or-treating candy than just cavities. Carolyn said, "To me, that's the one that really encapsulates the spirit of what we are going for, which was spooky fun."

Carolyn's own segment, "Grimm Grinning Ghost," employs restrained eeriness as a palate-cleanser. She said, "When I saw the other scripts, I thought that everyone was going for something scarier or more comedic." In part, her segment was inspired by her cousin's eerie stories, and in part by British TV show Mr Pye, and the moment when Derek Jacobi, illuminated by a single candle, sees his reflection and realizes huge goat horns have sprouted from his head. Carolyn said, "For years, I couldn't look in a mirror." Her story follows a young woman (Alexandra Essoe) as the proverbial girl walking home alone at night. She's been at a Halloween party where someone told a traditional ghost tale, the kind you don't want to hear when you're destined for a mist-shrouded midnight lane. Carolyn was drawn to her lead actress by her breakthrough performance in Hollywood horror Starry Eyes. She said, "I went immediately to her and said, 'We have to do something together, whether it's this anthology or something else.'" While other members of the October Society treat all their characters as delightfully disposable blood bags, Carolyn's story required a deeper connection to her imperiled heroine. She said, "I wanted people to care about her, or the payoff wouldn't be as fun."

Tales of Halloween screens this weekend at the Alamo South Lamar.

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