You may not have heard of Todd Tucker, but you will certainly have seen his work. A Hollywood make-up artist for over twenty-five years, he has worked on such films as Pirates of the Caribbean, Watchmen, The Boy, Ouija: Origin of Evil and more.
Tucker is also co-founder of movie make-up and prosthetic company Illusion Industries. So, the man knows something about fantasy films. All of which is why his latest outing as a director, The Terror of Hallow’s Eve, is a winner.
A tale of bullied young horror movie fan Tim, and the accidentally deadly deal he makes with a malevolent spirt to get revenge, it’s an affectionate funhouse frightener with characters you can root for.
Tucker’s film is also an unabashed homage to classic 80s movies in the John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg tradition. And confidently introduces horror’s newest monster, The Trickster. Memorably brought to life by Pan’s Labyrinth’s Doug Jones, The Trickster is a creepy jester who can solve your problems, but at a cost…
We were lucky enough to catch up with Todd when he came to London to for the world premiere of The Terror of Hallow’s Eve at FrightFest 2017.
Rob Daniel: I was planning on making a joke asking if this was an autobiographical tale, but then read you did base this on personal experiences.
Todd Tucker: Oh yeah, the first thirty minutes of the film, basically everything happened exactly like that. I used my experience as a blueprint for the story, and put a bit of an anti-bully message in there.
After that first half an hour or so it turns into a whole other collage of creatures and fun monstery stuff, but I definitely wanted to have a grounded story. It meant something to me, so my hope was it would translate to the film and people would feel that.
TT: I was worried, because horror audiences usually expect something to happen in the first couple of minutes. The formula for a lot of horror films is you have your monster show up and that sets the pace. As we were writing and filming it, I was concerned if I didn’t make the characters engaging enough I might lose my audience because I didn’t have anything scary for thirty-five minutes.
But, I’ve found out the bullying aspect of the story is touching people enough that they love the first part of the movie before the monsters show up. That’s a really good thing for me.
RD: Part of that success is because Caleb Thomas is believable as your protagonist Tim, as is Sarah Lancaster as his mum, Linda. How did you go about casting them?
TT: It’s funny, because I never auditioned Caleb. He was working in Spain as the lead on a Nickelodeon movie, and I had a thirty-five minute Skype call with him. As he would essentially be playing me, it was real important that I instinctually connected with whoever I’d be working with. That way I could just kind of project through that person.
Caleb came in and just knocked it out the park. There are so many elements of Caleb that are similar to what I was like at that time.
As far as Sarah goes, she was put in front of us. I hate to admit this, but I hadn’t seen her in any films before. She’s a beautiful lady but I wasn’t sure if she was the right person. I watched some of her stuff and thought she was good, but then I met her I was just sold.
She was genuinely sweet, but strong. A very established personality, and a good person in general, which I wanted to come through for the mom.
TT: It’s hard because I’m a parent now and if you jump in and help your kid in this situation, it’s two-fold. Like you said, it’s bad but you can’t help but want to take care of your kid.
It happened like that for me and made the situation worse. I probably would’ve taken a punch or two, but instead it pissed these guys off even more so when I saw them again they really beat the crap out of me. It was a parent trying to protect their kid, but unfortunately escalated stuff to the next level.
RD: Wow… well congratulations even more on everything you’ve achieved!
TT (laughs): Thank you!
RD: Okay, tell me about The Trickster.
TT: We actually shot the film with a puppet version of The Trickster first, along with all the other puppets we have in the film.
I wasn’t getting the reaction and performance I wanted from the Trickster puppet. It just wasn’t emotionally connecting with the Timmy character, and if that connection didn’t’ work, the movie didn’t work.
Doug Jones was playing another character in the film called Scarecrow, and we were loving his performance. So, after we shot the film I went to my producer Ron Halvas and said, “We have a problem, and the only way to fix this is to bring Doug Jones back in to do The Trickster”.
So we shot Doug against greenscreen, put him in a make-up, shrunk him down to 4ft tall, CG’d his eyes a little bit bigger and put him right over the puppet in those shots.
We then added more scenes because Doug’s character was so engrossing and cool, we wanted to see more. We added the whole scene with Timmy and The Trickster in the attic that was never in the script, but something we shot months later. It’s crucial to the story now, so the film built and evolved as we went.
The Trickster had to be a character a 14-year-old kid would trust. He had to be approachable and, not cute, but not something that would scare kids away. But, we know he’s a two-faced character and becomes something very different.
We’re setting up the sequel right now; The Trickster will keep going and going!
RD: Great stuff. Was it a difficult conversation when you told Ron reshoots were needed?
TT: No, we both knew that. We screened the film for an audience at the LA Film School to get feedback on what they were responding to. They said they wanted more Trickster, but that was when he was still a puppet. I could tell it wasn’t quite working and when I went to Ron saying we needed to fix this, he was in total agreement.
We had a film we did years ago called Monster Mutt, where we used a big, animatronic puppet dog. The film was made for 7-year-old girls, so the dog was meant to look like a big muppet character as my homage to Jim Henson and Spielberg. We did get flak from people saying the dog didn’t look real, but it was never supposed to.
For this one, we didn’t want that to happen because we really needed to sell The Trickster. We wanted him to be like one of the iconic 80s type horror characters, so “familiar but new” was the trick we had to pull off. You feel like you’ve seen him before but he is still different to anything you know.
RD: Doug Jones is a master of physical performance. How did you direct him?
TT: I’ve known Doug for years. I worked with him on a movie called Monkeybone with Brendan Fraser years ago. Recently I worked with Doug on Ouija: Origins of Evil, putting him in full creature suit and make-up.
When we were doing that film, I was prepping for The Terror of Hallow’s Eve. So, I pulled Doug aside and said, “I hate to ask you this because I know everyone does, but I’m making a movie and I need your help”.
And he simply said, “Of course”. Doug’s a lovely man, one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.
When we were shooting him as Scarecrow I said, “I want to do something you’ve never done before. Your character is literally a corpse made of wood, because you’ve melded into your environment. Why don’t we do something where your movement feels jerky and rigid. Then I’ll take frames out so it looks even more weird and supernatural.”
After a couple of minutes working with his body movement we locked it in. In the film it looks amazing. When he came back to do The Trickster I wanted it to be completely different. That time he was very flowing with the movement of his body and his hands. Unless you really know Doug’s physical appearance I don’t think you’d realise it’s the same guy.
TT: Going into this I never wanted it to be a gory movie. I personally am not a huge gore fan. I love horror, but am more into creatures and ghost and the build-up rather than the blood and guts. The movies I was trying to emulate, like Halloween, Pumpkinhead and A Nightmare on Elm Street, are not heavy gore films.
If some people go, “Argh, it’s too soft” that’s okay, that’s the movie I was making. It is more of a creature movie than a gorefest, almost like a dark fantasy. We do show pretty graphic stuff, but we cut out of it relatively quickly and don’t dwell.
So that might be one of the things that’s a little bit different from the other films playing at FrightFest this year where the gore is in your face. That’s cool for those movies, but I was definitely going for something a little different.
Something more like Stranger Things. Although I have to say Stranger Things hadn’t come out when we were making this!
RD: What do you think is behind this 80s revival, where those films have so hooked the modern imagination?
TT: The 1970s set the pace for the modern horror films. When the 80s came suddenly you had VHS. You had an avenue to make horror films, or films in general, that didn’t necessarily have to go to the theatre, they could come out on VHS. This opened a creative door for filmmakers, and at that point in time genres weren’t saturated, everything hadn’t been done yet.
You have so many great movies from the 80s that are so original. Now when filmmaker makes a horror film it’s hard for it not to be similar to something else. Back in the 80s you didn’t have that problem; you could be creative with things that hadn’t been done before. John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Steven Spielberg and all those guys were doing amazing films. It was brand new so there was excitement and passion there.
And they were more driven by the filmmaker than the studio telling them what to do because they wanted to sell shoes in the film. So 80s films had a passion to them that a lot of films lack simply because the filmmaker doesn’t have as much ability to control his film.
RD: Finally, what do you make of FrightFest and how does it feel to be here?
TT: It’s amazing to be here. I’ve never been to FrightFest or London before. We came here on Friday, saw a couple of the films and talked to the fans about what’s going on.
The fans here just love this stuff, I can see it on their faces walking around. This is the first time since the movie’s been finished that it’s been seen by anybody. The cast and crew screening was great, but they knew what to expect.
Our trailer just shows a tiny bit of The Trickster and that’s it. So the audience coming to see it tonight has no idea what they’re in for. They don’t know about the army of creatures and monsters we have, and I can’t wait to see the expression on their faces when the movie ends!
The Terror of Hallow’s Eve premiered at the Empire Cineworld, Leicester Square on Monday 28th August, 2017.