Neil Marshall and Axelle Carolyn are, essentially, the First Couple of horror. Married since 2007, the British director of The Descent and Belgian director of Soulmate have both contributed segments to Tales Of Halloween, a spooky anthology that is out now on VOD. We spoke to them about that film, their shared love of horror, and what they talk about around the breakfast table…
Tell us about Tales Of Halloween - how did it come about for you?
Neil: Basically Axelle thought the whole thing up, gathered the directors together, and along with Mike Mendez quickly secured the finance. As soon as I heard about the idea I wanted to be involved. It sounded like it was going to be a lot of fun and I didn't want to miss the party.
Axelle: I'd been thinking for a few years how fun it'd be to make a movie with all our friends. We're surrounded with such a great, creative, supportive community of horror filmmakers, writers and actors, and I thought it'd be great to pool our resources and help each other out on a project. But it wasn't until the idea came up of making it about Halloween, where each story takes place on the same night in the same town, that I felt I had something I could pitch the others and we could approach financiers with. Mike Mendez put us in touch with the guys at Epic Pictures, they said yes pretty much right away, and off we went.
Describe your individual segments.
Neil: Bad Seed is your everyday story of a genetically modified Super Pumpkin that comes alive and takes revenge against humans for all the unfortunate pumpkins that get butchered, disembowelled and turned into Jack O'Lantern's every year at Halloween. Think Jaws meets Gremlins meets Halloween III with a hint of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
Axelle: Grim Grinning Ghost is inspired by an urban legend that on Halloween night, if you're walking home and you hear footsteps behind you, whatever you do, don't turn around! I developed it into something kind of inspired by the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow, kind of inspired by The Haunted Mansion. The story is very simple but I wanted to make it as tense and scary as you can make it in just a few minutes. I was also lucky enough to cast some great people, both in the lead roles - Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and the awesome Lin Shaye - and in cameos. We’ve got Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, and my very talented dog Anubis!
The horror anthology movie is making something of a comeback in recent years - why?
Neil: I think it's always been a great format for horror because it's the cinematic equivalent of sitting around a campfire telling scary stories. As to why it's had a resurgence of late, I suspect the rise of VoD as a viewing habit has a lot to do with it. Beyond that I'm not sure. Tastes change. Horror habits come and go in cycles. One minute horror anthologies are in fashion, the next they're not.
Axelle: I think that from a creative point of view, it's an opportunity to do something a bit unusual, something that doesn't need to fit into a career plan, where you can take chances or do a different type of story than what you're used to. We had complete creative control here. And for audiences, anthologies are great because there's a good chance there'll be a little something for everyone.
What’s the secret of making a good horror anthology?
Neil: I think the key is not to be in competition with each other but to collaborate with each other. The intention is that all the segments should be great, and not that each director should be trying to make the best one and fuck the rest. One bad segment lets the whole movie down, so we endevoured to make sure that there were no bad segments. Of course, people have different tastes and some people will favour some segments over others. But taste isn't about quality. So I think as long as the standard of quality, the story-telling, film-making, acting etc. etc. remains consistent, then you've got a good change of making a decent anthology.
Axelle: Good filmmakers obviously, but also a strong concept. Besides the Halloween theme, what makes Tales of Halloween different from other anthologies is that we'd all been friends for many years before we started working on this, so we really collaborated every step of the way, which led to segments which, although very different from each other, have a coherence and are part of a shared universe. In a way, this movie is as much about friendship as it is about Halloween and horror.
What’s your favourite horror anthology?
Neil: Creepshow is a classic. I always had a soft spot for Cat's Eye too. If Trick 'r Treat qualifies as an anthology then that would certainly be on the list too.
Axelle: Right now I'd probably say Black Sabbath. It's very atmospheric, it looks absolutely gorgeous, and I love the story of the woman who steals the corpse's ring. It has some super creepy imagery.
As the First Couple of horror, with Halloween coming up, how do you intend to celebrate?
Neil: Sadly, we won't get to do much celebrating together this Halloween season since I'm busy shooting a TV pilot in Toronto and Axelle is in LA. So that's a definite bummer!
Axelle: Well, Neil is filming in Toronto, so this year we won't be celebrating together! I might just have a chilled movie night with friends. Usually Halloween itself is just the last event in a month of costume parties, theme parks and screenings. Last year we had a big party at Adam Gierasch's house. He shot his Tales of Halloween episode a week later in the same house, so he just left some of the decorations up for the shoot!
I’m struggling to think of other horror filmmakers who married each other - of course, if John Carpenter had married Wes Craven, he could have been called John Craven. But, to your knowledge, are you unique in the horror world?
Neil: Kathryn Bigelow directed Near Dark and James Cameron directed Piranha 2: Flying Killers, does that count? If not then yes, I guess we are totally unique.
Axelle: Yeah, the only couple I can think of is James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, but that didn't end well.
What’s your favourite horror film?
Neil: Tough call, but I'd have to say… ALIEN.
Axelle: Ah, if I have to pick just one, I'll go with Cronenberg's The Fly. It's a perfect mix of romance, drama and horror: it's gross and touching and meaningful and scary all at once. Another fantastic movie I discovered recently is Eyes Without A Face, it went straight into my top 5 of all time. Or if I had to pick something from the last year or so, I'd probably say It Follows, or Goodnight Mommy.
Favourite horror director (you can’t say each other)?
Neil: John Carpenter.
Axelle: Gah! Too tough. The filmmakers I admire most are the ones who touch upon the supernatural and blend it with other genres, like del Toro, Cronenberg, Tim Burton. But horror per se? Alright, Wes Craven.
Favourite horror film character?
Neil: Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina in Poltergeist. That whole "It is the beast" speech still floors me. I might also say Juno in The Descent, because I'm very proud of writing such a contradictory character - both villain and heroine wrapped up in the same person.
Axelle: Herbert West.
Complete this sentence: John Carpenter’s best film is…
Neil: The Thing. Carpenter's passion project when he was at the top of his game. Genius.
Axelle: The Fog. No, Halloween. No, The Fog.
Was a love of horror a common bond for you both?
Neil: Without a doubt. We met when she interviewed me for The Descent. If it wasn't for horror we might never have found each other.
Axelle: Oh yeah. We met at a film festival, so horror is the first thing we ever discussed.
Who’s the biggest horror geek between you two?
Neil: Axelle. No contest there. I love horror for sure. But she is the horror master! She knows her shit.
Axelle: I am.
Do you have similar approaches to your work as horror filmmakers?
Neil: No. Which is why it's not a problem having two horror directors in the same house. We both love the genre but I think we have very different artistic takes on the genre, and we both respect each other’s choices and ambitions.
Axelle: We're into really different aspects of horror, actually. We complement each other in a way. I'm more into atmosphere, performances, but I'm not really into action, which Neil is obviously great at. Also, I tend to shotlist and storyboard, while Neil prefers to kind of wing it, unless it's a particularly complex scene.
Do you talk shop at home? Or, after a long day’s horroring, do you talk about anything BUT horror?
Neil: At home we spend more time talking about food and the dogs than horror, but that's not to say the subject doesn't come up on a regular basis.
Axelle: We do talk shop a lot. It's not like it's something your mind can just switch off, it's more an obsession than a job I think...
Name one thing that scares you both.
Neil: For me, I'm not good with heights. Particularly man-made heights for some reason. Which made watching The Walk in 3D IMAX a bit stressful to say the least.
Axelle: I can't look into mirrors when it's dark. Not sure why. I've always hated it. If I stay at a hotel and there's a mirror in the bedroom, I'll have to cover it at night.
Tales Of Halloween is out now on VOD.