The Terror of Hallow's Eve
After a fifteen-year-old is brutally beaten up by High School bullies, his wish for revenge unknowingly unleashes the Terror of Halloween.
Ronald L. Halvas
I think that the majority of us – as horror freaks – can say without hesitation, that we are fans of John Carpenter and so much of his ground-breaking and terrifying work.
That aforementioned majority clearly includes the writers and filmmakers behind the new indie horror film The Terror of Hallow’s Eve.
Fifteen year old Tim (Caleb Thomas) is a blossoming horror effects artist – playing gory pranks on schoolmates and spending oodles of time alone in his garage workshop, constructing clay creatures, while his mother Linda (Sarah Lancaster) works long hours as a nurse at a local hospital. Tim’s father is out of the picture and Linda doesn’t know where Tim’s father is. Naturally, being something of a loner, Tim is picked on by local bullies. But one day, they take it too far. With the help of a strange, glowing pumpkin Tim finds on Halloween and an odd Halloween book he discovers in his attic – he reengages (and re-enrages) the bullies (including Tim’s crush and girlfriend of the lead bully) and leads them back to his home where – with the help of a creepy jester called “The Trickster” (played by make-up character actor extraordinaire – Doug Jones) – Tim creatively dispatches the bullies, one by one.
There’s a big problem here, which simply can’t be ignored. It may only effect true horror die-hards, but chances are, that’s the majority of potential viewers for this indie film.
Look. It’s always wonderful when horror films pay tribute in small ways – to the work and legacy of previous filmmakers. And that’s where my mention of John Carpenter comes in. And I can’t take this lightly. Which is why, I’m going to catalog all of the (as many as I can remember) Easter eggs, homages and Carpenter-inspired sounds and images… because there are so many.
There’s an article seen in passing – in one of Tim’s horror magazines, entitled “Chuck Full-o-Nuts” – clearly referencing the shop where Snake Plissken takes shelter early on in Escape from New York.
There’s a mental hospital in the film called Haddonfield Mental Hospital. A doctor there is played by none other than Carpenter regular Peter Jason (Prince of Darkness, They Live, Escape from LA).
The opening scene of three young girls walking home after school on a breezy fall afternoon is straight out of Halloween.
The opening credits include a title design borrowed from The Thing and the font for both the opening and closing credits is the same used in most of Carpenter’s films.
On top of all of this, there is some actual John Carpenter music on the soundtrack (properly licensed and credited of course). And when his music isn’t being used, the synthi-ness of the rest of the score is meant to call out Carpenter’s signature style.
My reason for putting all of this to ink, is because it’s too much. It’s just too much. If your audience is sitting there nit-picking and paying attention to the next Halloween tribute or Carpenter inside joke – and waiting for them – then your characters and indeed, your story as a whole – can only suffer.
Yes, give the horror fans some of these fun semi-hidden bits – but not at the expense of your entire film.
The film is a period piece, but there were a few things I noticed which didn’t help to gel this ‘70s era. The fat bully is eating Lays Kettle Chips. Whether or not they were around in the ‘70s, they certainly didn’t have contemporary packaging. And while much of the film is properly draped to sell the era – cars in the background are clearly modern. As always, the devil’s in the details, folks.
Now… with all of this dirty laundry properly aired – I do want to point out the really great things about the film, of which there are many.
Performances are all serviceable to good – but Lancaster as Tim’s mom is the easy highlight. She’s authentic in all of her “mom” interactions, producing real emotion, real tears and real sympathy. But sadly, the script basically throws her away as the film goes on.
The visual effects, practical special effects, make-up effects and immense use of beautiful puppetry – will simply blow your mind. One of the bullies – named Spaz (played by Mcabe Gregg) – is introduced to a sort of funhouse world within Tim’s home – and it’s populated solely by creepy and violent puppets – who eventually remove themselves from their marionette strings to stalk Spaz. This entire scene is delightful, creative and truly inspiring.
And as for make-up, why not cast the great Doug Jones (Crimson Peak, Pan’s Labyrinth) to portray your weird, make-up heavy characters? Jones is wonderfully creepy as the film’s scarecrow, but his work as The Trickster is on the level of Andy Serkis’ performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings universe. It’s really a remarkable turn from someone whom we know to always be great anyway.
But the mention of Jones brings to mind yet another problem. We are introduced to the fact that April is afraid of spiders, and so naturally, that will somehow come into play as the nightmare situation everyone is in – builds in power. And the fat bully, Chuck (Niko Papastefanou) – who is constantly eating – is introduced to a nightmare world about gluttony (where Jones’ scarecrow appears). So it begs the question – what is the connection to stoner Spaz (yes there’s a great big doobie in Spaz’s nightmare world) and puppets? I was scratching my head over this one. Even main bully Brian’s (JT Neal) nightmare world makes some semblance of sense. Hmmm…
The story needs some work. It feels disjointed and incomplete. In the end, Linda the mother doesn’t serve much purpose. And Tim’s acceptance to terrorize the bullies – I didn’t buy it. It’s all so sudden, kind of 0 to 60mph in 3 seconds. The exposition and build-up of Tim’s rage, didn’t earn the climax.
And speaking of the climax – it’s pretty good. But the film’s epilogue felt very tacked-on. The film is a short 80 minutes, so without the not-so-great epilogue, it would have been 70 minutes. The addition of these last 10 minutes feels transparent and inorganic.
Eric Roberts and Juliet Landau have brief cameos; as does A Christmas Story’s Zack Ward (who wrote the screenplay for The Terror of Hallow’s Eve).
Technically wonderful, but with too many fanboy call-outs and a clunky story – The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is worth a look, but I’ve got plenty of reservations. Basically, I’m telling you to watch with caution.
The Terror of Hallow’s Eve (I don’t like that title) will be showing at Frightfest on August 28th, but no wider release information is yet available.