Last FridayI hopped on the phone with special effects master and cofounder of Illusion Industries Todd Tucker to talk about his latest original film, The Terror of Hallow’s Eve. Having watched it beforehand, I went in not only impressed with the quality of optical and mechanical effects, but also having truly enjoyed the terror that was The Terror of Hallow’s Eve. It is the story of a 15 year old boy dealing with pubescence, crushes, and bullies. Basically, the horror that is adolescence. Writer, director, and producer Todd Tucker creates a tragic, well-developed and poignant film sure to reach the hearts of both horror fans and non-horror fans alike.
So this film, The Terror of Hallow’s Eve, is based on your true childhood story?
Unfortunately, yes. Wasn’t a real happy childhood, obviously, but when I was trying to come up with the project idea I was trying to think of something that I could really put myself into, and I started thinking about how when I was a kid I had this crush on the local 7/11 girl where I would buy Fangoria magazine and I was trying to get the nerve to talk to her and I walked outside and her boyfriend saw me, and she mentioned I was a cute kid or something stupid like that, and I was like 13, 14 and they were like 18 and there were three of them and they just beat the crap out of me. It was actually a pretty major thing, I had a concussion and I probably should have went to the hospital but instead I just went home and sculpted in my garage and tried not to think about it. I remember being younger and literally everything that you see in the first 30 minutes of the film actually happened, or as close to it as I can remember. Even to the point where the characters look like the real people. So, it was definitely going back in time and recreating an entire, horrible time in my life and hoping that it showed some of the depth and passion that I hoped would make it on to the screen.
Definitely, I’m sure the casting must have been difficult- having to relive a lot of that.
There were a couple times on set, uh… especially some of the stuff between the mom and the son that was so close to what happened that it was… I had to take a break after a couple of scenes just to uh, regroup.
Understandably. That astounded me to learn that. Is this the first time you’ve had complete creative control of a film?
No, I directed a film that I wrote that I filmed about 7 years ago called Monster Mutt, which was a family film that was basically a Disney channel-esque film for little girls. It did quite well it won awards for best comedy, got worldwide distribution, uh, but it was for little kids. The big monster dog was kind of a Muppets kind of dog, sort of if a little kid caught a big Snuffleupagus or something. It did quite well, and I had complete creative control on that one. I directed and produced a few other films, and then took a break for a little while because the whole medium was changing as far as how independent films were being sold. So I had to step back a little bit to move forward and when I came up with the Terror of Hallows Eve I wanted to make sure that it was something that would hopefully stand out and hopefully reach people as more than a horror people and that’s why I made it as something more of a drama with the stuff in the beginning of the film.
That really comes across, I genuinely enjoyed the film. Is horror a preferred genre for you?
Well I’m not a huge fan of bloody, gutty, horror-gore stuff- it’s not my thing. I’m much more into creepy stuff and character stuff, ghost stories. You know the 1980s type stuff. You know the Nightmare on Elm Street and John Carpenter… that kind of creature-driven stuff for me is just the best.
You can tell John Carpenter was a big influence in your work in this movie.
Yeah, I got real lucky because as I was putting it together- you know it takes place in the 1980s back when it, kind of happened- and like, I wanted to make sure that the film itself felt like a 1980s film. Kind of like “Stranger Things,” with more creatures. I also wanted the music to have that kind of feel too so I reached out to John Carpenter’s wife, Sandy King, who I knew, and was wondering if he John could make some music for the film and I never in a million years expected him to say yes, but I just got lucky and she called me back the next day and said “Yeah, John said you’re good to go.” So we actually have two tracks in the movie that are actually from his CD called The Lost Themes, music that never made it into his films. He just did a worldwide concert, too and it was amazing. Johnny Carpenter is the bomb, that’s all I can say.
So considering that young artist in the film, even with such a turbulent childhood, what would you say a young artist can expect when following in your footsteps?
Well I mean, you know being an artist and making a living is a very difficult thing to do. Not only do you have to be very good but you have to be a very driven individual. So one thing I would say about film like uh the character that’s playing me in the film gets his revenge and basically things for his bullies don’t end very well and that’s not the message, really. The real message, if there is one, is really that I went through that experience as a kid but I didn’t let it affect me. It didn’t dictate how I felt about myself or how I would feel in the future about myself, so it’s really about just showing people that if you go through that experience you can rise above it and be anything you want to be. You just have to do it. So that’s really kind of the message there is if there is one at all.
I saw kind of a “Be careful what you wish for” kind of message.
That is actually true because as artists that want to follow in these footsteps you got to be careful in the fact that if you do get to the level of doing the type of stuff that I’ve done in my career, it swallows your life up. You have to be prepared to do 24hour shifts, you have to be prepared to be a robot machine to get through some of the stuff you have to do, you have to be strong, tough-skinned because you’re going to have people tell you “you’re wrong, you suck, you’re not doing your job well” and you have to be a really strong person to excel in Hollywood if this is what you want to do. But, if you keep a positive attitude, and you’re a driven person, and you really apply yourself, it is a definite goal that is achievable.
What would have been that little kid sculpting in the garage’s dream project?
Wow, uh… I got to be honest with you, as corny as this sounds, I just made it. Yeah, The Terror… I got to pull in so many cool people on this film, to have the music of John Carpenter was just a dream come true, to have Doug Jones play my creature my lead character… He brings so much to my character that if it wasn’t him I truly don’t think the movie would be quite the movie it is. He’s so… kind of adorably creepy in the beginning and then, of course, things change. And then my cast, too- the kid that plays “Timmy,” Caleb Thomas, really had to carry this film. If he didn’t pull it off, you wouldn’t care about anything else. Even if the special effects were amazing, you wouldn’t care if that lead character didn’t take you through the film right, and he did a great job. And Carol Lancaster, the mom, was amazing. Julian Landau, Christian Kane, and Eric Roberts and all these guys just… I got so lucky with the cast that I was walking around set with a smile on my face. People would ask “Why are you smiling?” and I didn’t even notice. I realize how creepy that is now but, at the time I was just having such a great time waking up every morning. We shot it in my neighborhood, and in my house, and in my neighbor’s house, and all around so I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I just had to go outside. So, it was awesome.
What can you tell us about your current projects?
Right now I’m actually scripting The Terror 2 because we leave the film setting up the sequel so I’m actually scripting that right now. We also have a television series that we are taking out to all the main players and studios of a science fiction/supernatural type a series its very, very cool. So we are doing a lot of a new content that we are making, I’ll be producing and directing. We also have a film coming out this year that we did the effects for called Geostorm, which is a Dean Devlin film. So, that’s a really cool film, and right now we are about to start on some new projects doing make up effects. Oh! Also, too, this is kind of silly, very different but I am also one of the celebrity judges for the 7th season coming out in the next month or two of Halloween Wars on The Food Network.
That sounds like a lot of fun.
That was a blast, actually. We shot it a while ago because we had to do it while the pumpkins were in season but it comes out and it has a huge audience and the guys on that show were amazing, the ones that did all the food sculptures and stuff. It was really cool fun to be part of that. I’m looking forward to watching that myself.
Was it difficult to judge?
It was. They had you taste a little bit of each display- which was the hardest thing for me because I’m not a big chocolate fan and with certain things I’m really a picky eater- but the stuff they made was really good so I have to give it to them, those guys were amazing. And the sculptures were just like totally high tech, really nice, finished sculptures. I was surprised they were that good. It was done right in front of me too, not some weird time lapse. They’re literally making it right there in front of you so it’s not like they have days to make this stuff- its hours. And crazy stuff. I don’t know that I could even do that, it’s really a talent.
Looks like that’s the one medium you don’t have experience in. Maybe moonlighting soon enough?
I might. Maybe a good idea.
Did you ever see yourself in the position you’re in today?
Ooh. You know what, to be honest with you, uh… when I was a kid at that age, I just hoped for the best. I don’t know why. I was a pretty optimistic kid, for the most part. I was an introvert and I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends, but I always had a pretty positive attitude about the future so I knew I wanted to achieve some cool stuff. But, getting through each day was a challenge so it was usually trying to get through the week. But uh I am very blessed I’m very lucky I’ve been able to work with a lot of great people in my career and I feel very fortunate to have done a lot of cool things and been able to do all the things I’ve gotten to do. So I’m one of the people that I think that really appreciate where I’m at right now.
I probably became a big fan of yours when I realized you worked on Watchmen.
Oh, yeah, years ago when I first started the company at that point we worked on Watchmen and Benjamin Button and some television series and stuff it was fun, Watchmen was fun, we did a lot of makeup for it, and it was a really interesting film to work on. That was crazy.
Were you a big comic book reader?
I wasn’t, I really wasn’t. I was a movie guy. I would just spend all my free time in the movies. Like, literally, hour after hour watching the same movie over and over. I saw Star Wars in the theater, I counted 77 times. Obviously a lot of time on my hands. But I was an only child, and I had nothing to do other than create stuff in my garage and fantasize about other stuff so it was all about movies and I really didn’t do comics too much- but when we finished the Terror of Hallows Eve, we actually created a comic book. So we have a graphic novel we’re about to release of the movie and it’s really well done, it’s really clean. I’m excited to get that out and meet some of the comic book fans.
Are we also going to see more of your acting?
You know, it’s funny- at the end of the movie, we show the present day version of “Timmy” and I had somebody else that was originally going to play that character, and their schedule got changed as we were about to shoot, and I said “You know what? I’ll just turn myself in and play myself as this old crazy guy.” The funny thing is that it takes place in an insane asylum, and oddly enough my office actually looks exactly like the insane asylum rooms we pulled up online so that whole area and that whole scene in the movie is actually in my office and in our studios so apparently it might be a bad sign, I’m not sure. But playing the character in the end, playing myself I guess, as the crazy version was, uh, interesting, but if it turns into a sequel I’ll probably have to play myself again. I’ll make sure I kill myself, let’s put it that way, I’ll kill myself. I’ll deserve it, though.
Todd Tucker has proven a thoughtful and purposeful execution of well-made modern horror. Big thanks to Illusion Industries and Think Jam for granting Sinful Celluloid the interview and Todd Tucker for answering my questions about his childhood, his culinary preferences, and Watchmen.
The Terror of Hallow’s Eve will be showing in Frightfest in London on August 28th and is currently seeking distribution.