Tales of Halloween: 10 Short Stories Collide in Axelle Carolyn’s Orgy of Blood and Guts

It’s scary to think that the new year is officially three weeks old. Even scarier? The thought of Halloween in January. But for horror aficionado and director, Axelle Carolyn, the celebration of hallowed horrors is a yearlong event.

This month, along with ten other noted macabre directors and producers, Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson of Epic Pictures Group, Carolyn assembles Tales of Halloween, a series of interconnected vignettes of ghosts and goblins, aliens and axe-wielding murderers, that terrorize the same suburban community on one horrifying Halloween night. Working off a conceptual manifesto, she details her challenges with continuity, time, budget, and of course, gallons of blood and guts.


Los Angeles is a special place in many ways. It has perfect weather, beautiful landscapes and 24/7 entertainment. It also has what I consider the world’s most passionate, tight-knit community of horror filmmakers, actors, and reporters.

Horror is a huge deal for everyone around me. My husband, my friends, and myself all make horror films for a living; even my dog makes appearances on screen. We meet at screenings, discuss new releases and old classics online and at our favorite cafe, compete in horror trivia each month, and celebrate Halloween six weeks a year. Our inner circle is a mix of established genre filmmakers and promising up-and-comers. So, it was only a matter of time before we joined forces to make a scary movie.

Barry Bostwick in Tales of Halloween.

Barry Bostwick in Tales of Halloween.

The idea had been floating about for a while, but it turned into a workable concept when at a friend’s birthday in March 2014, I suggested an anthology movie focusing on our favorite holiday: a celebration of all things Halloween and of the genre which brings us all together.

Everyone responded with enthusiasm, and Mike Mendez, one of the first directors on board, brought the idea to his friends Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson of Epic Pictures, with whom he’d made his previous feature, Big Ass Spider! Within a few days, they offered to finance, produce, and sell the project.

Suddenly, we were making a movie.

Assembling people who already knew and liked each other, as opposed to a random collection of directors, meant we could work in close collaboration from the early stages. We started exchanging ideas for the stories in group meetings at my house or at Studio City’s Jumpcut Cafe. We set the parameters: 10 short stories taking place on the same Halloween night in the same town, made for similar budgets, and organically linked. I’d be in charge of collecting the scripts, passing on feedback, and making sure no two stories were alike.

Each filmmaker would have final cut, but some level of quality control was useful to make sure we’d all aim high and that the films would belong to the same universe. We liked to say that we could do whatever we wanted, except suck! There was a healthy level of competition among us anyway, so we all welcomed feedback to make sure our stories were the best they could be. When you’re given a chance to showcase your talent amongst so many people you respect, you have to bring your A-game.

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Because we all have different tastes, the stories turned out very varied in themes and tones. It seemed we’d covered every aspect of the fun and the spookiness we love about the holiday. But once we put the scripts together as a feature, we felt a couple of elements were missing: for example, when Lucky McKee joined the lineup later in the day (when another filmmaker had to drop out to focus on his own feature), he noticed a lack of witches. So, he decided his segment would revolve around a scary witch.

On the other hand, some linking elements between chapters came out organically: the trick or treaters, who could be protagonists in some stories and background in others. Some of these, however, didn’t pan out once production got underway. We thought, for example, we could have characters walk by certain landmarks from previous segments, but hiring and decorating those locations twice proved too expensive for what would eventually be Easter eggs for the viewers.

Each episode offered specific challenges. Mike’s homage to Evil Dead II and slasher movies is a non-stop orgy of blood and guts, which had to be done practically – a time-consuming process to set up, reset, and wrap (as we discovered when a blood splatter effect sprayed all the way up to the ceiling and took nearly seven hours to clean!) Neil Marshall’s goofy detective story not only involved blood but also animatronics, guns, seven locations, and eleven speaking parts. Paul Solet’s modern Western featured bike stunts. Adam Gierasch, inspired by True Detective, had planned a stunning M?VI shot following a character from the living room of his house, over the pool, over a fence, and into a back alley. Dave Parker’s spooky tale revolved around an elaborate candy-stealing monster and a cast of children who couldn’t work past 10 p.m., a scheduling headache for night shoots. And mine, about a woman followed by a specter on her way home from a party, seemed straightforward on paper, but required top-notch photography and performances and a good amount of coverage. And that’s only half of them!

While the stories were treated as elements of a feature, the shorts were budgeted, cast and crewed individually. The original plan was to give each filmmaker the same budget, which they would then allocate as they pleased. But it quickly became obvious that some would be more expensive than others. Thankfully, Shaked and Patrick – and line producer Charles Berg – helped us find solutions wherever needed and adapted numbers to our needs rather than compromising quality or our vision. They have a true understanding of and love for independent filmmaking and we were grateful for their full support.

Similarly, we’d planned to give each story two days to shoot. But from the moment we started scheduling, it was clear that Neil’s would need an additional day, because of the amount of effects and unit moves involved. Lucky McKee’s super stylized episode would also benefit from an extra night. And we organized a day of pickups for Mike, Adam, Neil and myself – where in a prime example of the aforementioned team spirit, we shot an insert for Mike’s story in Adam’s garage, with Neil chain-sawing a fake body which I was propping up. The whole thing resulted, as is often the case, in gallons of fake blood all over the room.

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Everyone was free to hire their own crew; only the 2nd assistant camera was pre-hired, as they had to supervise the loading and unloading of the camera and grip trucks, which we shared, from one short film to the next.

We filled positions in front and behind the camera with as many of our loved ones as we possibly could. This is how the movie has a lineup of genre legends such as Lin Shaye, Adrienne Barbeau, James Wan, Joe Dante, John Landis, Sam Witwer, Kristina Klebe and Cerina Vincent, and cameos by horror fans and journalists. The directors all visited each other’s sets and had cameos in each other’s films whenever needed (I show up five times – six if you count my hand doubling for a child’s).

There’s still much to work on; we need to figure out the order of the films and the transitions, and put the films through post. But watching everyone’s rough cuts, screening them for everybody and hearing everyone’s feedback makes all the hard work worth it. The films are fun and reflect our personalities. It’s going to be a blast to invite everyone to this very special Halloween party once we’re ready to share it with the world! MM

Tales of Halloween is currently scheduled for a late October 2015 release.

1 Comment

  1. Taylor

    January 24, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Sounds like a Trick r Treat knock off.

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