Wicked Horror recently had the opportunity to speak with Todd Tucker, owner of make-up and creature effects company Illusion Industries, Inc. about his new feature film The Terror of Hallow’s Eve. During the interview, Tucker opened up about his difficult childhood and how his pain became the inspiration for the film.
The film, which has a strong anti-bullying message, stars Caleb Thomas, Sarah Lancaster and Annie Read. With a premiere date of August 28th at London Frightfest 2017, The Terror has additional festival appearances slated, as it vies for partners in global distribution.
In the film, fifteen-year-old Tim (Thomas) deals with the everyday horror of bullying. Fed up with being mistreated, Tim unknowingly summons a Trickster spirit who agrees to help him scare the bad guys to death. Little does he know, the Trickster has a treat in store for Tim, as well. Be careful what you wish for.
Wicked Horror: I read that The Terror is based on your childhood story. Is “Tim” really “Todd”?
Todd Tucker: Absolutely, one hundred percent. Every single thing that happens in the first 30 minutes of the film happened exactly the way you saw it. In fact, I made it look so exact that the bullies actually look like the real guys! I’m gonna get emails at some point in time.
WH: You’ve got the high school jocks, and the cliquey snobs, and the girl next door… You capitalize on those stereotypes, and the characters are amazingly well-rounded. So they are inspired by the actual people that you had to deal with?
Tucker: Yes. When I was younger, I was an only child. My mom was never around because she was always working, and I just got into trouble because I was pulling these pranks. I was the weird kid. There was a 7-Eleven where I got my Fangoria magazines, and I had a crush on the girl that worked behind the counter. But she was like seventeen or eighteen, and I’m like thirteen, fourteen. So she wasn’t even in my ballpark. But I finally spoke to her one day and she talked to me, and she was nice to me, and I was all on cloud nine as I was walking out with my magazine. And her boyfriend came walking in—and he was like a full-grown man, I mean he was like a big dude—and she made a comment that there was this “cute kid” or something. And he came walking back out, while I was standing outside looking at my magazine, and he called his two buddies over (who were both eighteen, nineteen years old). And they just beat the crap out of me.
I walked home, and my mom wasn’t home when I got there, but I had a concussion, I was bleeding all over… I mean, I should have went right to the hospital. But I went into my garage and I just started sculpting a creature. I was just so angry and I kept looking at the pictures of the monsters on my wall and just wishing that I could turn into a creature and just go back there and beat the living crap out of these guys. And I fantasized about something coming and granting my wish. You know, what would happen? If I could really make something happen, what would I want to happen? And I remembered all this as I started coming up with my storyline for this film and I thought, “You know, I’m going to put a lot of my dirty laundry out there.” A lot of the family stuff that happened to me at that time… I really just put everything in there that was going on. And none of it was good.
I found after I made the film that a lot of people have gone through the same thing, and it really, really hit that note with a lot of people. The domestic abuse, the bullying—all that stuff, there’s a lot of people that have been saying something very similar to it. So it seems to be bonding with people. And that’s awesome.
WH: I liked how we got to see the deepest, darkest fears of several of the characters. I’m sure that gave you the chance to showcase your special effects. Did you create or design all of the creatures in the film?
Tucker: Yeah. Our company Illusion Industries, Inc. is known for doing make-up and creature effects on over 60 or 70 different feature films and television shows. That’s our main background, but for this film it was a bit different. Because we were doing a film that was taking place in the ‘80s, we really wanted to make sure that it felt like an ‘80s film. My favorite films back in the day were Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pumpkinhead and all those movies. I wanted to make sure that we created something that was completely different than what we’ve seen before, but that kind of had that familiar feel of these 1980s films. So that was the real challenge: coming up with something unique that still felt familiar.
WH: It definitely had that ‘80s feel! I noticed about halfway through I was thinking, “This music is spot on!” It got me thinking about Stranger Things.
WH: It’s got that Stranger Things vibe.
Tucker: That’s what I was going for! And we made this when Stranger Things was being made, so I didn’t even know it was being made. But everyone who has seen it has basically called it “Stranger Things with more monsters.”
WH: One of my favorite scenes is the puppet show, when all the puppets come out and start stabbing one of the characters. I saw in your resume that you have some puppeteering credits?
Tucker: Yeah. When I came to L.A. I started puppeteering and started playing creatures. I played over a dozen creature characters on the TV show Charmed, did all the make-up and effects for a bunch of different things, puppeteered a lot of different stuff. The Terror itself, at the very end of the movie, is actually dedicated to a friend of mine who was one of the world’s greatest puppeteers. His name was Van Snowden. Van was the puppeteer for the Crypt Keeper, and he was H.R. Pufnstuf, and he was all these other great characters. So Van was definitely a big inspiration and helped me out on my last film. Unfortunately, he passed away, so… Still, it was really cool to have all these puppets and marionettes and hand puppets and all these different things. We have actually more puppets in the movie than we have actual people.
WH: What made you decide to go into writing and directing?
Tucker: When I moved here [to L.A.] twenty-something years ago, I had a master plan that was to come down here, establish myself as a make-up/effects artist, and then start acting, playing creatures and then puppeteering, and then eventually getting to the point where I was writing and directing my own content. For almost fifteen years, I’ve been making shorts and all these trailers and prepping myself. And then when I did Monster Mutt we did a few films and then I took a break. We wanted to kind of figure out the new mediums, because you had all the different stuff that came along with the Internet, and things changed. So I wanted to step back and understand how to navigate through the new systems.
Then when I started coming up with The Terror of Hallow’s Eve it was just something where I thought, “You know, let’s just do something where I can be completely passionate about it and just throw myself in as much as I can.” I hoped that that would make the movie stand out somehow because it would mean more to me, and hopefully that would translate into the film, and it feels like it did.
WH: What was your catalyst for falling in love with horror?
Tucker: I was an only child, and my mom was a single mom, and she was never around, and I literally would go to the movie theaters every single weekend and stay there all weekend and just watch the same movie over and over, or else I’d just go from movie theater to movie theater. I just loved movies, and I literally would go home after watching them and while I was in class at school just draw pictures of creatures: Blake from The Fog, Freddy Krueger and Michael Meyers. I was always getting in trouble because I was never paying attention, I was always doing that stuff.
But I just loved movies. Oddly enough I didn’t really read comic books; I wasn’t that comic book guy. But we actually have now a comic book/graphic novel of The Terror of Hallow’s Eve that we’re going to be releasing, because after we finished the film I decided that I wanted to create a graphic novel of the movie. It’s really cool, and the visual look of the comic book—the characters look exactly like the characters in the movie. I did the comic book afterwards so that we could actually match the movie and have it look exactly the same. So it’s a really nice comic book, very clean.
WH: What’s next for you? Are you going to focus on your special effects business, or do you hope to get into some more writing and directing?
Tucker: We’re going to keep doing the special effects for all the other feature films that we’re working on. I feel like having the special effects and being current on major studio films kind of helps me as I’m doing my own films to keep current and keep in the limelight to a point. So what we’re kind of doing now is this: I have Martin Astles, who is my key artist in the back, heading up more of the “creature effects” part of the company, and then I am branching into doing more directing and producing. We have a series right now that we’re pitching that’s a sci-fi series, and we’re meeting with Amazon and Hulu and the different avenues for that. So we are absolutely going to be creating more and more content, and hopefully from the success of The Terror we will do The Terror 2. We set it up for the sequel at the very end, so we’re hoping to make that an ongoing franchise.