Starring Caleb Thomas, Sarah Lancaster, Annie Read, JT Neal, Mcabe Gregg, Doug Jones
Directed by Todd Tucker
Reclusive teen Tim (Thomas) is the kind of brow-beaten monster kid that many of us horror-obsessed folks used to be when we were growing up. Relentlessly bullied by the local jocks and slackers, Tim fills his time with designing and creating monstrous masks, marionettes and blood-jetting FX appliances – much to the anger of local parents who don’t take kindly to him scaring the shit out of their kids.
The barrier between Tim and the rest of the world is his mother, Linda (Lancaster), who recognises her son’s abundance of creativity and artistic talent, but struggles with watching him hurt in the wake of her nasty split from her drug-abusing husband.
When an encounter with a local trio of bullies sees defiant Tim receive a nasty beating for standing up for himself, he sets about angrily carving a strange pumpkin he discovered in the woods – and makes an inadvertent wish to scare the bullies to death.
Cue the arrival of a nefarious otherworldly being in the form of The Trickster (legendary creature performer Doug Jones), who guides Tim into luring the three bullies – plus the innocent and unsuspecting April (Read), whom Tim has a crush on – back to his home for the games to begin.
With Tim’s residence now turned into something of a twisted haunted house ride, each of the bullies finds themselves transported into creepy alternate dimensions populated by themed creatures that dish out poetic vengeance in the form of each character’s deepest vices and desires.
Once Tim figures out the severity of the situation, though, it’s too late – and now April is also in the firing line as The Trickster’s initially playful demeanour takes on a monstrous new bent.
Effects guru Todd Tucker deserves a healthy round of applause for his visual approach to The Terror of Hallow’s Eve. Steeped in ‘80s atmosphere, the majority of the creature and effects work is entirely physical – and it looks fabulous. Where necessary, digital manipulation is used to enhance existing appliances (see, for example, The Trickster’s impossibly large eyes), but there’s a real sense of glee in good old fashioned effects artistry that runs through the entire film.
Tonally, though, things don’t fare quite as well. There’s a TV drama feel to The Terror of Hallow’s Eve that’s difficult to shake, and the set-pieces that play out each bully’s demise are lacking in genuine terror or nastiness. So much so, in fact, that it soon begins to feel akin to something from TV’s Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark? – more suited as cathartic entertainment for teenagers currently experiencing the kind of treatment that Tim suffers, rather than adults harking back to the past and hungry for some harder stuff.
One must recognise that such desires are completely subjective, though, so how much you appreciate The Terror of Hallow’s Eve will likely depend on your frame of mind. Acting across the board is strong – you really do care about Tim and April – the visuals, as mentioned, have a lovely throwback feel, and Tucker keeps up his pace well enough. So there’s plenty of good to be had.
Tucker also isn’t afraid to shove quite a nasty sting on the end of his tale – but it serves to further highlight the tonal problems and the Trickster’s mythology feels distinctly half-baked. Still, there’s enough to enjoy here even if it’s uneven, meaning The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is a respectable slice of nostalgia with the added benefit of having an important message to deliver.