Neil Marshall is one of our favorite action directors. From movies like The Descent, Dog Soldiers and Doomsday to Game of Thrones, he’s brought some of the best and bloodiest action to the screen. And now, he’s got a segment in Tales of Halloween, out tomorrow. So we had to ask him the secret of making action feel awesome.
We were lucky enough to get a phone interview with Marshall, who’s promoting the anthology movie Tales of Halloween, along with Axelle Carolyn, who’s also directed a segment in the film and is the film’s overall producer and creator. Tales of Halloween includes ten segments directed by top directors like Marshall, Darren Lynn Bousman and Mike Mendez, and the stars include Sam Witwer and Barry Bostwick.
So when we asked Marshall why so many action movies are so boring nowadays, he responded: “You don’t care about the characters, and there’s no jeopardy because everything’s done in a computer somewhere.” That’s why he tries to do practical stunts as much as possible, with “real people and real cars,” so that you can see that it’s really happening. With CGI and greenscreen, there’s a tendency towards “characters who can fall off buildings and just get a scratch. It’s like, ‘Well, there’s no jeopardy, so why should I care? And if I don’t care, then I’m not going to get sucked into this. I’m not going to feel anything.”
Marshall would rather see “a good drama that’s got a great action sequence in it. If you take something like Heat, for instance, which spends two hours getting to know and care for these actors, and then puts them in an amazing gun battle, which is all real—and then, yeah, you’re in it, because you really give a fuck about all the characters involved, and then it really happens and somebody dies. It makes all the difference.”
One reason that Marshall was able to keep things more real and grounded in his films was because of a smaller budget. “It’s a real shame that there’s not more of the mid-budget movies, in the $20 [million] to $40 million range. You can do a lot [with that budget.] Doomsday fell into that category. You can do some amazing spectacular action, but the pressure for it to be such a huge hit is not so intense, so you can take more risks with it. You can be a bit more edgy, or a bit more adult, maybe. All these things that are too much of a risk. That’s why everything ends up being watered down, and you end up with films [where] everything has to be a PG [rating], so you can get maximum people in. But if everything has to be a PG, then films ultimately end up bland.”
“You either make films for kids or make them for adults,” says Marshall of the “PG” rating. “But to make them appeal to everybody—that’s a really difficult to do. Some people can do it. Disney can do it sometimes very well.” Marshall always says that it’s a miracle that any good movies actually get made, given the number of elements that need to come together to make a movie happen.
At the same time, Marshall would be happy to direct a big-budget VFX spectacle, as long as he was able to inject character and pathos and drama into it. “I wouldn’t want it to just be about effects,” he adds. “I’d want it to be about the story. What’s the story about?”
In fact, Marshall was going to direct the upcoming King Kong reboot film Kong: Skull Island at one point, and it was going to be a completely different concept than the one they’re now making. “It was sort of a historical piece. There were pirates ending up on the island, and encountering this society that used to live there. And they’re the ones who bred Kong to be a protector against the dinosaurs who lived on the island. But that’s all by the by, now.”
Instead, Marshall has been directing some episodes of Westworld, the upcoming HBO show based on the 1970s Michael Crichton film classic. “It’s been fantastic,” Marshall says. “It’s an amazing TV series. I can’t wait for it to come out. I can’t wait to see it. Just to get the chance to do a Western is fairly amazing.”
In Marshall’s segment of Tales of Halloween, “Bad Seed,” a jackolantern comes to life and starts biting people’s heads off, and some of the creepiest moments involve someone just carving that pumpkin and pulling out its seedy flesh. Marshall said he wanted to poke fun at “the violence that’s inflicted every year on pumpkins... we butcher them and we rip the innards out every year.” So the idea behind the short was, “What if one of them wanted to get revenge?”
Meanwhile, Axelle Carolyn, the creator of Tales of Halloween, said that the project came about because she was hanging out with a lot of people who made horror films in L.A., and “they share the same passion” for the genre. This anthology film really “comes from a place of love and enthusiasm,” she told us.
There’s a certain retro 1980s and 1990s feel to a lot of Tales of Halloween, from Adrienne Barbeau’s radio-host voiceover to the opening credits and a lot of the old-school scares. Carolyn said it wasn’t their intention from the beginning to go retro, but it sort of crept in: “This is our way of paying homage to the film-makers we love and the films we grew up admiring.” The makers of these shorts “were such film geeks, it was a natural instinct to give a wink and a nod.” In fact, the film is full of little easter eggs and shout-outs to classic directors like John Carpenter.
The whole thing was shot in just under a month, and it was a very collaborative process between the 11 directors of the 10 shorts, said Carolyn. They put a lot of energy into making this horror anthology different than some of the other ones you might have seen, like the recent V/H/S/ series, so for example there’s not as much of a “wrap-around” concept to the films. Not every single one of the shorts has a twist ending, and some of them are more comedic while others are more intense—but the main idea behind Tales is to deliver some fresh, intense scares, while celebrating the genre that the film-makers love.
Tales of Halloween comes out tomorrow in select theaters and on demand.