In 2006, Alan Jones of Total Film coined the term “Splat Pack” to identify a group of young directors who were making waves at the box office with a crop of ultra-violent, hard-R horror films like “Hostel” (Eli Roth), “High Tension” (Alexandre Aja) and “Saw” (James Wan). Included in that group was Neil Marshall, who made his feature directorial debut with 2002's well-received werewolf horror-comedy “Dog Soldiers” and hit a high point with 2005's “The Descent,” a harrowingly bleak, blood-drenched creature feature about a group of spelunkers being terrorized by pale-skinned humanoid cave dwellers.
Though Marshall has dipped in and out of horror in the years since — his recent credits include the 2010 historical actioner “Centurion” and two episodes of HBO's “Game of Thrones” — he remains most closely associated with the genre that made him a star. Now he's making a return to form with “Tales of Halloween,” a new ten-part anthology film created, produced and partially directed by his wife Axelle Carolyn, who brought together a group of both established and up-and-coming filmmakers including Lucky McKee (“May,” “The Woman”), Darren Lynn Bousman (“Saw II-IV”), Paul Solet (“Grace”) and, of course, Marshall himself to bring their own unique visions to a series of of ghoulish, interlinked tales set on Halloween night.
Late last week I interviewed Marshall about his bookending segment “The Bad Seed” — which rather humorously imagines what might happen if your friendly neighborhood jack-o'-lanterns developed a taste for human flesh — but our conversation veered in all different directions, from his “Splat Pack” origins to his time working on Bryan Fuller's now-canceled NBC series “Hannibal” to the role of women filmmakers in horror.
You can check out highlights from our conversation below. “Tales of Halloween” hits theaters and VOD this Friday.
He still wants to make more horror films — but knows it will take a whopper of a project to live up to “The Descent.”
“I still aim to make more horror films at some point if I find the right material. It's all about the story. And that's kind of what I've been waiting for is the next great horror project to come along. Without sounding egotistical, 'The Descent' doesn't come along every day. And I'm incredibly proud of that film, but it's in some respects a kind of hard act to follow.”
Bryan Fuller told him to be “as pretentious as you want” when preparing to direct his “Hannibal” episode.
“The best thing about that show was that Bryan Fuller — he kind of wrestled it away from the network in order to maintain as much creative control as possible. And when I arrived, he basically said to me 'This show is an arthouse movie disguised as a TV show, so you should just be as pretentious if you want. And I'll tell you if it's right or wrong, but you know, just be as pretentious as you like and have fun with it.' And I came up with a bunch of crazy ideas, and he was like, 'Yeah, do it. It works for the story, it works for the characters. Let's do it.'”
Directing “The Bad Seed” felt like a return to his “Dog Soldiers” roots.
“It did. 100%. Doing a monster movie, doing something that has a really kind of, you play it straight but it's like a pitch-black sense of humor, was uh — people forget that 'Dog Soldiers' was actually really funny. Some people don't see that at all. People think it's just a scary movie, and don't get the jokes. I watched it again over the weekend in Denver at the Mile High Horror Festival, and everyone was laughing as much as they were screaming. You know? It's a very funny film. And I think over the years, people have forgotten that I'm capable of that because I keep doing, you know, things like 'Game of Thrones' and stuff that have very little humor. …I guess it takes people a little bit by surprise, you know, because they're expecting 'The Descent,' which is kind of relentlessly dark and foreboding. But even that has some humor in it.”
He will always choose to use practical effects if at all possible.
“For me, it's vital. I will always choose to do something practical if I can. If I can get something real in front of the camera and shoot it in camera, that's always my preference for these kind of things. I just think it stands the test of time better, it looks real. Even the best CG in the world tends to have something about it that takes you out of reality a little bit.”
He thinks Hollywood needs to “open its eyes” to women filmmakers, both in horror and across genres.
“I don't know what the answer to it all is. For me, I don't care what sex somebody is, it's more about merit. So I don't believe that there should be quotas on women directors, but it's up to an industry that's incredibly sexist at its roots to open its eyes and see that there are some amazingly talented directors out there who happen to be women. That side of it is irrelevant, it's the fact that they're really talented. If they're not making movies, we're missing out. Something like this, it's like, yes, Axelle has horror running through her veins. She lives and breathes the stuff. Probably more so than I do. …But she also, she's fought…to get where she is. She's worked hard at it. …Bottom line for me on women on horror is…Mary Shelley was a woman. [Laughs] The icon of horror of all time. Do not forget this. To be discriminating is just ridiculous.”
When you're a director, it's “slightly unnerving” to have other directors watch you work.
“We did [all the 'Tales of Halloween' segments] back to back. We kind of shot it like a feature, but with like different — you know, every two days a new director would come in and do their segment. And what that enabled us to do was go and visit each of the sets and hang out with each other on set, which is not something we really get to do that often. And in the case of mine, I had like all the directors come in and hang out on my set to appear in the police station scene. It's slightly unnerving having lots of directors look at you doing your job.”
If he could choose any other holiday to craft a horror movie around, it would be…Guy Fawkes Day?
“We have a great holiday in the U.K. called — it's November the 5th — it's referred to as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, and it's a celebration of a guy called Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. And what we do in a kind of pagan ritual is we burn his effigy on fire every year.”
I think we just settled on Neil Marshall's next horror movie.