‘Tales of Halloween’s’ Axelle Carolyn has discovered the formula for a perfect jump scare

Axelle Carolyn was a horror fanatic long before she was a horror filmmaker, beginning her career as a journalist for Fangoria magazine before directing a number of horror shorts and picking up small roles in films including two of husband Neil Marshall's films: 2008 post-apocalyptic actioner “Doomsday” and the historical war film “Centurion” starring Michael Fassbender. In 2013, she made her feature directorial debut with the supernatural horror film “Soulmate,” which premiered at that year's Sitges Film Festival. 

No doubt Carolyn's biggest effort to date is the upcoming horror anthology “Tales of Halloween,” for which she rounded up a number of fellow filmmakers including Lucky McKee (“May, “The Woman”), Darren Lynn Bousman (“Saw II-IV”) and Marshall — who directs the film's final segment “The Bad Seed” — for ten tales of All Hallows Eve-themed terror. Not only did she create and produce the film, Carolyn also directed one of the segments — “Grim Grinning Ghost,” which takes its title from the vengeful spirit of Mary Bailey, a disfigured woman who was mercilessly bullied in life and has now returned to exact her retribution.

For Carolyn, the project grew out of her personal relationships with the filmmakers (“We're a bunch of friends who love the same films, we love horror movies, we discuss horror movies all the time, we hang out…we thought it'd be a great thing to channel that into something that we could all work on together,” she told me) but was quite the professional undertaking, as it fell to her to serve as ringleader for the disparate talents involved. 

“I took it upon myself to be the one who gets [everyone] together and makes sure everything is good…which was a huge amount of time and also a huge, huge amount of work,” she told me “I don't think we realized it when we took it on.”

Below you can find a few highlights from our conversation about the film, which hits theaters and VOD on Friday.

“Grim Grinning Ghost” was inspired by a Disney movie.

“The inspiration for [the film] came from a bunch of different films that I watch every Halloween. I love the Sleepy Hollow [animated movie] by Disney, 'The Adventures of Ichabod [and Mr Toad].' It has very much the same kind of setup as this. Which is that it's an urban legend…and you never really know if it's someone doing a prank or if it's a real thing.”

She has discovered the key to crafting a good jump scare.

“Misdirection. I think that's what it is. I analyzed a lot of jump scares, obviously before I made this. I think that every time you make a film you try to research what works and what doesn't. And here I kind of went through all the jump scares that I loved the most and kinda tried to see what works. …There's a lot here, a lot of little moments where people will [think], 'Oh, now it's gonna happen!' Oh no, it doesn't. 'Now it's gonna happen!' No, it doesn't. And when it actually strikes you, hopefully you've reached a point where you don't expect it to anymore. That was the biggest part of it. The jump scare itself — I used to think that the scare was in the shot itself, and I generally think that the scare is in everything that comes before that…the film is really a seven-minute buildup to that jump scare.”

Some of her biggest influences make cameos in the film, including the guy who made a little movie called “Re-Animator.”

“A lot of [my influences] were actually in the film, which was really, really cool. People like Stuart Gordon, who makes an appearance in my film. 'Re-Animator' was one of the first films that made me think, 'Wow, I need to make horror movies! That would be so great!' And then he evolved into this very sophisticated filmmaker, I think, the last few films that he's made, the thrillers that he's made especially, are extremely smart and well-conceived.”

She tried to get Wes Craven to make a cameo appearance in the film.

“I love Wes Craven. It was a very, very, very sad day when he passed away…we tried to have him in the film, do a cameo somehow, because he's such a huge inspiration for everybody. But he was living on the East Coast so we didn't make it work. But his shadow was all over the film somehow.”