The Terror Of Hallow’s Eve opens with the title card “Based on True Events,” which is a familiar conceit for many horror films. In this case the “truth” is ingrained in the film’s premise: director Todd Tucker (best known for his prolific career as a successful special effects make-up artist) really was bullied as a teen. From all accounts, however, he did not use these experiences to call forth a demon to vanquish his tormentors.
The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is wish fulfillment for any horror fan who had a rough go of it in their youth. Set on devil’s night 1981, Tim (Caleb Thomas) is your average 15 year old weirdo with a love of horror, special effects and pranking neighbourhood girls by showering them in fake blood. Exhausted single mother Linda (Sarah Lancaster) is worried about him, but her attempts to protect him – calling him “Timmy” in public and dressing down teen bullies on his behalf – only makes things worse. It’s obvious that they love each other, but Tim has misdirected his anger and frustration at his absent father Bobby (Christian Kane) towards his put-upon mother, despite the fact that flashbacks confirm that Bobby was a shit dad.
Events come to a head when Tim is beaten up by bullies Brian (JT Neal) and his buddies, Spaz (Mcabe Gregg) and Chuck (Niko Papastefanou) on Hallow’s Eve. While stumbling home, Tim discovers a pumpkin in the woods, carves it and, thanks to his bloody nose, inadvertently calls upon The Trickster (Doug Jones) to grant his wish: to scare the boys to death as revenge.
These early sections of the film are the strongest. Screenwriter Zack Ward and director Tucker fill the period film with horror callbacks such as old Fangoria magazines and movie posters on the walls of Tim‘s garage/horror prop workshop. Even the film’s opening scene, featuring three girls making plans on the walk home from school, evokes John Carpenter’s Halloween (the film also includes two of Carpenter’s tracks on the soundtrack).
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Most importantly this first third of the film dedicates substantial time to character development. Tim‘s problems are fully realized, as is his overactive imagination, visualized as both a jump scare in the attic and a Fast Times At Ridgemont High-style vision of Brian‘s sympathetic girlfriend, April (Annie Read). The relationship between Tim and his mother, as well as their tenuous financial status, encourages our investment in their situation and makes us care about their safety.
While horror fans will undoubtedly enjoy the imaginative scenarios that Tim and The Trickster unleash on their victims for the rest of the film, The Terror on Hallow’s Eve makes a fatal flaw by shifting its attention away from Tim. While the attack sequences are suitably exciting and the film is a love letter to practical effects (which I am down for), the decision to focus on the one-dimensional bullies that we know nothing about doesn’t make sense. In the dreamscapes lorded over by The Trickster (he appears as a scarecrow, a spider, a banshee and – my favourite – stringless marionettes with tiny knives), Tim never appears to dole out the punishment on his attackers. If the film’s entire message is that Tim must stand up for himself, his lack of involvement is counter intuitive. Add to this Linda being sidelined (she more or less disappears for two-thirds of the film), the abrupt nature of Brian‘s attack in comparison to the other boys’ (so brief that I thought it was a fake-out) and the unnecessary coda* and it feels as though Zack and Tucker lost sight of what they were trying to achieve.
*Don’t even get me started on the extended epilogue in the mental hospital. The five minute sequence feels aimless and sluggish, existing solely to tease a potential sequel and pad the run time (the film clocks in at a scant 80 minutes).
These criticisms shouldn’t suggest that the film isn’t watchable, however. Although the film loses its emotional and thematic focus when the bloodletting begins, the effects and Jones’ performance alone makes The Terror of Hallow’s Eve worth seeking out. As you would expect, Jones’ The Trickster is flawlessly entertaining and creepy. And while I wouldn’t describe the film as scary, the practical effects used to bring Tim‘s imagination to life are fun and well-executed; they’re evocative of films like Labyrinth and Gremlins, which feels right in line for a film set in the early 80s.
All in all, you likely won’t leave a screening of The Terror of Hallow’s Eve frightened, but you will leave entertained.