As a lifelong Monster Kid, the only thing better than a good horror movie is a good horror movie that’s set on Halloween. Despite the fact that the entire month of October is devoted to horror, there are surprisingly few movies actually set on our favorite holiday—and even fewer when talking about the really good ones.
The Terror of Hallow’s Eve, the new movie from accomplished makeup effects artist and director Todd Tucker, is a celebration of Halloween, of monsters, of everything we horror fans love about the season. It begins as an autobiographical story about Tim (Caleb Thomas), a 15-year-old kid obsessed with monsters, who gets bullied by some douchebag classmates on Halloween. When left alone to pass out candy by his doting single mom (Sarah Lancaster), a nurse who has to work the night shift, Tim conjures up the spirit of The Trickster (Doug Jones under nightmarish human jester puppet makeup), a Halloween demon who helps Tim take revenge on those that bullied him.
Essentially a live-action adaptation of the animated wraparound story in Creepshow 2 (not really, but you get it), The Terror of Hallow’s Eve takes its sweet time to get going, opting to really set up Tim and his plight before pivoting to full-on horror. There are few horror fans who won’t be able to identify with a character who would rather spend time painting monster models in his garage than hanging out and smoking pot outside of a convenience store. The most interesting stuff during this section of the film is the complicated relationship between Tim and his mother, who he blames for driving away his abusive, drug-addicted father (Christian Kane). Lancaster, who seems too young to already be playing the mother of a teenage son, does her best with a difficult role, giving the movie a solid emotional spine and making us worry about Tim because she worries about Tim. The screenplay, credited to actor Zack Ward from a story by Tucker, understands that devoting a good amount of screen time to developing the characters makes us care a lot more when the horror really cuts loose in the movie’s second half.
Once that horror starts, The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is a monster-filled blast. The film turns into a full-on creature feature with monsters that are impressively designed, and, more importantly, executed with practical physical effects and not CGI. It makes all the difference. When a bunch of spiders attack a character on screen, it’s much creepier when we can see that real things are chasing the actor, not a bunch of cartoons with no weight. The designs are cool—the way they’re used in the movie is so much scary fun. Doug Jones doesn’t get a ton of screen time as the rhyming Trickster, but it’s a testament to his performance and the character makeup that he makes as much of an impact as he does—he’s cool enough to get his own franchise.
In addition to an extended epilogue that diminishes the impact of what should be the obvious ending (but does manage to set up a sequel, should one ever be greenlit), Hallow’s Eve falls victim to the same celebratory nostalgia that plagues much of modern horror ranging from It to Stranger Things. Director Tucker’s reverence for John Carpenter is palpable everywhere, from the way he invokes an atmosphere reminiscent of Halloween to his choice of font to certain cast members that show up to even a couple of music cues from Carpenter’s own Lost Themes album. These aspects don’t necessarily hurt the movie, especially considering how much Tucker gets the feel of ’80s horror right instead of just relying on obvious signifiers. But they do make The Terror of Hallow’s Eve feel familiar within the contemporary horror scene when it ought to stand out as an effective little throwback.
Sure, it has some rough edges, and, sure, the storytelling can be a little bumpy at times, but The Terror of Hallow’s Eve is worth seeking out just for its super cool practical monster effects and its real affection for the kinds of horror movies I grew up loving. In two or three years, this is going to be the movie that gets name checked by genre fans when recommending a Halloween-themed horror film that isn’t Halloween or Trick ’r Treat. We get so few good monster movies these days that we need to celebrate one when it comes along.
Movie Score: 3/5
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