An American tradition with its own fanbase, Spirit Halloween is a chain of stores that take over vacant retail spaces in the run up to October. But now they’re breaking out and bringing the screams to screens with their very first film.
Spooky Night: The Spirit of Halloween sees three teenagers spend the night of October 31st inside the store – but they’re not alone… The restless spirit (see what they did there?) of town meanie Alec Windsor (Christopher Lloyd) is determined to find his way back to mortal soil!
Director David Poag sat down with SFX to talk animatronic troubles and cinematic heroes…
SFX: Where did the idea for this movie come from?
David Poag: Billie [Bates] wrote the script years prior, it had completed some festival circuits. She's Australian and her kids were infatuated with the store. She said most of her Halloween experiences, or thoughts of the holiday came from watching American movies as a kid. So I think she was just kind of infatuated with the whole process of it, but wrote the script without any involvement of Spirit Halloween. It did take place in a Spirit Halloween store, but when we started the project, we had no idea if we were going to actually partner up with them or if we were going to have to create our own version for the movie.
How did it work with their involvement at the start?
There was a little bit of a disconnect. They thought, ‘We're gonna do this, we need to set up the best version of a Spirit Halloween store there's ever been’, and in the story it's an old spooky, rundown, abandoned retail space that this creepy Halloween store moves into and that's very ingrained into the narrative. I remember when it clicked on Spirit Halloween’s side, and they understood, ‘Oh, this is a story.’ When they finally got on board with that part of it, it got much more fun.
Did you film in an actual store?
This got greenlit so late in the season. Technically, we shot in November, December and January and I remember fighting to try to shoot some town B roll before all the natural Halloween decorations went away. We had to create some of our own Halloween stuff. It was an existing store, down in a little town called Rome, Georgia, but it was already almost empty – they really, really get cleared out in the Halloween season.
How did it work with incorporating existing characters?
Billie's first draft of the script had included some Spirit Halloween characters as the main animatronics but they were from years past. As the cave came into play in the script – we incorporated that based on some stuff we found in Georgia and really wanted to up the adventure element of the movie – the Nightcrawler Spirit Halloween character was clearly the best monster to go down into the cave, and that was one that was on the way out. They scoured their inventory across the country and they found us two Nightcrawlers, and then a box of Nightcrawler parts.
We used the parts for the burning scene. One Nightcrawler had to be completely modified into a costume. The hero animatronics always had a version that could be operated by a stunt performer.
Teddykins, the teddy bear character, was a script creation and we made that for the movie. That's become one of my favourite monsters. I'm wondering if there's plans for a Teddykins character of some kind.
What was it like working with Christopher Lloyd?
Just kind of unreal. He is just a legend. It was clear he was very familiar with the script, cared about his character. He asked a lot of questions about how he wanted it to feel. I mean, you meet him on the day he dies in the movie. What are all his motivations? It didn't feel like he was just coming in to play a part in a little movie. It felt like a project that he was in, cared about and worked on.
It hits the mark of being traditional yet also quite scary at parts…
We wanted it to be really scary for the right age group. There's nothing gross, there's no gore, there's no real violence, but we wanted it to feel like there is a real sense of danger. There are real stakes involved and if a kid of a similar age to the kids in the movie is watching this, they need to go through that emotional thrill ride of experiencing it through them, being afraid for them and coming out victorious at the end.
Is this the start of a new annual Halloween viewing tradition?
The dream is that it would become some sort of tradition. I'm a dad, I have kids, I end up seeing a lot of kid movies. It was important to me to make a movie that the parents would also enjoy because those are few and far between. I think there's a lot of things that people will put their kids in front of, and then go do something else. I'm hoping that this is pretty enjoyable for everybody. That was the goal. One thing I really liked about this film was that it's present day, it's not period. But it has the same classic sensibilities of a lot of the adventure films in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I really wanted to embrace that.
Spooky Night: The Spirit of Halloween is released in selected cinemas from October 13. Own it on DVD & Digital from October 16. For more scares, check out our guide to the best Horror movies of all time.