Those of you who have been following Popcorn Horror for a while, will know that I have a weakness for anthology films. There’s been some amazing examples over the years, and horror fans have been clamouring for more from this sub-genre since the unexpected success of Trick R Treat. Sam might have demonstrated how well a Halloween setting is suited to this formula, but did you know that director John Carpenter originally intended to create an extended horror anthology with the Halloween franchise. The plan was never to keep resurrecting Michael Myers, but to tell different stories set around Halloween and the kinds of spooky happenings likely to go on during the scariest night of the year.
While we love Myers, many horror fans have been curious as to what the series could have been. And with Trick R Treat 2 still a while from release, there’s definitely some room for more Halloween anthology. As we’ve been saying for years – what’s lacking in mainstream horror can often be found in the indie scene. Enter The Witching Season a new independent horror anthology series being published on YouTube by Witching Season Films.
Witching Season Films is a horror film production company formed by filmmaker Michael Ballif. The team are currently working on the anthology of short horror films which attempt to capture the essence of the Halloween season. The series is influenced by classic anthology shows such as Tales From The Crypt, Are You Afraid Of The Dark?, and Tales From The Darkside. We featured the fantastic first two episodes of the series as our films of the week on Friday; Killer on the Loose and Princess.
We spoke to the founder of the film studio, Michael Ballif, as well as the director of Princess and the upcoming third segment James L. Morris about this awesome project.
Tell us a bit about the background of Witching Season and how the idea came about?
Michael: As a kid of the 90’s, Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid Of The Dark? was my first experience with the horror anthology format. I still remember the excitement of hustling home from school and gathering with friends to watch each new episode. I was instantly captivated by the creepy opening sequence and theme song, which I still maintain is one of the creepiest series intros ever. I also loved the concept that each episode had the freedom to explore a wide range of stories and characters, even spanning between different genres. It was a memorable part of my childhood, which I’ve been reflecting on frequently as of late. The Witching Season came from a desire to evoke similar feelings to a new audience.
What are your plans for the series as a whole?
Michael: I’m excited to continue exploring different sub-genres horror. It’s been a fun challenge to build suspense, tension, and scares within these different arenas. But mostly, I think we’re just having a fun time with the project. I’d be interested in taking the concept of the series and making a spinoff feature at some point in the future.
Tell us about the individual episodes you have released so far.
Michael: We’ve released two episodes so far, with a third on the way. I wrote and directed the pilot episode “Killer on the Loose”, which has elements of an 80’s slasher film, with a twist. My Producers James Morris, Parker Markcroft, and myself all share the same feeling that the series should be kept interesting and different from episode to episode. Episode one has a much more serious and sinister tone than the second episode, “Princess”, directed by my good friend James Morris. I had written a short story called Night of the Living Rabbit, which is what inspired the idea for James’ screenplay. Episode two features a lot more dialogue than episode one, and has some really fantastic comedic moments thanks to James’ natural comedic timing.
James: The first episode was in post-production when Michael presented me with his basic idea for Episode 2. My goal was to create something that fit with “Killer on the Loose”, while at the same time, evoked a stranger vibe and had its own unique feel. I have written and directed several films over the last few years, but Princess provided me with a unique opportunity to take the lead on a horror film, which was something I had not done before. I enjoy movies that allow me to suspend my belief for a while, which is exactly what I hope this short allowed other people to do. I got to work with an amazing crew and very talented actresses who were all so professional and made the production a lot of fun.
Can you tell us anything about what to expect from future episodes?
Michael: I’m most excited about the challenge of ramping up the quality and scope of each episode as we move forward. We have stories and ideas in the works that we really can’t wait to share with our audience.
James: I am going to write and direct Episode 3 before turning the reigns back over to Michael. While I don’t want to give out too many details, I can say that the goal of the next episode is to embrace a simpler formula, but really focus on leaving the viewer shaken by the end. We are experimenting with some new techniques and visuals which we think will really lead to something great.
What are some of your favourite anthology horror films?
Michael: It wasn’t until recently that I discovered Tales From The Crypt and Tales From The Darkside, which I instantly became obsessed with. These shows are both incredibly imaginative and original. Another favorite would be The Willies, a more obscure feature-length horror anthology that’s amazingly bizarre, dark, and hilarious. And you can’t forget Trick R Treat. The imagery in that film is so beautiful.
James: I remember watching Twilight Zone and Goosebumps, both of which I found viciously entertaining as a child. I watched a few episodes of Tales from the Crypt as well, but the damn Crypt Keeper scared the bejesus out of me. I always went out of my way to watch things I was not supposed to at the time which drove my parent’s nuts. I’ve also drawn inspiration from some more modern anthologies like Trick ‘r Treat.
Why did you decide to set the films around Halloween?
Michael: I felt it would be important to have some sort of tie-in to help give the series something unique to stand on. There is also a certain inherent eerie and nostalgic feeling about the Halloween season that has always felt important to me. Going back to childhood, I wanted to attempt to capture those feelings and atmosphere in some way through each episode.
James: It was all part of Michael’s series formula from very early on, and I think it’s a big part of what is going to make these films stand out. I really enjoyed finding ways to embrace the season while filming Princess, because most the interiors were actually shot in August and September, which enabled us to plan our fall pickup shots in advance without having to rush anything. The seasonal colors and the October full moon were things I was particularly excited to get on camera.
What advice could you give to aspiring indie horror filmmakers?
Michael: I think the most important thing you can do is to learn to identify what it is that inspires your personal voice as an artist. Think about the things that make you tick. Look at the things that make you weird. Find those things and really try to understand what they’re about. Learn to say yes to projects and ideas that you can personally connect with, and learn to say no to the ones you don’t. Your personality and your vision is going to be the one truly original aspect of what you do.
James: In my experience, it’s all about building a strong team. No individual filmmaker is good enough to wear all the hats that a good production requires. Embrace your shortcomings and trust those who excel in areas you may lack in. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of Witching Season films because of the passion everyone involved shares. Ego has never been an issue, which is a rare thing in the film world. Whether it’s the makeup artist, the director, or the series creator… we all love what we’re doing and trust each other. This allows us to focus on the film instead of wasting time having creative battles.