If you grew up a movie fanatic and ever got your hands on a video camera, it’s a good bet that at some point you and your friends made a homemade scary movie. I know my friends and I probably made the worst Jason Voorhees movie ever back in the early 1990’s. I even took a stab at a Halloween movie one cold October night with three friends and absolutely no script or basic understanding of how films are made.
I never in a million years suspected anyone would ever want to show these things to other people. The term “fan film” was not one I was very familiar with until I attended my first comic book convention about 17 years ago. Most of them were as one would expect them to be, much like the ones I made with my friends off the cuff but there were two that truly impressed and felt like legit productions. The first was a spoof of Star Wars called “Troops.” This short but genius mash up with Star Wars and the reality tv series COPS found us on Tatooine following Stormtroopers around as they went on domestic calls. Watching these faceless intergalactic policemen with mid-western accents trying to find out why Beru Lars is so angry with her husband Owen was fall-over-funny and so well executed. The other one was a Batman film with a Caped Crusader looking like he stepped right out of an Alex Ross painting. It was called “Dead End” and as Bats chased the Joker into an alleyway he found himself face to face with a Xenomorph from the Alien films. It was with these two fan made projects that the idea dawned on me that fan films could be more than just unskilled, backyard fair.
This week a new fan film was released titled: “HALLOWEEN NIGHT.” First-time writer/director JP DeStefano sent me a link to his film a few days ago wanting to see what I thought and with fan films you figure that 9 times out of 10 you are going to want to shut it off 3 minutes in and with a run-time of one full-hour, which technically makes Halloween Night a feature length outing, it’s going to take a lot to labor through any other effort. But I have to say that from the very opening of Halloween Night, the film locks itself in as something you’re gonna want to stay around for.
The film begins with a familiar, atmospheric tune and when guitarist Tom Cochrane begins strumming the guitar riff to Red Rider’s 1981 rock song “Lunatic Fringe”—which many may recall opened the first episode of Michael Mann’s landmark television series “Miami Vice”– it immediately gives this film some class. We find ourselves moving through some kind of warehouse somewhere in Haddonfield where men are at work doing various tasks. The camera glides and finds freewheelin’ Dave (Dustin Sturgill) in some familiar forest green coveralls making his way to our film’s lead and mastermind himself, JP DeStefano who plays the grandson of Dr. Sam Loomis. John Loomis appears to be the man in charge at the warehouse for the night and is stuck working overtime but it doesn’t stop Dave from trying to coax him into going to a killer Halloween party in town. John gracefully declines saying he promised to hang with his wife, Samantha (Ainura DeStefano)–an aspiring actress– to which Dave rags him to no end about.
Dave heads out but before he even makes it through the door a large man in prison garb attacks him in the shadows and beats him to death. Cut to two kids out trick or treating (Carson Dorn and Julia Glessner) who are very strong performers for their age. The two make it to the home of Ronnie (Michael Tula) and Tracey (Erin Wasmund) where we discover they are also going to the same Halloween party but Tracey is having a hell of a time getting Ronnie—dressed as Jack Burton by the way—to stop working on his truck in the garage. As Tracey gives our kiddos all of her candy, the Shape makes his first kill taking Ronnie out with a wrench. He then moves inside to stalk Tracey before finally murdering her as well. The Shape (played by John Schilling) exits the house wearing the classic Shatner style Myers mask to confront another trick or treater. He moves into the night as a family comes to the house for treats only to spy through the open front door the bloody hand of Tracey peeking out from another room. The kids call their father over who spots the dead woman and tells his children he thinks this is going to be their last house for the night. A familiar crane shot rises above them and the house and John Carpenter’s classic theme hits as Halloween Night’s opening credits begin.
It’s a strong opening twelve minutes and the film carries that strength through it’s remaining runtime. Halloween Night features a good understanding of filmmaking with really interesting and gorgeous camera movement and framing. The film has a blend of John Carpenter’s classic style harmonized very effectively with a touch of the new. You can see the shots were well thought out with great depth of field and very nice transitions between scenes. While J.P. is making his debut as director here, it feels like it’s coming from someone whose done this before.
Born in New Jersey, J.P. was a high school athlete playing both basketball and football. In 2004 after graduation he moved to Texas to attend the University of Houston majoring in business. But ten years before that, young DeStefano took an interest in becoming an actor after seeing Jan De Bont’s 1994 action film “Speed.” His mom was none too happy when she found the young dreamer re-enacting scenes from the film in her minivan. While he’s mostly focused on his acting, becoming an actor in 2010, Halloween Night shows he has a good grip on telling a story both on the page and visually. The story has interesting characters, is paced well and feels pretty complete granted it only has an hour to tell it. There are even expert set ups and pay offs throughout showing DeStefano knows his way around writing a script.
The cast in the film all do a fine job which is a real bonus for any fan film. JP is a convincing everyman lead while Ainura DeStefano brings us an eager young mother on the brink of getting her big break in Hollywood and in desperate need of a scene partner for a video audition she has to get made that night. Sandra Gronberg is a delight in the role of the archetypical babysitter for the franchise–Nancy–and her cat and mouse sequence with The Shape has some clever moments and one brilliant job of blocking when the Shape finally strikes. Victor V Gelsomino as her boyfriend Trevor has a fun, and beautifully framed and lit scene featuring everyone’s favorite boogeyman and Blue Oyster Cult ballad.
DeStefano’s role in front of the camera being the grandson of Dr. Loomis isn’t the only character nod in the film. Joe Grisaffi, an actor and award-winning director out of Houston with acting credits dating back to 1986 plays Tommy Doyle very effectively making me wish we had more scenes with him.
Halloween Night features a lot of music from the original film series including tracks from Carpenter’s original along with bits from the 2018 sequel. And I am pretty sure I heard one cue from 1988’s “The Return of the Michael Myers” in there as well. The film does feature some original composing from Dwyane Cathey and several original songs by party man Dave himself, Dustin Sturgill. The film closes with John Carpenter’s “Night” off of his Lost Themes album from 2015.
The cinematography in the film is in the hands of Mario Almanza whose only IMDB credit is shooting film which is pretty impressive as it shows professional experience and confidence. And like any good DP knows, without a great art department and set decorator you have less interesting things to shoot so kudos to set decorator Steffi Grace.
I must confess that I have only seen maybe a handful of Halloween based fan films but out of those I have seen, HALLOWEEN NIGHT is the best of the bunch. It pays great homage while being its own film with well defined characters, great pacing, a sharp script, strong and creative visuals and good sound. Fans of the franchise should definitely give it a watch. The film raised 12K in an indiegogo campaign but it certainly looks like the budget was much higher. Congrats to JP and his team for pulling off a well-rounded, engaging tribute to John Carpenter’s beloved world of Halloween. Halloween Night can now be found streaming free on Youtube. They already have well over 100K views and I suspect it will only keep rising and solidify itself next to other best of the best that fans have offered in the past.