One of the most exciting trends happening in the horror genre right now is the revival of anthology films. The ’80s fad which included titles like Tales From the Darkside, Body Bags, Creepshow, and The Twilight Zone was kicked back into high gear by Michael Doughtery and his 2009 cult hit Trick ‘r Treat, and has been growing more prominent and skillful in its execution every year. With the last few years including gems like V/H/S, V/H/S/2, Chillerama, Three Extremes, and upcoming movies like XX, Southbound, and Holidays announced, it’s not just a thrilling time to be a horror fan, but also, to be a director, as anthologies provide newcomers with the chance to make their voices heard, and display their visions using a tool that provides them with a link to the outside world.
Tales of Halloween is a terrific example of using the anthology style to the filmmakers’ advantage, since it houses not two, not three, but ten vignettes from eleven different directors. This not only gives viewers a versatile film to enjoy, but also allows these accomplished filmmakers the chance to show off their skills in a fun film centered around All Hallows Eve.
Like an omniscient observer gazing quietly over a quaint suburban neighborhood, Tales peeks in on ten different stories, all happening in the same streets, all on the magical and mysterious holiday of Halloween. Coaxed into the story by a smokey-voiced radio DJ a la John Carpenter’s The Fog, the setup is simple and smooth, as her husky voice warns the viewer that spooky spirits will soon arise, and strange things will shortly unfold in the hours that follow when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest.
“Sweet Tooth” by Dave Parker
A tiny Snake Plissken pigs out happily on Halloween candy after a bountiful night of trick-or-treating with his babysitter. It isn’t long before little Mikey has inhaled most of the treats he gathered, but his babysitter warns him that he better leave some of his candy for Timmy. When he asks who Timmy is, she and her boyfriend tell Mikey the story about the young boy who went on a crazy murderous rampage after his strict parents forbid him from ever eating his Halloween candy, and say that he’ll be next if he doesn’t spare a few pieces for Timmy’s spirit to devour. Mikey’s scared, but he shrugs it off, figuring that it’s just another trick from the older kids who like to torment him. However, when this unsuspecting group of kids break their own rules, they find that the worst time to disrespect spirits is on the one night of the year when they come out to play.
“The Night Billy Raised Hell” directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, written by Clint Sears
The Devil’s Carnival director Darren Lynn Bousman is back with this darkened twist in the spirit of Satan’s Little Helper, in a story about a boy named Billy who learns the price of giving into peer pressure the hard way, when he tries to pull a prank on the devil himself and is caught red-handed. Unaware of who he was pranking, Billy is in for a night of real thrills, when Satan gives him a run for his money and takes him out on an adventure of truly terrifying practical jokes with real dire consequences. Although the overabundance of sound effects tend to detract from the creepy discomfort that horror veteran Barry Bostwick brings to the screen, this winds up being a fun little segment with a surprising end, led by the talented Bostwick who turns out to be the perfect choice to play the devil.
“Trick” by Adam Gierasch
One fateful Halloween evening a group of friends gathered to engage in illegal substances and watch T.V. and giggle and hand out candy to tiny children dressed in costume. It was a perfectly normal holiday night until a little witch rang the doorbell and stabbed the unlucky soul who answered it. With a heartless utterance of “Trick”, the girl runs off into the darkness, but these friends’ troubles are far from over. Soon, trick-or-treaters are popping up all around the house, clawing to get in, and attacking those who try to escape. Although the finale provides an explanation for their behavior, seeing these kids duel out such horrifying acts of violence upon an unaware party with still faces that emit nothing but serenity and peace, it comes across like a brutal nightmare that the viewer can’t wake up from. Aside from how effective the horror is in this segment, it’s also just refreshing to see a director tackle a darker storyline in a anthology that mainly plays on the tongue-in-cheek side of the genre.
“The Weak and the Wicked” by Paul Solet
Three young adults have been bullying people their entire lives. Wedgies and egging houses are child’s play to this sociopathic gang of sibling misfits. They don’t seem humiliation, they seek death. Ever since they burnt their parents’ house to the ground when they were just little children, they’ve been on a tirade of terror that has spawned many years, and ended many peoples’ lives. Just as they start in on their newest victim, a masked figure appears in the alleyway to stop them. Obviously in over his head, the masked boy with strange dress runs away, trailing behind him the three kids who have made his life miserable. These thugs may think that they’re gaining on him, but little do they know, they’re being led right into his trap. See, this kid has a guardian angel protecting him from harm, ready and willing to bring down the hammer of justice upon these hooligans who seek to destroy the sacred holiday of Halloween. While the bullies may not find the idea of an angel frightening, what they fail to realize is, this is no ordinary angel. This angel fell from heaven, long ago, and down in the depths of hell he raised enough malice to smack down anyone who’s worthy of the paying the price — and this payment is long overdue. The practical effects of the devil in this piece are well worth seeing, but it feels like the actors playing the bullies were miscast. They’ve all proven to be talented in the past, but as far as portraying bullies goes, they fall just short of truly powerful intimidation. Regardless, it’s still an enjoyable segment overall, with a creepy flashback to their childhood that differentiates itself by being one of the most memorable images in the entire feature.
“Grim Grinning Ghost” by Axelle Carolyn
In perhaps the shortest segment on the list, Soulmate director and Tales of Halloween creator Axelle Carolyn tells a good old fashioned spooky ghost story about a woman who is being haunted by an entity on Halloween night. Alone and walking at a brisk pace through the fog-filled streets to her home, the woman offers only a solitary quick glance behind her, as she increases her speed upon seeing through a squint the ghoul that’s hot on her trail. Simple its in plot line, but gorgeously shot in its execution, director Carolyn makes a standout vignette that does exactly what a quick glimpse into the eerie events of All Hallows Eve should do — it scares you. Everything Carolyn has done up to this point has been as moving as it has been haunting, and it will be exciting to see what this promising filmmaker with a unique vision on the genre can whip up next.
“Ding Dong” by Lucky McKee
In this slick, strange, mystical vignette, the story takes place in two different places in time. First, Jack and Bobbie’s house last Halloween shows a devastated mother crying out for her child before ripping through her pale skin and emerging as a bright red witch with claw-spouting tentacles that tickle the air and dance around her candy cane arms. After forcefully morphing her husband into a dependent man-child, the couple is shown again, one year later, handing out candy on Halloween night. Having reverted back to her human form, Bobbie moves in loops, in an insane repeating ritual of the doorbell ringing, Bobbie pushing up her boobs, Bobbie shoving the bucket of candy into Jack’s gut, and Jack sadly greeting trick-or-treaters as Bobbie engulfs a child’s ear in front of the youngsters. Finally, a lost child is dangled in front of Bobbie like a candy apple, before suddenly finding his mother, sending Bobbie into a screaming fit of rage and regression into her old red form. As a huge fan of Lucky McKee’s resume, it’s painful to say that this shiny adaptation of Hansel and Gretel doesn’t quite put the spin on this project like his intelligent, offensive, mondo work has done in the past, which in the end only proves that Lucky is at his best when he goes for the dark and the gritty perspective. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable comedic little witch story made by a guy who clearly loves Halloween, and that’s all fans can really hope for.
“This Means War” by John Skipp and Andrew Kasch
This is the one entry that doesn’t quite play well with the other segments of the film. Although it is nice to see these directors branch out a little from what’s expected of them, tonally, it doesn’t really fit in well amongst the rest. Despite this somewhat trivial drawback, the short itself is a fun little look into the art of decorations, and opens up the discussion on what is acceptable for the holiday season — traditional, safe, bloodless props, or the newer, gorier route featuring amputated limbs and deafening heavy metal music? Told in a clever way that provides sympathy for both sides, this funny tale of an older man throwing around the typical “Get off my lawn!” criticisms and the young punk who refuses to back down shows how in the end, it doesn’t matter which mode of celebrating is correct, because all that matters is the the celebrations happen.
“Friday the 31st” by Mike Mendez
Like a mashup of Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives, Evil Dead II, and a culmination of films from the sci-fi genre featuring tiny aliens, the Big Ass Spider director proves once again just how much he loves ’80s slashers. As the story opens up with a beautiful girl running for her life from a Victor Crowley-esque character through the woods, it feels like a reincarnation of the Friday the 13th franchise, especially when she hides out in the rotting wooden structures. Unfortunately, this entry doesn’t strike up much more discussion than which films its paying homage to, but the double decapitation death scene is so hilarious and brutal that it kind of makes up for it.
“The Ransom of Rusty Rex” by Ryan Schifrin
They’ve done this a million times now, or at least that’s what it seems like. There’s a formula, and they’ve got it done to a casual routine. They kidnap the kid, bring him back to their secret abandoned warehouse, call the parents, collect the money, and return the little crybaby to his parents unharmed. That’s the way it always goes. That’s the way it should have gone, if it weren’t for the fact that these criminals bagged a critter that’s not quite human, and now, they must endure the wrath from all of the fear they’ve spread over the years. Payback is never easy, and in this situation, these two convicts will be lucky if they live through the night.
“Bad Seed” by Neil Marshall
A couple carves pumpkins together on Halloween night, keeping old traditions alive and playfully bonding through the removal of smelly seeds. Their holiday is going swimmingly. They’ve sketched cute faces into their bright orange squashes, and now, it’s time to display them. However, the pumpkins have other plans. Tired of being stabbed and poked and prodded, the plants have decided to wreak their vengeance upon this sleepy town, and maybe get a bite to eat while they’re at it, too. In this hilarious spoof on weird creature films from the ’80s (think Gremlins, Basket Case, etc.), The Descent director Neil Marshall creates an oddly lovable entry, as people-eating-pumpkins bloody up the streets with arms and legs and other limbs dangling out of their squishy grins. Although the story could have been chopped down by a few minutes, the plethora of cameos make up for the somewhat long runtime, especially with the giant reference in the end.
In the end, Tales of Halloween is a fun, exuberant addition to the sub genre of horror anthology films. Like any anthology film, it has its stronger entries, as well as its weaker inputs, but overall, it is an entertaining flick to watch on All Hallows Eve along with other holiday-themed films of the like. It would have been nice to see more of the filmmakers venture into scarier territories, like standout shorts “Trick” and “Grim Grinning Ghost”, but to be fair, the lighthearted nature only helps differentiate it from the other recent anthologies that have mostly chosen to tread down darker paths. It may not reach cult status, but Tales of Halloween will be an amusing one to watch with friends in front of a tub of popcorn and a sack full of Halloween candy on the best night of the year.