Tales of Halloween
October 16th, 2015
Axelle Carolyn, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, Clint Sears and John Skipp
Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp and Paul Solet
Tales of Halloween follows in the footsteps of older siblings like Creepshow, Trick-r-Treat andTwilight Zone: The Movie. It tries really hard to impress, wanting to escape the shadow of these legendary horror anthologies to make a name for itself. And despite some very entertaining components in its ten-tale set-up, it doesn’t quite reach the iconic status of these classic forerunners.
One of the joys of Tales of Halloween, especially if you’re a die-hard horror freak, is that you get to play “the cameo game”. Each episode has various horror celebs in the cast or behind the camera.
There are also legendary horror directors sprinkled throughout in small acting roles, in the forms ofRe-Animator’s Stuart Gordon, The Howling‘s Joe Dante and An American Werewolf in London’s John Landis. As for actors filling out the cast roster, horror favorites such as The Woman’s Pollyanna McIntosh, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s Caroline Williams, Cabin Fever’s Cerina Vincent, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2’s Robert Rusler, It Follows ’ Keir Gilchrist, Insidious’ Lin Shaye, The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Barry Bostwick and Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton. And that’s just a small sampling. And of course, Adrienne Barbeau channels her beloved character “Stevie Wayne” from Carpenter’s The Fog – as the radio announcer/narrator who keeps the film moving along from story to story on this Halloween night in this quaint little town.
Behind the camera, such directing visionaries as Lucky McKee (May, The Woman), Darren Lyn Bousman (Saw II, III and IV), and The Descent’s Neil Marshall offer up their entries into this crazy horror feast.
Of the 10 stories, there are plenty of duds and there are plenty of triumphs. I’ll just provide a quick run-down of my favorites from best to worst and some brief thoughts.
“Friday the 31st” takes top honors. Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider) is the writer/director behind this strongest episode. It takes any number of stalk-n-slash clichés and joys and turns them on their ear. I won’t spoil the fun of this particular story, but along with the antics of a typical “Jason” or “Michael”, you get some additional fun when things go more in the direction of Fire in the Sky and The Evil Dead. Laugh out loud goodness and perfect comic timing make “Friday the 31st“ the episode you’ll definitely look for upon a repeat viewing.
Taking the #2 spot is Neil Marshall’s “Bad Seed”. Marshall has given us such treats as Dog Soldiersand the brilliant The Descent. Here, he takes a less serious route and just has some fun as he presents us with a man-eating jack-o-lantern. Its high placement in this ranking says it all. It’s also the final story, which ties together many of the other segments. The effects of the creature will have you howling with laughter and joy. Speaking of howling, The Howling’s Joe Dante makes a cameo appearance here.
In at #3 is “Trick”, written and directed by Adam Gierasch – the writer/director of 2009’s Night of the Demons. The title of this chapter gives us a clue as to the story’s direction (or mis-direction). A group of 20-somethings drink, smoke pot and watch scary flicks on Halloween night, occasionally answering the door to greet young trick-or-treaters. I won’t spoil this one, but it’s not what you’d expect. For this surprise, it’s worthy of third place.
“The Ransom of Rusty Rex” comes in at #4. From writer/director Ryan Schifrin, it’s another surprising and unexpected pay-off. Iconic director John Landis has a cameo in this story. He’s Jebediah Rex, father to the young Rusty, played by the late Ben Woolf (to whom the entire picture is dedicated). Rusty’s kidnapped by two bumbling ne’er-do-wells (Sam Witwer and Jose Pablo Castillo of The Walking Dead). They soon learn that this kid would have been better left at home. Jebediah won’t pay the kid’s ransom, and will barely take the criminal’s calls. But why? Once they remove little trick-or-treater Rusty’s mask, they’ll figure it out.
Lucky McKee brings us “Ding Dong” (in my #5 spot). It’s a Hansel and Gretel-inspired tale with The Woman ’s Pollyanna McIntosh. It’s a little more esoteric than many of the other tales. McIntosh is a witch on the search for some yummy children. Her long-suffering husband (Marc Senter), dressed as Hansel, must help her answer the door to greet the many trick-or-treaters, as she searches for the perfect addition to their family. Visually, this segment is a treat, as McKee has random flashes of a multi-armed McIntosh against black backgrounds – most notably when McIntosh’s witch becomes impatient and angry.
“Sweet Tooth” takes the #6 spot. Written and directed by Dave Parker, it stars horror stalwarts Caroline Williams and Robert Rusler, as the parents of little Sweet Tooth – a kid with a deep need for Halloween candy. It’s good and gory fun, and we get to see Williams and Rusler make out! I really enjoyed this segment, but it couldn’t quite break the top five.
In at #7 is “Grimm Grinning Ghost”, written and directed by Axelle Carolyn (spouse of Neil Marshall – keeping it in the horror family) This episode has a fantastic slew of horror cameos – Insidious’ Lin Shaye, Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton, horror director Stuart Gordon, horror director Mick Garris and our favorite Mars Attacks! lady, Lisa Marie. It’s a pretty simple premise, as Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) drives home from a Halloween get-together – having just heard all manner of creepy tales. Her car breaks down (naturally) and so she has to walk the remainder of the way to her dark house. Visually well done, with some good scares, but the #7 ranking tells the tale.
“The Weak and the Wicked” finds a home at #8. Written and directed by Dark Summer’s Paul Solet, he reunites with two of his stars from that film; It Follows’ Keir Gilchrist and The Vampire Diaries’ Grace Phipps. It’s a revenge tale, very in-line with Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead. Shot well and with a satisfying ending, it just didn’t rank highly on my list.
Next up is “This Means War”. John Skipp (one of the writers behind A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child ) and Andrew Kasch (horror documentary filmmaker) bring us the #9 entry. Two competing neighbors try to one up each other with their very different styles of Halloween decorating. It’s entertaining, but there’s not much behind the thin premise. This one stars James Duval (Independence Day) and comic writer/actor Dana Gould.
And finally, the least of our ten stories: “The Night Billy Raised Hell” Saw II, Saw III and Saw IVdirector Darren Lynn Bousman gives us the tale of a young kid taken inside of the typical “old house that everyone avoids ‘cause the owner’s creepy and weird”. Barry Bostwick plays that unsavory character, taking little Billy on an evening of debauchery in the neighborhood, causing havoc and playing more tricks than offering treats. Payoff’s not great, and overall this particular tale failed to keep my interest – thus landing in a dreaded last place.
I think that had some of the under-performing stories been excised from the film and some of the better ones expanded, Tales of Halloween would have been a true winner. As is, some of the pieces (namely “This Means War” and “The Night Billy Raised Hell”) felt undeveloped and uninspired, thus dragging down the rest of the quality pieces.
Look at it as a block of short films at your favorite genre film festival. Generally you have to wade through a few clunkers to get to the really good stuff. Tales of Halloween is truly a self-contained short film block. You simply have to wonder how some of the films made the final cut as “official selections”.
However, I was impressed with the overall feel of the film, despite the different visions, directors and moods, it still had a pretty cohesive flow. They all felt like part of the same story. Helping that along, was the clever re-appearances of several characters in different stories.
Tales of Halloween opens in theatres on October 16th, but if you’re in the LA area, you can see it as part of Screamfest’s opening night festivities!