Horror anthology films look to be making a comeback with the likes of A Christmas Horror Story, Holidays, XX and Fear Paris (hopefully) hitting screens in the next year, but based on the talent involved one of the most anticipated has to be Tales of Halloween. Eleven writers/directors have come together under the moniker of The October Society to deliver ten tales inspired by the holiday.
As with any anthology film there are highs and lows to be found, but happily there are far more of the former than the latter thanks to no shortage of gory delights, fun twists and cameos by the likes of John Landis, Joe Dante, Mick Garris – something of a Quicksilver Highway reunion there – Adam Green and Adrienne Barbeau (as a radio DJ who neglects to mention the strange fog bank rolling into town).
The biggest collective issue may not actually be an issue for most viewers, but it’s worth noting going in that the segments almost across the board aim to be far more comedic than horrific. Terrible things are unfolding onscreen to be sure, but more often than not the filmmakers steer towards laughter rather than terror or scares. Those hoping for straight horror will be disappointed, but fans of Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow will find more than enough to enjoy here.
A new Halloween urban legend is birthed in Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth” as a pair of mischievous teens terrify the girl’s younger brother with a warning about what happens if you eat all of your candy. It’s a simple setup that delivers the fun and gory goods as the teens’ story proves itself to be true.
Darren Lynn Bousman’s “The Night Billy Raised Hell” (written by Clint Sears) casts Barry Bostwick as a devilish curmudgeon who takes a young boy under his wing on Halloween night to show him the real power of pranks. Things quickly escalate from egging a house to flaming bear traps, and the laughs continue until the very end of the lesson. Bousman over does it a bit with “comedic” sound effects and a misguided cameo by Adrianne Curry, but it remains a fast, fun and surprising little tale.
Adam Gierasch’s “Trick” sees two couples sharing drinks and door duty as cute little kids come knocking for candy, but the night takes a turn when some of the children come looking for more than sugary treats. This is easily the film’s darkest segment as it goes to some mean and grisly places before revealing the even more sinister motivation behind it all. There are still a few laughs along the way, but don’t expect a funny punch of an ending.
A picked-upon teen (Keir Gilchrist) seeks revenge on those who bullied him in Paul Solet’s “The Weak and the Wicked,” and while it’s pretty straight forward there’s a bit of an issue with the setup. The trio of oppressors – Grace Phipps, Noah Segan, Booboo Stewart – are the least convincing thugs to grace the screen since David Patrick Kelly tried to intimidate The Warriors. They’re all fine actors, but individually or as a group they’re just not bully material. It lessens the payback somewhat, but happily some solid creature effects distract from that distraction.
Axelle Carolyn, who also spear-headed the anthology, delivers the cautionary tale of the “Grimm Grinning Ghost,” about a young woman (Alexandra Essoe) targeted by Bloody Mary-like urban legend. There are a couple of truly creepy moments here aided by attractive camera work and a knowing visual style, and while it plays with expectations a bit it manages to end with a well-timed shock.
Lucky McKee’s “Ding Dong” finds a couple mourning the absence of their own child through some highly unhealthy behaviors. Pollyanna McIntosh plays the mad, witchy woman in big, bold strokes that feel far too broad even as McKee’s visual style tries to match it. The core story has real sadness and horror as its base, but both of these elements get lost amid the loud, exaggerated atmosphere.
“This Means War,” from Andrew Kasch and John Skipp, sees two neighbors get into a violent battle over competing lawn decorations. This is basically a Halloween-themed variation on 2006’s forgettable Deck the Halls, and while there are a couple of fun bits it never goes beyond its already thin setup.
Mike Mendez’s “Friday the 31st” finds a young woman on the run from a masked, backwoods killer who’s already slain all of her friends. The setup is familiar to slasher fans, but it quickly shifts gears in a fun and unpredictable direction.
A crime goes from bad to worse in Ryan Schifrin’s “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” as a pair of kidnappers make the mistake of abducting John Landis’ son only to discover the kid is a bit of a prick. This one’s all about the laughs as the two try in vain to unload their catch before discovering that not only does crime not pay but it might also kill you.
Neil Marshall closes out the film with “Bad Seed,” a tale of a Jack-o-lantern gone bad, and while Joe Dante cameos it’s Kristina Klebe and her seed-filled nemesis who steal the show. The monster here is fun and creatively-designed, the ending leaves you wanting more and Klebe’s hard-ass cop is one you’ll want to see in action again.
Tales of Halloween is good fun, but it’s difficult not to wish that more of the stories had aimed for darker, more terrifying and affecting goals. Still, the EC Comics attitude finds a new home with Carolyn and her crew, and with any luck the film will spawn a new Halloween tradition of fun, gory, spooky anthology films highlighted by short, messy bursts of genre talent.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival