There’s no denying that horror geeks really dig the anthology film. Whether it’s an old-school classic like Dead of Night (1945), Asylum (1972), or Creepshow (1982), or a more recent omnibus like Trick ‘r Treat, V/H/S, or The ABCs of Death, it’s pretty clear that genre fans enjoy sifting through multi-story collections in the hopes of finding something strange, novel, disturbing, or just plain old creepy. And the best thing about a horror anthology is this: if you’re not crazy about the current segment, you need only wait a few minutes before a new one begins. A well-made anthology flick can offer some twists, turns, and unexpected surprises that a traditional horror film cannot — and that’s (at least partially) why the horror nuts look forward to these movies so much: because they’re fun.
The latest addition to the portmanteau collection is a raucous, wise-assed, and amusing indie called Tales of Halloween, which not only jams ten worthwhile horror stories into one fast-paced 95-minute package, but does so with an appreciably colorful tone. That’s not to say you won’t find bloody kills and gory thrills scattered across the collection, but there’s also a palpable sense of tongue-in-cheek playfulness that, yes, feels a whole lot like the Halloween season itself.
So let’s just dump the whole bag of treats onto the table.
1. Sweet Tooth (Dir: Dave Parker) — A babysitter and her boyfriend do their best to scare a kid out of gorging on candy, but end up unleashing something horrible.
2. The Night Billy Raised Hell (Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman) — An awkward kid goes on a wild crime spree with the neighborhood recluse.
3. Trick (Dir: Adam Gierasch) — A bunch of obnoxious grown-ups butt heads with a particularly nasty gang of trick-or-treaters.
4. The Weak and the Wicked (Dir: Paul Solet) — A brutal gang of bullies decides to pick on the wrong freaking kid.
5. Grim Grinning Ghost (Dir: Axelle Carolyn) — A young woman heads home from a party, and finds herself pursued by something highly unpleasant.
6. Ding Dong (Dir: Lucky McKee) — An upbeat and plainly insane witch is on the hunt for a trick-or-treater she can call her very own.
7. This Means War (Dir: John Skipp & Andrew Kasch) — A pair of bickering neighbors do battle over old-fashioned vs. new-fangled Halloween festivities.
8. Friday the 31st (Dir: Mike Mendez) — A typical backwoods stalker goes up against a “final girl” with interstellar powers.
9. The Ransom of Rusty Rex (dir: Ryan Schifrin) — Two clueless kidnappers snatch a wealthy guy’s kid — only the guy is OK with it. And it’s not actually a kid.
10. Bad Seed (dir: Neil Marshall) — Could also be called “Attack of the Killer Pumpkin.” And yes, that’s a good thing.
As is always the case with a collection of short films, a few will really tickle your eyeballs, and a few may warrant little more than a few stray chuckles, but for my money Tales of Halloween exhibits an impressive level of consistency across the board. In other words: this flick has a pretty solid batting average. Even the so-so chapters have a few moments of inspired lunacy, and the best ones are really quite clever. That there aren’t any outright “stinkers” is a pleasant surprise, but then again we are dealing with a pretty solid roster of horror veterans here.
It also helps that there’s a pretty wide array of subject matter. While several of the tales deal directly with pumpkins, candy, and dangerous trick-or-treaters, others head off into decidedly weirder directions. The epic cast of horror-friendly faces also provides its own party game. It’d take an hour to type out all of the genre actors and filmmakers who pop up in Tales of Halloween, but you could certainly make a drinking game out of it. If you take a shot every time you spotted someone like Caroline Williams, Barry Bostwick, Barbara Crampton, Pollyanna Macintosh, Keir Gilchrist, James Duval, Adam Green, John Landis, or Pat Healy — you’d be drunk before long before the movie ends.
Toss ten short films from this collection of filmmakers together and you’re bound to have a good time with the final result, but Tales of Halloween earns extra credit for maintaining a cool, cohesive tone throughout. (It’s also a nice switch to get ten stories instead of four or five, because it lends an unpredictable air to the proceedings — simply because you don’t know when each tales’ end is near!) Of course it’s way too early to say if Tales of Halloween will earn a place next to Halloween and Trick ‘r Treat as perennial October viewing favorites, but I’m pretty sure the horror fans will enjoy figuring that out for themselves.
4 out of 5 candy corn burritos
[Note of disclosure: While I am not affiliated with this film in any way, it may be pertinent to note that I am old pals with a few of the filmmakers. And I say they did nice work.]
Screened via the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival.