Tales of Halloween isn't a great horror anthology, or even a particularly good one, but there's an infectious enthusiasm to the whole affair that makes it a real pleasure to watch. From all reports, the film was a labor of love for pretty much everyone involved; a goofy hymn to Halloween pieced together by some of the more prominent names from the indie horror scene. It's rarely particularly scary, but it isn't trying to be: this is a weird, violent little celebration of the Halloween season, and despite a handful of creepy moments, no one seems to want to ruin the party with genuine terror.
Watching Tales of Halloween is a bit like plowing through a plastic bucket full of seasonal candy: some pieces are better than others and it's really not the most substantial stuff in the world, but it's fun while it lasts. Ooooh! A fun main title theme written by the legendary Lalo Schifrin! Mmmmm! Adrienne Barbeau serving as the film's narrator and basically reprising her role from The Fog! Oh, hey, a Joe Dante cameo! And a John Landis cameo! And a Stuart Gordon cameo! Ha! A little animated monster! What else is in here?
The stories the film offers are fairly diverse, but they all take place in the same general area over the course of a single Halloween night, and there are brief instances of narrative overlap here and there (on multiple occasions, a main character from one short will make a cameo in another short). Plus, they all have a prominent silly streak. The first (and arguably best) segment is Dave Parker's “Sweet Tooth,” which tells the tale of a monstrous figure who punishes those who refuse to share their Halloween candy. Fusing an instantly memorable concept with some fairly visceral violence, the short makes a strong first impression and successfully encapsulates the funny/scary balance the film is going for. Other winners:
- Paul Sollet's “The Weak and the Wicked,” which offers a Halloween-themed riff on old Sergio Leone westerns and features some of the film's most entertaining visual ideas.
- Ryan Schifrin's “The Ransom of Rusty Rex,” a fun little O. Henry-inspired short in which an attempted kidnapping goes horribly wrong.
- Axelle Carolyn's “Grim Grinning Ghost,” which introduces the notion of an unusual monster and spends the rest of the short building tension around the question of whether or not the monster actually exists.
Most of the shorts were shot quickly and cheaply, and that shows from time to time: some of the shorts here just feel half-baked; first drafts of decent ideas that don't come together as smoothly as they ought to. A prime example is Darren Lynn Bousman's “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” starring Barry Bostwick (Spin City) as a satanic figure encouraging a young kid to engage in some terrible behavior. The short has a fun starting point and a nifty little twist at the end, but the substance of the story is merely a lot of different shots of a masked youngster behaving terribly. It feels like something is missing. Ditto Andrew Kasich and John Skipp's “This Means War,” in which two neighbors battle for the attention of trick or treaters. A promising idea, but the whole conflict escalates too quickly and too clumsily. The most disappointing is Neil Marshall's “Bad Seed,” a police procedural involving a sentient killer pumpkin that never manages to be as much fun as it sounds.
Still, this is a faced-paced anthology (squeezing ten shorts into 92 minutes), so the weaker installments are gone before you have time to grow weary of them, the parade of new ideas, new monsters and new cast members (Greg Grunberg, Adrianne Curry, Barbara Crampton, Pat Healy and John Savage are just a few of the recognizable faces that pop up here) keeps things lively, and the filmmakers do an admirable job of maintaining a fairly consistent tone despite the vast number of people involved. Tales of Halloween is a goofy lark, but you could do worse if you're looking for something to add to your October 31st viewing schedule.
Tales of Halloween
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Year: 2015