Studio: Epic Pictures
Director: Dave Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Paul Solet, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall
Writer: Clint Sears, Greg Commons, Molly Millions
Producer: Mike Mendez, Axelle Carolyn, Patrick Ewald, Shaked Berenson
Ten tales taking place on Halloween night include stories of murderous madmen, an insidious imp, a killer jack o’ lantern, and urban legends come to life.
Set fire to your copies of “Trick ‘r Treat,” throw your “Creepshow” collection in the trash, and prepare to herald “Tales of Halloween” as the new flag-bearer for horror movie anthologies! Definitely do not do those first two things, that was hyperbole for dramatic effect. “Tales of Halloween” doesn’t supplant those titles, but it certainly supplements them, and it is anything but exaggeration to say that this movie qualifies as a Halloween dream come true for any and every horror film fan.
Ten tales of 10-31 feature so many recognizable names on both sides of the camera that if you were to write a list of movies each actor and filmmaker ties to, it would comprise at least half the entirety of every genre film released in the 21st century. Ten years is probably how long it would take to compile a list of every nod, callback, homage, inclusion, or in-joke referencing those films, too.
From Adrienne Barbeau sneakily reprising her role as DJ Stevie Wayne from “The Fog” to Greg Grunberg and Clare Kramer doing the same with their “Big Ass Spider” characters, “Tales of Halloween” is fit to burst with Easter egg winks both disguised and overt. A candy bar brand is named Carpenter. A cardboard tombstone honors Max Schreck. Even poster art master Drew Struzan appears as a police sketch artist sarcastically referred to as “Rembrandt.” There may not be anyone appearing in the movie who isn’t a genre entertainment personality of some sort.
Beyond being a cornucopia of cameos, “Tales of Halloween” is a terrifically balanced blend of scares, slapstick, and surprises. Despite having eleven directors at its helm, delivering differently styled stories to boot, the rhythm remains remarkably cohesive as a unified whole. Even with seven unique cinematographers, the look stays consistent as well, tying each thread together with a visual tone that fits no matter the material.
As chapter one, Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth” sets the stage for virtually everything to come. An urban legend come to life in the EC Comics angles and lighting that “Creepshow” emulated so well strikes just the right note for the film to start strong.
“The Night Billy Raised Hell” sees Darren Lynn Bousman favoring the cheeky vibe of his “The Devil’s Carnival” films over his “Saw” sequels for a slickly sick mash of snark and terror. Of particular note amongst its parade of horribly harmful Halloween pranks is an inventive take on the old flaming bag gag.
Just when it looks like Adam Gierasch’s “Trick” is on track to be a lazy torture fest of trick-or-treaters tormenting a quad of hipster adults, the story pulls out a wickedly evil twist that morphs into one of the movie’s most memorable moments.
For “The Weak and the Wicked,” Paul Solet pilfers a pair of actors from “Some Kind of Hate” and one apiece from “He Never Died” and “It Follows” for its fable of bullies begging to receive their comeuppance. Other than everyone in costume and the date on the calendar, Solet’s short is the one least related to the holiday at hand.
“Tales of Halloween” creator Axelle Carolyn offers her own entry with “Grim Ginning Ghost,” which is less a story and more a setup for “Starry Eyes” actress Alexandra Essoe to be spooked by noises from behind and false scares in front as she walks home alone on a dark road. Similarly, Andrew Kasch and John Skipp’s “This Means War” is basically an extended prelude to arrive at a punchline that pops the first time, yet doesn’t have depth to retain repeated satisfaction. Both shorts are acted and directed well, though “Grim Grinning Ghost” in particular could benefit from additional substance filling in contextual blanks.
As one might expect of Lucky McKee, the writer/director’s “Ding Dong” is assured the top spot as the most polarizing piece in the lot. Like McKee’s features, “Ding Dong” is easily labeled as “not for everyone” with its inherent aversion to narrative convention. Although those turned off by a lack of broad appeal must still concede that Pollyanna McIntosh is as effervescent as ever, even while playing a woman wallowing in woe.
Mike Mendez’s “Friday the 31st” is the most bizarre of the bunch, yet so offbeat that it is zany fun, flipping expectations at every opportunity and demanding one out loud laugh at a minimum.
Ryan Schifrin’s “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” features a predictable plot that is nevertheless a gory good time. Its telegraphed turn is inconsequential to the expert execution of how the story plays out with sadistic humor when two hapless crooks kidnap a trick-or-treater from Hell.
“Bad Seed” bookends the back of “Tales of Halloween” as well as “Sweet Tooth” does the front. Neil Marshall’s story of a sentient jack o’ lantern prowling a small town marks a fitting conclusion for a film as focused on black comedy as it is on blacker carnage.
A few of the shorts contain thinner content than others, though none ramble on past their runtime. Some are goofy and some are gory, yet all have the same tinge of macabre darkness coming across as connective tissue, even with disparate hooks and themes. Every element of the film including duration, star power, and impact feels evenly distributed and properly paced across the board.
Others can debate how far up the ladder “Tales of Halloween” rates were it to go up against the Amicus oeuvre or any preferred anthology of choice. Regardless of perceived rank or subjective quality judgments, the project’s creators earn beaucoup points for creating a heartfelt tribute to horror filmmakers and horror film fans by celebrating everything frightful and everything fun about the Halloween holiday and the horror genre as a whole.
Review Score: 90