Is horror the genre that’s best suited for the anthology format? Think hard, just for a moment or two: How many movies outside of horror’s bailiwick can you drum up offhand that come wrapped up as an omnibus? Turn to comedy and you can rifle off titles like The Kentucky Fried Movie, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*, The Ten and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Switch to sci-fi and there’s Heavy Metal or The Illustrated Man. But horror’s anthology tradition is richer and broader, from Tales from the Darkside to the Creepshow films, from Trick ‘r Treat to Black Sabbath, not to mention the recent V/H/S and ABCs of Death series.
The popularity of the practice makes sense in a horror context, because such films are the cinematic equivalent of sitting around a campfire, trading spooky stories with your friends under cover of night. So Tales of Halloween, a massive joint effort by up-and-comers and established vets in horror, is just the latest entry in this horror anthology custom—coming not a moment too soon, what with All Hallows’ Eve looming. This is the time of year when we need our horror fix, when we need tales of skeletons, spirits and haunts a-plenty to add spice to the season’s atmosphere. As fuel for the holiday, Tales of Halloween hits the spot, even if it falls shy of nailing the same peaks of greatness as its cousins (notably Trick ‘r Treat, which, among anthology horror, reigns as king).
As the title suggests, the film occurs over the course of a single Halloween, settling on one American suburb where ten yarns unfold against a backdrop of festivity. On occasion, the segments intertwine, either through the appearance of recurring characters or references to the aftermath of preceding material. Each short is as different in content as in style: “Sweet Tooth,” by Dave Parker, follows the tried-and-true method of the cautionary tale, while Axelle Carolyn’s “Grimm Grinning Ghost” sticks to the “vengeful ghost” paradigm with considerable success. Meanwhile, Darren Lynn Bousman keeps tongue firmly in cheek with “The Night Billy Raised Hell”; Neil Marshall skewers cop shows and cheesy monster flicks with “Bad Seed”; Mike Mendez blows kisses at slasher fare with “Friday the 31st”; Adam Gierasch corrals murderous kids in “Treat”; Paul Solet tells a tale of hellbound revenge with “The Weak and the Wicked”; the typically reliable Lucky McKee slips into incoherence with “Ding Dong”; Ryan Schifrin gets demonic in “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”; and, finally, Andrew Kasch teams with John Skipp to show what happens when home haunters clash in “This Means War.”
If the lengthy directors list intimidates at a glance, it’s just for sheer volume rather than genre bonafides. Tales of Halloween showcases the double-edged blade of the anthology with crystal clarity: Jamming this many filmmakers into one package lends much-needed variation of style and vision, but it also means that there’s less quality control than there might be with one person at the helm. Viewers quite literally don’t know exactly what they’re going to get from one entry to the next—the individual contributions here run the gamut. A few hit the highest high notes, while most fall squarely in the range of “solid.” The rest either don’t manage a single scare or bother to make a whole lot of sense.
We can at least appreciate the effort. McKee has an idea that he just can’t translate succinctly to a ten-minute running time, while Solet, whose January offering Dark Summer ranks as one of the limpest horror movies of 2015, has a terrific concept that winds up bungled in execution. Even so, these pieces both add to Tales of Halloween’s whole by suggesting at the span of supernatural weirdness what Halloween is really all about—though nobody does better at expressing the frightful joy of the day than Carolyn and Marshall, who respectively embrace the serious and the silly in their own offerings. Carolyn’s “Grimm Grinning Ghost” boasts a supporting cast that’s brimming with horror luminaries, from Barbara Crampton to Stuart Gordon, and happens to be the scariest micro-movie of the lot. Marshall, on the other hand, is in full schlock mode with a “killer pumpkin” bit that teams Pat Healy with Kristina Klebe, to hilarious results.
But every viewer will have his or her favorite. Half the fun of films like this lies in arguing with friends over which narrative is best, after all, and while there are clear standouts among the pack, the real pleasure of Tales of Halloween is the ride rather than the destination: For as long as you’re held in the movie’s thrall, you’ll be celebrating Halloween. There’s something here for everybody, whether you prefer your horror goofy or gory, but no matter your tastes, it’s the film’s love of Halloween—not to mention its general dedication to practical effects over CGI—that makes it worth attending.
Directors: David Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall
Writers: David Parker, Clint Sears, Greg Commons, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Molly Millions, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Adrianne Curry, Barry Bostwick, Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, Clare Kramer, Alex Essoe, Lin Shaye, Grace Phipps, Noah Segan, Booboo Stewart, Keir Gilchrist, Pat Healy, Kristina Klebe, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Greg Grunberg, Daniel Dimaggio, John Landis
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft brews.