TALES OF HALLOWEEN
Directed by (various)
Adrienne Barbeau (Radio DJ), Daniel DiMaggio (Mikey), Hunter Smit (Sweet Tooth), Caroline Williams (Mrs. Blake), Barry Bostwick (Mr. Abbadon), Marcus Eckert (Billy), Tiffany Shepis (Maria), Mia Page (Girl Witch), Alex Essoe (Lynn), Lin Shaye (Lynn's Mother), Liesel Hanson (Mary Bailey), Barbara Crampton (Witch), Lisa Marie (Victorian Widow), Mick Garris (The Phantom), Stuart Gordon (Sherlock Holmes), Pollyanna McIntosh (Bobbie), Marc Senter (Jack), Felissa Rose (Parent), Ben Woolf (Rusty Rex), John Landis (Jebediah Rex), Keir Gilchrist (The Stranger), Grace Phipps (Alice), Dana Gould (Boris), James Duval (Dante), Amanda Moyer (Dorothy), Nick Principe (Masked Killer), Kristina Klebe (Det. McNally), Greg McLean (Ray Bishop), Cerina Vincent (Ellen Bishop), Joe Dante (Prof. Milo Gottleib)
The Short Version: Lots of tricks but only a handful of treats are found in this mixed bag of candy contributed by 11 directors spinning tales of various ghouls, demonic forces and killer pumpkins raising hell and causing Halloween havoc for a suburban community. The segments range from riotously inventive (Friday the 31st) to the painfully mundane (The Ransom of Rusty Rex). Adrienne Barbeau is the radio disc jockey narrating the night of horror. There's a reliance on dark comedy as opposed to generating genuine fear so be prepared for more snickers than scares. The few pure examples of horror are among the most successful in this tote sack of sweets. Not quite as tasty as 2007s TRICK R' TREAT, but a lively holiday addition that's ripe for becoming an annual tradition.
Halloween and the many facets that make it such a memorable holiday is the central theme in this multi-directed anthology movie. Known as The October Society, each of the eleven filmmakers of that club cover very different subjects all surrounding the holiday. Some involve legends; some are about trick r' treating; some about decorating for the big night; and others spoof the holiday's mascot, the Jack-o'-lantern. Then there's the candy. There's candy everywhere. Aside from dressing up, obtaining candy was the big payoff after going house to house, coming home and digging in to the various mini-candy bars and assorted sweets... except for the fruit; the occasional apple or orange was the last item we ate if we ate it at all.
As a celluloid celebration of Halloween, TALES does a fantastic job paying tribute. The cult favorite TRICK R' TREAT (2007) surely was an influence on the picture; there's even overlapping characters, although the device isn't as successfully implemented as in Michael Dougherty's movie; nor do all the stories intersect into a single narrative. The connecting device in TRICK R' TREAT is Sam, a seemingly innocuous trick r' treater. In TALES, the constant is a DJ played by Adrienne Barbeau--introducing each story with the same sexy delivery of her Stevie Wayne character from THE FOG (1980). You only see her face once during the superlative, animated opening credits sequence; the rest of the time you only hear her voice on the soundtrack doing intro for each segment.
The storyline is similar to TRICK, dealing with a suburban neighborhood where all sorts of evil is let loose for one night out of the year, October 31st. Alas, TALES, despite its variance in storytelling, isn't quite as good as TRICK.
As polished as TALES is, not every segment is a winner. Out of the lot, there's only two duds and only three that are pure horror. For whatever reason, the bulk of the stories favor funny business. Nearly every aspect of Halloween is covered save for the dark side, the urban legend side of the holiday. Possibly a future installment will feature a tale or two in that direction.
The following are individual reviews of the ten shorts.
SWEET TOOTH (10:55)
Directed by Dave Parker
Mikey loves Halloween. Mikey also eats everything (Mikey is also dressed as Snake Plissken). He's so overcome with sugary joy his babysitter's boyfriend tells him the 50 year old legend of Sweet Tooth about a boy named Timothy Blake who loved Halloween. Unfortunately, every Halloween his parents torture him by not allowing him to eat any of the candy he brought home. Legend has it, Sweet Tooth's evil spirit haunts neighborhoods to snag as much candy as possible... even candy you've already eaten.
This is your typical garden-variety slasher tale that's a solidly spooky way to kick things off. Surprisingly, Parker's candy-coated nougat number is one of the few genuinely sinister segments in this movie. There's a refreshingly unique implementation of Halloween hallmark NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and an homage to a jump scare from EXORCIST III: LEGION (1990). Caroline Williams (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 ) plays Timmy's mother. Watch for the Carpenter Candy Bar!
THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL (08:35)
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Billy is out Trick r' Treating with his sister and her annoying boyfriend. In trying to play a joke on Billy, he's told to egg the crotchety next door neighbor's house since it's a holiday tradition. Reluctant to do so, Billy complies but is captured by the owner Mr. Abbadon who turns out to be the Devil. Old Scratch then informs Billy he's going to show him what a real prank on Halloween really is.
Sadly, the first casualty of this terror-ible ten comes from the usually reliable Darren Lynn Bousman; casualty in that it loses momentum built by the opener--nosediving into silly comedy. It's a potentially hot story with a lukewarm execution, but one that is salvaged by some striking photographic shots. There's a nice trick at the end where the Devil pulls one over on the audience; otherwise it's a modestly disappointing, darkly comical entry with an unnecessarily mean-spirited streak. One of a few middling shorts, the bear trap gag is funny, though.
Barry Bostwick is unrecognizable as The Devil; and Adrianne Curry plays herself.
Directed by Adam Gierasch
Four adults enjoy Halloween Night handing out candy and watching horror movies till they're visited by four malicious, murderous Trick r' Treaters.
The second serious story of the ten presented is easily the most grotesque of the bunch. It's an unnerving, killer kid entry with a nasty twist in the tail. Disturbing from beginning to end with a few truly unpleasant deaths, it's well worth viewing and one of the best segments. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) is playing on the TV again; and the way it's weaved into the narrative mirrors its usage in the first story. Gierasch pulls off an impressive addition in just under 10 minutes. Stunner Tiffany Shepis is among the cast victims.
THE WEAK AND THE WICKED (08:55)
Directed by Paul Solet
An evil teen gang of three cutthroats harass other kids on Halloween but meet their match when they run across a young adolescent whose parents they murdered several years prior.
Remember when you'd go Trick r' Treating and you'd get a lot of good stuff in your bag like Snickers, Caramel Creams and Candy Corn? Then you'd get the occasional item that was good for you like an apple or orange? Well, 'The Weak and the Wicked' is the apple or orange. You'll still eat it but it will be the last item you digest out of your haul. Aside from a kid scarfing down candy there's nothing recognizable about the holiday in this installment. Visually compelling, it combines a heavy Italian western ambiance with a touch of THE WARRIORS (1979). A revenge-based horror theme, a last-minute demon-summoning brings this curio to an end.
GRIMM GRINNING GHOST (07:47)
Directed by Axelle Carolyn
A group of adult friends gather for a night of spooky stories on Halloween night; one of which details the legend of Mary Bailey, a disfigured woman who brings death to those who gaze upon her frightful visage. After Lynn leaves her mom's Halloween get-together, her car breaks down. Walking the rest of the way home, she isn't alone as something follows her.
The scariest short is reminiscent of those campfire ghost stories you used to hear as a kid like 'The Golden Arm'. And who better to tell a ghost story than Lin Shaye of INSIDIOUS (2010) and its sequels? A shame more of the stories aren't of the same caliber. Simplistic yet infinitely effective, a great deal of mood and atmosphere is built up with camera placement and sound effects. Some editing plays tricks with the audience for some familiar 'boo' moments that merely sets up the shock reveal at the end.
Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon are some of the costumed guests listening intently to Lin Shaye spinning her horror tales. Additional cameos by Barbara Crampton and Lisa Marie.
DING DONG (08:39)
Directed by Lucky McKee
A schizophrenic woman and her doting, henpecked husband are trying to have a child only the husband has second thoughts due to the alarmingly erratic behavior of his wife who may or may not be a witch. Her sanity crumbles further on Halloween night as more kids come to their door for candy.
Quirky McKee, who did great things with MAY and THE WOMAN (2011), is reunited with the wonderful actress Pollyanna McIntosh to deliver his trademark brand of off-kilter storytelling. McIntosh is a memorable presence as the mentally unstable wife who makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in comparison. A reworked, psychological version of 'Hansel and Gretel' with some nods to THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). You're never quite sure if what's happening is real or all in someone's head. Striking visuals, some funny bits, and Ms. McIntosh, as always, gives her all for the role.
Multiple Trick r' Treaters turn up in other segments; an instance of overlapping entries. Felissa Rose of SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1981) fame has a cameo.
THIS MEANS WAR (06:34)
Directed by Andrew Kasich and John Skipp
Having put up traditional Halloween decorations for 20 years, a straight-laced Halloweener's Morbid Mansion display is dwarfed by Dante's Hell Hole, the garishly gory decor of the new, noisy, metal Misfit neighbors. The two home owners eventually come to bloody blows.
The first of two awful installments, this one is especially disappointing since it is about Halloween decorating. Outside of that, it's a pointless exercise in juvenility. Guy puts up his yearly traditional decorations. New neighbors move in and put up a far more gruesome display. They make a lot of racket. The traditional neighbor becomes irate. They fight. They die. And that's it.
FRIDAY THE 31st (06:57)
Directed by Mike Mendez
A beautiful young lady dressed as Dorothy from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) is pursued and killed by a hulking, masked killer. Suddenly, a UFO appears and a Trick r' Treating alien beams down hoping for some Earth candy. The deformed slasher has no non-sharp, digestible items to give the tiny interplanetary visitor so he stomps it into a pile of goo. The space goo then enters the mouth of dead Dorothy, reviving her as a zombie alien; the living dead girl then turns the tables on her killer.
The director of the remarkably effective THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006) does an inventive tribute to both Jason Voorhees and THE EVIL DEAD (1981), mixing it with aliens from outer space! The best of the comical segments, it's the goriest short of them all. There's even a bit of stop-motion animation to heighten the creativity. The pig-tailed onlooker from the previous tale is the victim of this one, being chased by the masked Jason clone.
If you can take your eyes off the splattery gore FX, you'll notice the Necronomicon and Jason's mother's head inside the cabin.
THE RANSOM OF RUSTY REX (10:47)
Directed by Ryan Schifrin
Two criminals kidnap a rich kid out collecting candy on Halloween night. Calling who they think is the kid's father, Jebediah Rex, the two crooks demand a ransom. He refuses them before they can even negotiate. It isn't long before the dumbfounded duo realize it is they who are the hostages.
The 2nd clunker of the set, this one comes from Ryan Schifrin (the son of famed composer Lalo Schifrin--who did the main theme for the movie). Ransom holds the viewer hostage for nearly 11 minutes, failing at being funny or even remotely scary. The set-up sounds good (written by Schifrin) but lacks interest; even the ending is simplistic and minus imagination. Mr. Schifrin had much better success with his highly entertaining killer Bigfoot flick from 2006, ABOMINABLE.
John Landis cameos as Rusty's "dad". Tragically, dwarf actor Ben Woolf (of AMERICAN HORROR STORY) died on February 23rd, 2015 after being hit by a car. TALES OF HALLOWEEN is dedicated to him post-credits.
BAD SEED (10:48)
Directed by Neil Marshall
Immediately after carving a pumpkin for Halloween, the Jack-o'-lantern comes to life and consumes its creator. It goes on a rampage, eating trick r' treaters and anyone who crosses its path. A determined detective tracks down the Super Pumpkin, learning that there's more potentially deadly Squash being genetically manufactured at the Clover Corporation.
Thankfully, TALES ends on a high note! The director of THE DESCENT (2005) lowers himself into ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1977) territory with the second best of the blackly comical segments. A killer, flesh-eating Jack-o-lantern is on the rampage... and that's pretty much the plot. Practical Pumpkin FX are a highlight. The music has a Carpenteresque quality about it. Director Neil Marshall (who played a victim in the FRIDAY THE 31st segment) packs his short film with cameos....
Greg McLean, director of the two WOLF CREEK movies (review for part 2 HERE) and the superb killer croc flick ROGUE (2007), is the ill-fated pumpkin carver. Joe Dante cameos as the creator of the Super Pumpkins. Kristina Klebe, whose nude scene was the major bright-spot in Rob Zombie's atrocious remake of HALLOWEEN from 2007, plays the detective on the trail of our murderous Jack-o'-lantern. The drop-dead gorgeous Cerina Vincent (CABIN FEVER ) has a cameo at the beginning as well.
The October Society have created a good enough Halloween cocktail using the right ingredients to make it a popular annual drink for fans.... only go a little heavier on the horror next time.
This review is representative of the Epic Pictures Bluray/DVD 4 disc set limited to 1,000 pieces. Specs and Extras: 1080p widescreen 2.35:1; Bonus Features--bonus shorts, deleted scenes, featurettes, photo galleries, Fun Facts pop-up feature, video diaries, commentary/additional commentaries, CD soundtrack, 2 collectible cards, and more; running time: 01:37:20