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10 stand-out horror directors delight with 10 loosely-connected tales about everyone’s favorite holiday.

 

From the slasher films of the late 1970s and early 1980s to the winking send up of the genre by Scream-king himself, Wes Craven, in the 1990s; from the rash of J-horror remakes of the early aughts to the “body horror” phenomenon which brought us, for better or worse, Eli Roth and The Human Centipede, horror continues to be a genre in constant flux.

 

One need look no further than a horror staple, the anthology film, to see how things have evolved. Each new offering shows us where the horror landscape is currently at, and 2015’s Tales From Halloween is really no different.

 

Though anthologies have long been a tradition of horror/sci-fi filmmaking, it was arguably the 2012 films V/H/S and The ABCs of Death that ushered them back to the forefront, bringing into the spotlight some of the new millennium’s most interesting purveyors of horror (directors like Ti West and Adam Wingard, to name a few). Both films have spawned micro-franchises (though there’s nothing that micro about a film like ABCs that features short films from 26 different directors!) and have raised the profile on more than a few writers and directors.

 

And there’s the thing: anthologies tend to come with a bit of a catch. An experiment in form, that aforementioned “evolution” (or “regression”, depending on your perspective). There’s usually a gimmick of some kind, a method to the madness, that reflects current cultural trends. And there are usually plenty of cooks in the kitchen. The anthology from a single voice — such as Michael Dougherty’s excellent Trick ‘r Treat or Romero and King’s 1982 Creepshow — is much more rare.

 

Enter then Tales From Halloween, this year’s seasonal offering to the anthology gods. The conceit is simple: 10 directors tell 10 different tales of terror about a strange little town on the night of Halloween. Save some trick or treaters showing up in different segments and a number of people in different tales all watching Night of The Living Dead, each story is left to stand more or less on its own mertis. And they, too, reflect the current state of horror: many of the stories feature humor or, in the very least, some sort of winking irreverence, many exploit tried-and-true genre tropes while often “lampshading” them, and many feature practical monster and gore effects, a “return to form” many newer horror directors (and old-school horror directors experiencing a renaissance) are embracing.

 

So with all that said, let’s break down this puppy a little, piece by piece. I can say I enjoyed the film as a whole, but with anthologies, it’s really more fun to dive in to each segment! So steal some of your little sibling’s candy, grab a carbonated beverage of your choice, and kick back with me around the campfire.

 

The Best:

 

SWEET TOOTH

Written & Directed by Dave Parker (The Dead Hate The Living, The Hills Run Red)

 

TOH starts strong with a story called Sweet Tooth. It’s a simple setup and one that rings very true to the spirit of Halloween: the boyfriend of a young kid’s babysitter tells said kid a scary story and then tells him it’s true, so he had better follow the rules or else. What comes next is a classic little “urban legend” tale that plays out in a fun way. Good gore, good atmosphere, and a good performance from the main kid set me in the proper mood for the rest of the flick.

 

THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL

Written by Clint Sears

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (the Saw franchise, Repo!, The Genetic Opera)

 

Next we get one of my favorites from TOH, where we see little Billy, dressed as the Devil, face his Halloween right-of-passage by egging the stodgy neighbor’s house. But when he’s caught red handed, so to speak, Billy’s evening takes a totally different turn. The Night Billy Raised Hell features a campy performance from Barry Bostwick and one of the most satisfying twists in the anthology, making it stand out for me.

 

TRICK

Directed by Adam Gierasch (Night of The Demons, Autopsy)

 

A handful of trick-or-treaters arrive to murder, for no apparent reason, a quartet of inebriated 20-somethings. Death and chasing ensue. Trick took me a few minutes to get into. It’s got a really good twist, though, and a couple of nice visual flourishes, but the setup is so familiar that I almost got bored with where it might go. Hang in there; it’s worth it.

 

GRIMM GRINNING GHOST

Written & Directed by Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate)

 

The only short directed by a female, Grimm Grinning Ghost also features horror film mainstay Lin Shaye (the Insidious series). This is certainly one of the quieter pieces in the film, very straight forward, but it does do some nice things with atmosphere, compounding levels of conflict, and delivers a really nice couple of jump scares.

 

FRIDAY THE 31ST

Written and Director by Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!, The Gravedancers)

 

This is easily the weirdest and funniest of the bunch. The less you know about it going in, the better. Just open your mind to the absurdness of it, and channel your memory of how much fun Evil Dead 2 is, and you’ll be alright. I really liked this one.

 

 

The Rest:

 

Surprisingly, the most well-known directors from TOH‘s slate offered some of the weaker installments. Lucky McKee, respected in the genre for his films May and The Woman, presented Ding Dong, a story about a married couple struggling with fertility woes. It was intriguing in its allegory, but probably needed some more time to develop, and could’ve benefited from a less-campy villain and less (yes, less) of a polished production.

 

Likewise, Neil Marshall, whose films The Descent and Dog Soldiers often make favorite-horror-flick lists, closed out TOH with Bad Seed, a half-baked cop procedural knock-off featuring an admittedly cool killer pumpkin. For me, the story didn’t really develop, and the one-note parody of the “network cop show” didn’t work for me in such a short form. Plus, it had the misfortune of closing out the anthology, and it really wasn’t up to the task. This installment should NOT have been the finish of the film. It built up to nothing and kind of just ended, which meant the entire film actually felt like it just kind of ended. I actually think it could’ve STARTED the film and been utilized as more of a through-line, though it certainly would’ve changed things overall.¬†Still, Pat Healy (The Innkeepers, Cheap Thrills) was in it, so I can’t complain too much.

 

Rounding out the ten stories are Paul Solet’s The Weak and the Wicked, a sort of “urban western” which worked pretty well and had some nice creature make-up, splatter-punk author John Skipp’s This Means War, a silly and forgettable piece about a neighborhood Halloween-decorating rivalry, and Ryan Schifrin’s The Ransom of Rusty Rex, which is pretty funny, but plays more like a bumbling-buddy-criminals story rather than a Halloween story. It does have a random cameo from director John Landis, though, so there’s that.

 

All in all, I found Tales of Halloween a fun little ride, full of decent ideas, lots of practical gore and creatures effects (always welcomed), and a cohesive aesthetic. Often times what pulls me out of an anthology is not just the wide variety of narrative strength, but production strength, with one segment looking and feeling like top-notch cinema, such as The ABCs of Death’s D is for Dogfight, which is far and away the best short in that film in terms of pure cinematic bravura, and the next looking like a home movie. This was not the case with TOH, where each film felt like it “belonged” with the others.

 

Tales of Halloween offers an entertaining 90 minutes with which to ring in All Hallow’s Eve and is available on Vimeo On Demand, iTunes, Amazon Video, and VUDU.

 

Directed By: David Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall

Produced By: Patrick Ewald, Shaked Berenson, Axelle Carolyn, Mike Mendez

Screenplay By: David Parker, Clint Sears, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Molly Millions, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall

Starring: Pat Healy, Barry Bostwick, Booboo Stewart, Clare Kramer, Alex Essoe, Lin Shaye, Grace Phipps, Kristina Klebe, John Savage, Keir Gilchrist, Sam Witwer, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Graham Skipper, Adrienne Barbeau

Distributed By: Epic Pictures

Release Date: July 24, 2015

Run Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R

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