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Tales of Halloween
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by Jay Seaver

"Even the tricks are treats."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It may seem like splitting hairs, but this anthology from eleven noteworthy filmmakers working in the horror genre is much more a "Halloween" movie than "horror", if you get the distinction: It, like the holiday, is more about celebrating the annual chance to enjoy things that go bump in the night and dress up crazy more than looking to truly disturb its viewers. That's fine, and I don't know if it could be otherwise with the churn that comes from telling ten stories in 99 minutes, although one should perhaps set expectations accordingly.

After an elaborate title sequence with a spiffy new Lalo Schifrin theme (son Ryan directs a segment) and introduces Adrienne Barbeau as a disc jockey that horror fans will find familiar, the film starts off with three segments built around trick-or-treating: In Dave Parker's "Sweet Tooth", little Mikey is told a scary story about another kid who wanted to eat his trick-or-treating candy before bed, but is told a local legend about another little boy (Cameron Easton) and how it is very important to share. In Darren Lynn Bousman's "The Night Billy Raised Hell", the Billy of the title (Marcus Eckert) accepts a dare to egg the house of a neighbor (Barry Bostwick), but when he's caught, the man offers to teach him what a real trick is. Then in "Trick" by Adam Gierasch, two couples play party games between rings at the doorbell, only to find that some of their visitors won't be satisfied with candy. It's a fun group that would stand well on its own despite the potential for repetition - the three share a similarly nasty sense of humor that doesn't undercut how all three are kind of spooky tales meant to teach a lesson. The three teams mix things up, though, with kids and adults sering different purposes and the emphasis jumping from gore to the joy of nasty things presented in a playful manner to something that actually feels kind of creepy. This first trio does a really great job of showing how the same jumping-off point can lead different directions, and also setting the bounds of the film's tone.

Connecting the next pair is a little less straightforward, as Paul Solet's "The Weak and the Wicked" introduces Alice (Grace Phipps), a witch-costumed young woman who has been bullying kids for some time, and James (John F. Beach), who seems intent on revenge but doesn't look capable of it; while Axelle Carolyn's "Grimm Grinning Ghost" has an older group meeting to exchange scary stories, which naturally has one on edge as her car breaks down on the way home. They both get into things that happened some time ago, though. Solet doesn't quite do the same job of holding back to hit the audience with a quality scare that Carolyn does, although he does have more nasty bits on the way.

Lucky McKee's segment "Ding Dong" appears right around the midpoint, and is possibly the best of the lot. It's especially interesting for fans because it's got all the energy of All Cheerleaders Die - Marc Senter and Pollyanna McIntosh are downright funny as a couple who, after a row last year, are coming at this Halloween with a different attitude, though it's a dark humor made more so by the snappy pace. It doesn't take very long, though, to see that there's something more akin to his other films and genuinely unnerving underneath it even as it's being played for laughs, which means the nasty payoff has a little more weight than the "ha! you're dead!" bits other segments have.

Things continue in a frantic vein after that, although leaning more toward the comedy. "This Means War" from John Skipp & Andrew Kasch offers up a battle for the soul of Halloween between two neighbors' elaborate displays, one playfully spooky and one loud and gruesome, that naturally escalates. Mike Mendez then presents "Friday the 31st", in which a girl in a Sexy Dorothy costume runs afoul of a killer right out of a slasher movie - but then an alien gets involved. And in Ryan Schifrin's "The Ransom of Rusty Rex", two kidnappers snatch a rich man's son, only to find out why he doesn't pay the ransom. Though all three have their share of blood and guts, they're all staged as slapstick, with Mendez's being the standout with its stop-motion alien and winking, anything-goes sensibilities.

The last in the movie, Neil Marshall's "Bad Seed", feels less like a compressed feature, than a compressed TV episode (which makes me think, how much fun would it be for a procedural like Law & Order to just go full horror for the Halloween episode and then return to normal the next week without mentioning it, like NYPD detectives have to deal with the supernatural once per year?). Kristina Klebe holds this one down as a detective who is catching a lot of strange cases on Halloween night - I think there are references to just about every other segment floating around the station house - who still kind of can't believe what she sees when called in on a case where a man seems to have been killed by his jack-o-lantern. Marshall seems to have the biggest effects budget with creature effects as elaborate as Mendez's short, and has a fun way of being straight-faced in its self-satire.

Like most anthologies, there are stronger and weaker entries, but the production (spearheaded by Carolyn) manages to make them all feel a piece while offering variety, and offers up plenty of fun casting from cameos to segment leads for an attentive audience. It's not a hard-core horror movie, but should really appeal to those who love Halloween as much as the very impressive slate of filmmakers do.

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originally posted: 08/25/15 13:03:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Bruce Campbellā€™s Horror Film Festival For more in the 2015 Bruce Campbellā€™s Horror Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/19/18 morris campbell fun viewing 4 the halloween season 4 stars
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  16-Oct-2015 (R)



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