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Tales of Halloween
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by Peter Sobczynski

4 stars

"Tales of Halloween" offers viewers exactly that--ten short horror films written and directed by eleven up-and-comers in the field (operating under the collective banner of The October Society) and featuring a number of faces familiar to genre buff in front of the camera. As is the case with most films of this type, the stories vary in quality but the good news is that the batting average this time around is much higher than it was for the more dire likes of those irritating "V/H/S/" films. The end result is an alternately goofy and gory romp that hits more than it misses and which should please horror buffs to no end.

The ten stories all take place in the same small town over the course of one wild Halloween night and are linked together by the soothing sounds of local DJ Adrienne Barbeau and a few amusing narrative overlaps. Dave Parker's "Sweet Tooth" kicks things off as a girl and her boyfriend try to frighten her little brother with a tale about the dangers of eating all of your candy on Halloween night, only to discover to their regret that the story may be true after all. In "The Night Billy Raised Hell," Darren Lynn Bousman tells the story of a kid who gets caught pranking his creepy neighbor (Barry Bostwick) who proceeds to give him an increasingly over-the-top lesson in real trickery.

Adam Gierasch's "Trick" is a nasty little item about two couples who are besieged by a bunch of kids who evidently want more than candy this year--it also offers up a grim explanation as to why so many kids dress up like pirates these days. Paul Solet's "The Weak and the Wicked" is a weird urban spaghetti western in which a kid tries to get revenge on the trio of punks that wronged him years earlier. "Grimm Grinning Ghost" from Axelle Carolyn follows a young woman (Alexandra Essoe) who attends a party in which a spooky ghost story is told and becomes convinced that the very same spirit is following her on her journey home.

Lucky McKee, whose "May" remains one of the great horror films of our time, offers up the bizarre "Ding Dong," a blackly funny fairy tale, complete with homages to "Hansel & Gretel" and "The Wizard of Oz," about a woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) trying to deal with her lack of a child in increasingly strange ways amidst the incessant ringing of trick or treaters. "This Means War" is a live-action cartoon from Andrew Kasch and John Skipp in which two neighbors go to violent extremes over their respective lawn displays--one featuring classical motifs like ghosts and skeletons and the other favoring gruesome imagery over simple scares.

Mike Mendez's "Friday the 31st" starts out like a traditional slasher film--a pretty teen girl being chased by a machete-wielding maniac--and then gets very weird. "The Ransom of Rusty Rex" finds Ryan Schifrin riffing on O.Henry with a tale of a pair of bumbling kidnappers who snatch the child of a wealthy man (John Landis) only to discover exactly why the guy doesn't want him back when they call with their ransom demands. Finally, Neil Marshall's "Bad Seed" ends things on a seriously whacked-out note as a dedicated cop (Kristina Klebe) goes off in pursuit of a mad killer that turns out to be a genetically modified Jack-o-lantern and yes, you read that right.

As is the case with all films of this type, your milage will vary depending on the number of stories that you wind up liking. Myself, I enjoyed the demented spectacle and inspired punchline of "The Night Billy Raised Hell" (though I probably could have done without the inexplicable Adrienne Curry cameo), the slow-burn storytelling of "Grimm Grinning Ghost" that builds to the single most effective scare in the entire film, the jaw-dropping performance by Pollyanna McIntosh in "Ding Dong" that makes John Lithgow's turn in "Twilight Zone--The Movie" seem a model of restraint by comparison and the genially goofy natures of the closing three stories--"Bad Seed" scores the biggest laugh when we get a look at what the police sketch artist has come up with as a result of the description given to him by a key witness. The only ones that don't really work are "Trick" and "The Weak and the Wicked"--the former is grim and grisly in a way that stands in uncomfortable relief to the other stories on display and the latter is just a misfire that seems to have been left in to give people a chance to go get more popcorn without running the risk of missing anything.

On the grand scale of horror anthologies--with "Creepshow" at the high end of the scale and "Creepshow 2" at the low, "Tales of Halloween" comes closer to the former. The big problem that keeps it from achieving the instant cult classic status that it is clearly yearning for is the fact that, with the exception of "Grimm Grinning Ghost," none of the tales on display are especially scary--in terms of raw terror, they hardly begin to approach the average "Treehouse of Terror" episode of "The Simpsons." Still, it is a lot of fun for the most part and with fewer dead spots than one might expect. It is now practically a given that any horror film worth its salt these days will inspire a sequel or two, whether one is warranted or not. Here is a case in which a second installment--perhaps bringing some new directors into the fold as a sort of cinematic calling card--might actually turn out to be a treat after all.

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originally posted: 10/16/15 09:32:18
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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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