PLOT: A 10-chapter horror anthology set during one frightful Halloween night, linked only by radio narration, featuring a gruesome glut of monsters, ghouls, ghosts, aliens, ax-murderers, slashers, slaughter and a whole trove of cadaverous carnage candy. Trick or motherf*king treat!
REVIEW: Anthological horror dishes are often of delicious relish. At their best - TALES FROM THE CRYPT, CREEPSHOW, VAULT OF HORROR, etc. - the inherent replay value among the varied vignettes tends to give way to overall fan favorites and certified cult-classic status. The last truly good example of such just might be the 2007 flick TRICK 'R TREAT, and now, another lief and loyal love-letter to All Hallows Eve is headed down the lane this October. TALES OF HALLOWEEN - a tight ten-part compendium from a who's who roster of high-and-low-brow indie horror royalty: Dave Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin and Neil Marshall - is no doubt a definite must-see this frightful season. While some chapters hit harder than others, it's clear this is a movie whose sum total equals more than its parts, adding up to one hell of an atmospheric and sinister cinematic synecdoche. Stuff this one in your pillowcase at once!
Instead of assessing each entry chronologically, I'm going to briefly address my top 5 in order of personal enjoyment. By that logic, we start where the movie ends, as I think it's no coincidence the last chapter in the film comes by way of a showstopper from Neil Marshall (DOG SOLDIERS, THE DESCENT) entitled Bad Seed. Pretty simple, a monstrous face-eating pumpkin comes alive and wreaks gory havoc among a suburban neighborhood on Halloween night. It's such a great idea that I'm actually shocked I've never seen it before. It has just the right amount of festive spirit to go along with its unabashedly trashy B-movie conceit that, under the seasoned and skillful direction of Marshall, also strikes the right tonal balance between horror and humor. Of course, a cameo by Joe Dante as the overseer of a gigantic pumpkin farm to end the joint was a cheekily cherished one.
THIS MEANS WAR is a drolly deleterious showdown between two new neighbors, directed by John Skipp and Andrew Kasch. We have the old hat, played by Dana Gould, and death-metal newbie, played by James Duvall. In what essentially amounts to a front-yard Halloween Haunt-off, a deadly duel, when Duvall moves in and starts stealing eyeballs away from his neighbors dustily antiquated lawn-laid spook-show, the old man ain't having it. As dusk gives way to a pitch Halloween night, a fight between the two erupts into blackly comedic and deadly denouement. Again, great holiday mood is evoked here, with high entertainment value coming from the deft blend of morbid mirth and excessive bloodshed.
Mike Mendez gives us another amusingly atmospheric mash-up for his chapter, FRIDAY THE 31ST. In obvious homage to both FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN - Voorhees and Myers - we get a costumed Dorothy lookalike (OZ) who's in the threatening throes of a hideously deformed psycho-slasher in a wooden mask. Trying for a desperate escape, she happens on an adorable looking little alien being, who turns the tables entirely and serves grisly comeuppance to our deranged madman. With its cool conceit, both comic and wince-worthy at once, gory enough on its own but also quite clever as a sly send-up, I had also appreciated how this one strayed a tad from the suburbs and went rural. Good stuff!
TRICK comes from director Adam Gierasch (AUTOPSY, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS), in which he places a foursome of booze and pot addled adults (including horror dame Tiffany Shepis) under the baleful blade of a coterie of killer kids. These cute costumed little bastards have every license to knock on the door, being Halloween, and when they do, a creepy little girl simply utters the word "trick" before puncturing one of the dudes plum in the naval. This sets off a homunculus home-invasion, where a passel of little masked punks converge on the adults and ferociously fell as many as they can. It's a menacing mélange of slasher and killer kids motifs, shot gorgeously, with a deadly decor and genuine sense of fun.
Rounding out my top 10 is a toss-up between Paul Solet's THE WEAK AND THE WICKED and Axelle Carolyn's GRIM GRINNING GHOST. The former features a street gang headed by the gorgeous Grace Phipps, whose trend of "owning the night" is unceremoniously quashed when a mysterious stranger shows up and sticks a bloody wrench in the game-plan. A gritty, grimy innercity setting comes a refreshing deviation from the safe suburbs the majority of the film is set in. As for the latter, despite giving huge horror names like Lin Shaye, Stuart Gordon and Mick Garris virtually nothing to do, GRIM GRINNING GHOST, about a young woman not so down with Halloween, is a moody, well photographed little chiller. When the woman walks home alone after her car breaks down, she's slowly followed by a malefic chimera that ultimately scares the piss out of the poor girl when breaching her abode. Simple, but effectively realized.
As for the bottom half, the low point for me comes, shockingly, courtesy of Lucky McKee (MAY). His short DING DONG was the only chapter I found a chore to get through. Another overly cartoonish horror farce came from an equally venerated genre filmmaker, Darren Lynn Bousman, and his short THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL. Despite rocking a great production design meant to elicit all things Halloween, the story and action felt a little too childlike, especially when compared to the rest. Another semi-disappointing stint was THE RANSOM OF RUSTY REX, directed by Ryan Schifrin, in which John Landis plays a millionaire who's supposed son is kidnapped by two dopes on Halloween night. When it turns out that the person captured is not Rusty Rex, a horrific interchange between both parties follows suit. As for the opening salvo, SWEET TOOTH (directed by Dave Parker), it's a solid tone-setter of disgusting disembowelment that probably ranks highest among the bottom half.
But look, when all is tallied up, TALES OF HALLOWEEN ought to be celebrated for the entertainingly ominous omnibus it is. While some of the stories are more effective than others, it's clear that together, as a whole, this is the exact type of movie you should be watching during the Halloween season. It's a great holiday mood-setter, festooned with black and orange regalia, deadly decor and a palpably dreadful atmosphere. Sure, it may not quite rank as high as anthological masterstrokes like CREEPSHOW and TALES FROM THE CRYPT, but for me, it's a tad closer to those flicks than say the more recent multi-chapter horror threads like VHS and ABCS OF DEATH. A few tricks aside, TALES OF HALLOWEEN packs more treats than not. Cop it!