Tales Of Halloween is the latest contender to challenge Trick ‘r Treat‘s beloved status as “Numero Uno Halloween Horror Anthology,” and it’s an admirable effort at that. Opting for ten shorter stories from eleven different filmmakers, Tales Of Halloween plays like an old-fashioned radio show that would have been aired on October 31st for those souls who dare not adventure outside. This means each short only runs about ten minutes, calling back to The ABCs Of Death’s more challenging, rapid-fire structure. There are clear winners among these haunted efforts, but the likes of Darren Lynn Bousman, Neil Marshall, Mike Mendez, Lucky McKee, and other indie favorites ensure that their “October Society” rings in Halloween with ample thrills, gore, and good-natured laughs.
The shorts all share a connective bond, as you’ll see certain characters wandering around numerous entries, along with a host of famous faces who bring their cameo stamp-of-approval. Filmmakers Stuart Gordon, Mick Garris, John Landis, and Joe Dante can all be spotted partaking in the Halloween festivities, along with genre icons like Barbara Crampton, Adrienne Barbeau, Pollyanna McIntosh, Adam Green, and a host of other appearances that horror fans will dig. If Tales Of Halloween does anything 100% right, it’s paying respect to the horror genre, and most importantly, those figures who allowed for such a film to exist.
Getting to the actual shorts, Darren Lynn Bousman gives us a reason to refrain from damaging pranks on October 31st in his effort, “The Night Billy Raised Hell.” It’s not particularly scary (which is an ongoing theme), but Bousman enlists the help of Barry Bostwick as a peppy, devious Devil who shows a young prankster how to really raise hell on Halloween. The duo galavant around town stabbing dentists, robbing children at gunpoint, and getting into insane amounts of trouble before stealing Adrianne Curry’s car (the Devil is a huge fan, apparently), which is where the real fun begins. More than any short, Bousman wastes no time bringing the goods, and Bostwick’s laugh-riot performance absolutely dominates the short’s entire running time. Less can be more, and we get the perfect amount of ghetto-rap-loving, wicked instigation from Bostwick to make “The Night Billy Raised Hell” an easy favorite.
Other victories on the night belong to Neil Marshall for his part police procedural/part creature feature, “Bad Seed,” Mike Mendez’s goofy slasher romp, “Friday The 31st,” and Dave Parker’s cautionary tale, “Sweet Tooth.” These all end up being on the more gruesome side, but that’s not why they succeed. The majority of Tales Of Halloween ends up being on the more gleeful side, with few entries finding any actual scares. That means there’s more to enjoy about the shorts that revel gloriously in murderous pumpkins, a horror villain who gets a taste of his own medicine, and an urban legend who you’d better share your candy with. There’s no obvious distinction between the start and end of most shorts, so it’s hard to tell when a new segment begins, but these are the ones that demand to stand out from the pack, and stand out they do.
Andrew Kasch and John Skipp’s “This Means War” also deserves a shout-out not only for enlisting Dana Gould, but for turning an age-old battle between horror “purists” and new-age gorehounds into a thematic Halloween short. As two neighbors vie for lawn-decoration dominance, Gould’s more Gothic, classic tendencies are overshadowed by the loud, boisterous nature of his rival’s blood-soaked, heavy-metal-blasting torture scene (classic horror vs. new age horror). It’s a concept so simple that many horror filmmakers are probably kicking themselves for not having the idea – pure jealousy, I assure you. It’s a tad goofy, when an unruly mob forms around the fighters, but the jabs thrown towards one another skewer how each warring ideal would insult the other. As a horror fan, it’s a great argument to watch unfold in physical form.
Like any anthology horror movie, there are a few bad apples in the bunch, but it’s purely a numbers game. I’m not about pointing fingers given the scenario, but a few shorts mismanage the short-burst filmmaking style by thinking of an idea that needs far more building-blocks. One short in particular introduces a few kills, forgoes background information, and then unravels into a bizarre logic jump that could have done with about ten more minutes of plotting. Another short simply builds itself on one single scare, and while it’s the most focused attempt at true horror, the payoff is far too mundane to cause a major jolt. These are the gambles and miscalculations filmmakers choose to tackle with shortened timeframes, and some are simply dead on arrival – such are the pitfalls of anthology horror films.
There’s no denying a spot at the adult’s table this year for Tales Of Halloween, earning a place of respect amongst the big dogs. It’s incredibly low-budget, but most of these filmmakers are used to monetary constraints and more grounded productions – and it shows. Someone like Lucky McKee is going to come in guns blazing, and you’re going to get a truly bizarre story (for better or worse, depending on your tastes) with low production values that’ll leave minds blown, or heads clouded. It’s a gamble, but one that our filmmakers happily take a chance on.
And that’s what I love about these underdog indie efforts. Every minute may not be a winner, but there’s still plenty of gleeful Halloween fun to please even the basest of horror fans.
Every short may not be a winner (like all anthology films), but Tales Of Halloween is a unique little indie treat worth a light-hearted holiday watch this October.