“Every Halloween this town goes batshit crazy!”
Ahh, October. The one month of the year Halloween fanatics can indulge in all the horror and the macabre they want without being branded weirdos by the straight public. It’s a wonderful time of year.
Full disclosure: Among my circle of friends, I am “the Halloween guy,” to say the absolute least about the matter. I also love anthology horror films. So I go into this review of Tales of Halloween with a heavy bias. You’ve been warned.
The 10 (well, 11) directors that teamed up for Tales of Halloween have dubbed themselves The October Society, and they’ve crafted a Halloween tribute that wears their love of the spooky holiday on its tattered, bloody sleeve. Each and every one of the 10 tales in this movie are soaked in Halloween’s spirit, tropes, and color palette. You would think that with 10 cooks in this kitchen, the overall film would feel somewhat disjointed, with different directorial styles competing. But remarkably, the film’s visual style is quite consistent even as its content varies in tone.
I’ll get the elephant out of this room first. A horror/comedy anthology film about Halloween? People are, naturally, going to be comparing this to Michael Dougherty’s insta-classic Trick R Treat, released just six years ago. In the interest of not dwelling on comparisons here, I’ll say that Tales of Halloween has as many differences from Trick R Treat as it does similarities. Although all the stories seem to take place in one town, Tales of Halloween‘s plots do not intersect or play fast and loose with chronology, a la Trick or Treat (or Pulp Fiction). And of course, Tales of Halloween is the work of 10 distinct directors rather than a single person’s vision. The tone, while also a blend of horror and dark comedy, leans farther towards the vicious in some segments, more towards outright comedy in others.
Tales of Halloween opens with one of its strongest segments. Sweet Tooth, directed by Dave Parker, spins a quick and simple tale about a candy-obsessed trick or treater who snaps. It works beautifully as an old school campfire tale, with a gruesomely gory payoff. Axelle Carolyn’s Grimm Grinning Ghost serves up a similarly straightforward spook story reminiscent of the infamous Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series from the 90’s. This Means War, by John Skipp, contains no supernatural elements or monsters of any kind, but presents a kind of story usually reserved for Christmas – two neighbors coming to blows over competing house decorations. On one side, the classical, spooky ghost-centric Halloween display, and on the other, the modern, in-your-face, heavy metal flavor spearheaded by folks like Rob Zombie. That segment really spoke to me.
Neil Marshall’s contribution, Bad Seed, closes out the bunch and has to be seen to be believed. To say more would detract from the experience. Just know that it introduces a monster so devilishly delightful it’s astonishing it hasn’t really been done before.
The best of the individual tales in Tales of Halloween make you hope for feature length versions, but as is common with anthology films, not all the segments work. With a whopping 10 stories crammed into a scant 92 minutes, some simply don’t have the time to lay the groundwork for what they’re going for, and end up feeling incomplete or confusing. Some are just so bonkers and off the wall they give you whiplash when held up next to the more straightforward horror shorts (I’m looking at you, Friday the 31st). With only 9 or 10 minutes dedicated to each tale, it can be both a blessing and a curse for the viewer. If a particular story just isn’t working, it doesn’t strain your patience to wait for the next one. The “box of chocolates” sense of discovery is palpable in this film.
Tales of Halloween will be best enjoyed with a group of Halloween-loving friends, refreshments, and a couple of jack ‘o lanterns glowing somewhere nearby. It’s chock full of cameos and Easter eggs aimed squarely at hardcore horror nuts, along with references and homages both subtle and blatant. Some of the individual shorts won’t quite land, but it’s almost just as fun to rate and critique them all as they go, and laugh at the moments that come totally out of left field. Where Trick R Treat was a singular vision, lovingly crafted down to the tiniest detail, Tales of Halloween is the film equivalent of dumping out your pillowcase of candy at the end of a night of trick or treating and surveying the spoils within.
I’m tempted to rate this film even higher, but for integrity’s sake I must acknowledge that it’s not for everyone. Those who are ambivalent or worse about Halloween probably won’t buy into it, and a certain breed of horror fanatic may turn their noses up at it, but if you’re in the proper mindset, it’s an absolute blast. Destined to sidle up alongside Trick R Treat and Creepshow in your annual October viewing marathon.