The soft, sultry voice of former John Carpenter regular Adrienne Barbeau comes over the radio, reminiscent of Lynne Thigpen in The Warriors. Then the opening credits begin, and you’re treated to a new bit of score from Mission: Impossible composer Lalo Schifrin. If you’re a B-movie buff then you already have plenty to be excited about, and there’s going to be plenty more to come, but first it’s going to be time to pay close attention. You’re about to see ten short films by ten directors, and if you want to know who was responsible for which one, then you need to either pay really close attention and memorise it all during the opening credits, watch the film with IMDb open on your smartphone, or consult this review to make things easier for you.
Things kick off in promising fashion with “Sweet Tooth”, in which a ten-ish-year-old boy dressed as Snake Plissken does what any boy dressed as Snake Plissken does on Halloween, and gorges himself with candy. But he’s warned not to by his babysitter and her boyfriend, who spin the tale of Sweet Tooth, a brilliantly realised and creditably urban legend-y story about a candy-crazed boy who murders his parents and even goes as far as to suck up the leftover chocolate from their guts. “Sweet Tooth” comes to us courtesy of Dave Parker, whose modest CV includes The Hills Run Red but who delivers one of the anthology’s strongest segments.
Next up is Darren Lynn Bousman’s “The Night Billy Raised Hell”. Bousman, who is perpetually credited for his decidedly mainstream Saw II–IV and his decidedly un-mainstream Repo! The Genetic Opera, delivered his masterpiece at this year’s FrightFest with Abattoir. When Tales of Halloween closed the programme at last year’s festival, his short was the standout, and it still is, with its devilish good humour, its cartoon-influenced use of sound and music, and its visuals that can only be called chocolate-box.
Adam Gierasch, who directed Autopsy and the remake of Night of the Demons, delivers the anthology’s first misfire with “Trick”, in which some weed-smoking adults find themselves terrorised by some trick-or-treating youngsters, before the short delivers the nasty trick for which it is titled. The script for this short is clever, but the direction does it no favours, and it’s left as a jumbled, rushed-feeling segment of an otherwise pretty well-realised little film.
Paul Solet has a small-time CV, the highlight of which is probably the supernatural-baby picture Grace. However, don’t let that prejudice you against him, as his short, “The Weak and the Wicked”, shows some promise. A gang of bullies terrorise a young man, who manages to summon some sort of demon specific to Halloween-night vengeance. The script is slightly muddled, but the touches of Mad Max, martial arts, and revenge Westerns provide some interest, and of all the shorts, this is the one that feels like it might convince as a feature.
Axelle Carolyn has only one feature to her name, the generally well-received Soulmate. She’s also married to the much-admired Neil Marshall – well, lucky her. Her segment, “Grim Grinning Ghost”, didn’t do much to win me over. In fact, it was the only one I had to rack my brains to remember. But, you know, they can’t all be winners, can they?
Up next is Lucky McKee, who delivered two of the current millennium’s essential horrors in May and The Woman, bafflingly makes a total mess of his segment “Ding Dong”. A riff on the Hansel and Gretel legend, retold using a couple (one-half of whom happens to be Pollyanna McIntosh) unable to conceive, the expected feminist angle is duly present, but there is little else there to capture the imagination.
Andrew Kasch has only directed one film, the short “Thirsty”, but he has years of experience in the kind of retrospective documentaries that you find on DVDs and Blu-Rays. With “This Means War”, he puts his film buff’s knowledge of horror history to work, pitching two Halloween lawn-display curators against one another: one has set out the same fastidious Gothic display year after year, while the other takes a bloody, slapdash approach that might have been informed by Rob Zombie or Eli Roth. The two disagree violently over the proper manner in which Halloween ought to be observed, and we the viewer learn that fights over what constitutes true horror benefit no-one, in the anthology’s funniest, smartest short.
Mike Mendez of Big Ass Spider! gives us another humorous short with Friday the 31st, in which a Jason Voorhees-like supernatural killer meets his match in a tiny Claymation alien.
After that, Abominable’s Ryan Schifrin shows up, with a cameo from John Landis, directing a nicely tongue-in-cheek tale of a kidnapping gone wrong in “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”.
As the director of the final short, it falls on Neil Marshall to tie everything that we’ve just seen together, and he does an admirable job with “Bad Seed”, even throwing in a Joe Dante cameo. Throughout the anthology, we’ve seen characters and situations from other shorts intertwine to some extent, but with “Bad Seed”, Marshall manages to give everything a sort of coherence – at least, enough coherence for comedy’s sake. And it is comedy that he pursues here: we know from Dog Soldiers that he can do comedy-horror; and we know from The Descent that he can scare your pants off when he feels like it, but he just didn’t feel like it this time around.
As a whole, Tales of Halloween has been constructed to appeal to horror fans, the kind who will recognise the not-exactly-mainstream names attached to it, the kind who will appreciate the little references scattered throughout it, and the kind who will be so well-disposed to it that they won’t mind that none of the shorts here are actively frightening. It’s exactly the sort of film that was made to be enjoyed with a few beers in the right sort of company, and with Halloween coming up, it’s time to gather those friends and have a watch.
Tales of Halloween is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD, will you be adding it to your collection? Let us know in the comment box below!