Ed. note– Halloween in November continues, as I look at a film from 10 directors, multiple screenwriters, with all sorts of cameos from horror directors of much better horror flicks and references to films that you’ll want to watch instead of this one. It’s no CREEPSHOW.– P.F.
Sometimes I wonder why filmmakers make a particular project. With the horror anthology TALES OF HALLOWEEN, I guess the ten directors were shooting for the acclaim of TRICK ‘R TREAT and the lofty classic status of CREEPSHOW. What they ended up making was more in line with A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, a far cry from what I guess was their mark.
It’s obvious from the first few minutes that the filmmakers are trying to evoke some of the master of horror. Adrienne Barbeau appears as our radio host and narrator, basically reprising her role as Stevie Wayne in John Carpenter’s THE FOG. The first skit evokes his ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, with a kid dressed as Snake Plissken, as Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD plays on a TV in the back. With those references, they’re drawing comparisons to some of Carpenter’s best works, and even more directly CREEPSHOW. Toss in Caroline Williams and Robert Rusler in the first segment, and you’ve got ties to Tobe Hooper and Hell of Famer Wes Craven as well. That’s ballsy, even more so because these young guys are lightweights by comparison. There’s not a skit here that will last in your memory as Jordy Verill or Uncle Nathan endure in the minds of Romero fans. Because TALES OF HALLOWEEN, if anything, proves this generation of horror directors just don’t have it like the great masters.
In fact, 10 different tales with 10 different directors each deserve a separate look. So let’s have at it:
“Sweet Tooth” dir. Dave Parker – I am less enchanted with THE HILLS RUN RED and THE DEAD HATE THE LIVING than Parker’s fans are, but this is a decent way to start the proceedings. A kid’s hot babysitter and her boyfriend tell a kid a spooky Halloween kid about the title character, who took his love of Halloween candy way too far. If not for all the jammed in references I mentioned (and a Carpenter candy bar; talk about subtlety!), I could’ve gotten into this one, especially as much as I love food. There’s even a great “drag the girl into the darkness and away from the lens” shot, but it’s not a girl. If only it weren’t so predictable.
“The Night Billy Raised Hell” dir. Darren Lynn Bousman—The devil forces a kid to do pranks on trick or treaters and the neighbors. Bousman’s work is always mean spirited, nasty stuff, and this skit is no different. It would be total junk, if not for a particularly inspired performance from Barry Bostwick as Mr. Abbadon. This is the most fun he’s been since Spin City was on, as he relishes in the fun of being a bad boy. Too bad his great performance is in this skit, which again has a totally predictable ending. This is also the first of many skits to feature Felissa Rose, who never utters a line of dialogue, and is obviously here as connective tissue between tales.
“Trick” dir. Adam Gierasch—Did you want a Troma alum reunion? “Trick” has one for you, with Trent Haaga and Tiffany Shepis. Unfortunately, Haaga doesn’t bring any of his nutzoid energy to the affair, and is around far too short to have any fun with things. Shepis is in “female who drops the keys before being hacked violently to death” mode, which makes me question why Gierasch even employed two of Troma’s better stars only not to give them anything interesting to do. This is another mean tale, with some killer kids exacting revenge. The twist only makes the victims as unlikable as the kids, and I can’t like a tale where I can’t empathize with anybody. Gierasch also directed the remake of Kevin Tenney’s NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, another failed Gierasch take on Halloween.
“The Weak and the Wicked” dir. Paul Solet—Finally a story I can dig my teeth into. Three psycho kids have chosen the wrong kid to taunt on Halloween. Solet uses some nice light through fog and thrash metal here, and I like how the kid who challenges the gang is inept once they react. This all culminates in a reveal of an awesome demon, which points out the best and worst elements of TALES OF HALLOWEEN; there’s this demon who’s ready to wreak havoc and turn up the fun considerably, but all we get is a “five second reveal of our really cool looking demon.” We don’t even get to see him kill anyone; that’s all sound effects and screams. TALES OF HALLOWEEN suffers as a classic case of sticking 10 stories into a five story bag. If TALES had taken the time to extend this skit, and let that demon run rampant on Halloween night, it would’ve been a lot of fun. But we never get that, and that’s just one of many wasted opportunities in this flick.
“Grim Grinning Ghost” dir. Axelle Carolyn—This one takes two classic Halloween tropes—the gather round for some ghost stories, and the scaredy cat—and doesn’t do nearly as much as it should. After getting spooked by her horror all-star group of friends led by Lin Shaye, our lead actress has some tough sledding getting home through a town where everything seems to go bump in the night. Should I really be surprised that the final scare isn’t so mundane? Or that this skit, just like the last one, ends just as it gets interesting?
“Ding Dong” dir. Lucky McKee—Finally, a skit that revels in both the joys and scares of Halloween, capturing the essence of what this flick should have been. A mother who’s lost her child also turns out to be some demon-witch thing, in McKee’s twisted take on Hansel and Gretel. McKee touches on grieving parents, loss, emasculation and cannibalism, all in the course of ten minutes or so. That he does so with a wicked humor and a dose of humanity make this the highlight of the flick. There is something wild and brilliant about Pollyanna McIntosh in every role she plays, and she relishes her role here. A mixture of psychotic joy, boobs and unleashed anger, she gives the single best performance in TALES OF HALLOWEEN. My only regret is Angela Bettis, McKee’s muse, is wholly absent from “Ding Dong.” Otherwise, great stuff.
“This Means War” dir. John Skipp and Andrew Kasch—I know John Skipp mainly for the zombie anthologies he’s edited, and always forget he wrote an ELM STREET sequel. Which makes sense, because this skit is as forgettable as they come. It’s more a through line than an actual skit—“man who loves decorating for holidays gets into war with noisy punk neighbor ruining his mood”—with absolute character development. It’s painted in such broad strokes and is so underdeveloped it’s paper thin. With some more fleshing out and a longer running time, this could have had some fun with a battle of the generations. As it is, you can skip this one and not miss a thing.
“Friday the 31st” dir. Mike Mendez—Mendez almost has the highlight of the flick, with a poke at 80s slashers that is just as silly as its title suggests. Classic goof as girl falls down, masked hillbilly maniac pursues relentlessly with machete in one hand and severed top half of head in the other, girl runs like a cheetah as maniac walks half-mile per hour yet still catches up to her. There’s even the “maniac arranges his victims’ bodies all in one place” gag. It’s when a third character shows up in the form of what looks like really bad claymation that “Friday the 31st” falls apart. Nick Principe does an amazing job as the mongoloid killer, especially once the tables turn on him. If you’re going to hire a guy to be a maniac killer, Principe should be your guy. The final battle between maniac and final girl goes all EVIL DEAD 2, which plays well for laughs, with oceans of blood and a multitude of weapons. But that trashy claymation thing shows up at the end and busts the illusion. Still, most of this is a joy.
“The Ransom of Rusty Rex” dir. Ryan Schifrin—Years ago for Icons of Fright, I reviewed Schifrin’s flick ABOMINABLE, a throwback Bigfoot flick that threw in the REAR WINDOW angle. It was ok. With “Rex,” Schifrin is dealing with much better material, if not exactly an original concept. Two kidnappers take a hostage whose relatives don’t want the hostage back, and the hostage turns out to be way more than the kidnappers can handle. This is the plot of “Rex,” and also of Bette Midler’s 1986 flick RUTHLESS PEOPLE. Jose Pablo Cantillo and Sam Witwer are brilliant as the dimwitted kidnappers, who become desperate to rid themselves of their hostage as things go from bad to worse. There’s a lot of Three Stooges humor mixed in with a demon child, and it works. It’s hard not to end up rooting for these dummies.
“Bad Seed” dir. Neil Marshall It’s fitting that Joe Dante shows up in “Bad Seed,” as so many of the Gurus from his Trailers from Hell are involved. Also fitting that “Bad Seed” seems more in Dante’s wheelhouse than Neil Marshall’s. Kristina Klebe is a cop hunting down killer pumpkins. Yes, killer pumpkins. “Bad Seed” has Dante’s trademark anarchic glee, which is worlds from Marshall’s dark catalogue that included THE DESCENT and DOOMSDAY. Klebe plays it straight, and does one Hell of a job at it. Her investigation brings her to a laboratory run by Dante’s Prof. Milo Gottleib, where she finds the killer pumpkins may be a much larger problem than anyone could have suspected. It’s one of the better skits, and seeing Joe Dante onscreen is always a pleasure. He puts a delicious Dante-esque spin on TALES FROM HALLOWEEN that it would have benefitted from had it pervaded the entire anthology.
That TALES OF HALLOWEEN ends with Dante only reminds me just how much it wants to revere the elder masters, but never gets close to that rarified air. Romero, Hooper, Craven, Dante and John Landis directed DAWN OF THE DEAD, the first two TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRES, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, GREMLINS and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON respectively, and Carpenter gave birth to an entire subgenre with a flick literally named HALLOWEEN. I feel if those all got together for an anthology in their primes, we’d have a masterwork for the ages that, even as it paid homage to the classics, would also be a stroke of genius on its own. TALES OF HALLOWEEN, on the other hand, is an overloaded anthology, stuffed with stories that are generic and predictable at best, and utterly pointless at worst. This gives me pause to consider how those elder masters have no fear of being replaced by this current crop. Horror clearly ain’t what it used to be.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN can’t hold a candle to CREEPSHOW, and it isn’t nearly as fun or well made as TRICK ‘R TREAT. It’s about on par with A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, which is to say it’s more tricks than treats. The 10 directors handing out the candy should have doled out a better selection of sweets.