Horror anthologies can be tricky things to pull off as each story has a relatively short allotted time to provide the set-up, the scares and the punchline. George Romero’s original Creepshow way back in 1982 is probably the most notable example of how to do this right but we’ve seen some more recent attempts such as 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat, which also did a wonderful job of balancing the episodes and connecting it all together. Now in both those cases a single director helmed all the segments, which makes it easier for a coherent structure and theme to be maintained, but with Tales of Halloween there’s not only a different director for each segment but there are ten stories in the anthologies limited 97 minute running time and that’s a lot. So let’s take a quick look at each of the segments that makes up Tales of Halloween to see if they were able to pull it off.
In this first segment, directed by Dave Parker, we get a babysitter and her boyfriend telling her young charge about the legend of “Sweet Tooth” who apparently was a young boy whose parents let him trick or treat but then didn’t allow him to eat the candy, which one must admit is kind of dickish, then one fateful Halloween the kid snuck down to find his parents eating all the candy and so he brutally murdered them. He ate all the candy even the stuff that was already in their bellies. The legend states that if you don’t leave some candy for Sweet Tooth his evil spirit will come and take it…all of it. These two teenage jerks of course told him this story so that they’d be able to pig out on his candy while the poor kid cowered in his bed, and needless to say Sweet Tooth does show up and the two teens pay the ultimate price. This segment has some solid gore and the “Urban Legend” is something one could believe would be told around campfires and on Halloween night.
The second segment is by director Darren Lynn Bousman, who is mostly known for directing a couple of the Saw movies and it deals with a hapless kid who is bullied into egging the house of a Halloween curmudgeon. Turns out the neighbour is the Devil himself (Barry Bostwick) and this version of the Devil is not one to spare the rod to spoil the child and his lesson to this kid results in a night of Trick ‘r Treating carnage. Bostwick is clearly having fun with this role, and the episodes twist ending is pretty good, but I’d say the title over sold how much Hell was actually raised.
Director Adam Gierasch brings a dark tale of revenge as a pair of couples whose plans to spend their Halloween night getting drunk or stoned ends badly. Their fun time is interrupted when a little girl dressed as witch practically disembowels one of them. This segment had a cool “Children of the Corn” vibe to it but when the motivation behind the killings is revealed things we realize things are even darker than we’d first suspected. The premise and twist to this segment is quite good but it probably would have worked even better if given a full length feature length and not crammed into a ten minute spot.
In this segment we have three teen-age sociopaths harassing trick or treaters until they come across a teen whose parents they’d murdered years ago when they themselves were children. The kid runs from the trio of killers but surprise surprise the bullies soon find themselves on the receiving end of a supernatural ass kicking and blood does fly. Of the ten stories that make up this anthology director Paul Solet’s entry is easily the weakest and as its following another revenge it comes across even lamer, as does the rubber mask of the monster. At least it was one of the shortest episodes.
Anthology creator Axelle Carolyn helms this segment and it is one of the more moody and atmospheric entries as it follows a poor woman who after leaving a Halloween party finds herself being stalked by a malevolent spirit. The tension and suspense is palpable as the she tries to make it home, not helped by her car breaking down of course, and the use of light and shadows is fantastic and spooky as hell. Sadly it all adds up to just a “gotcha” ending that really undercut all of that the director had managed to achieve up to that point. The result is thirteen minutes of terror that only builds to a weak pay off.
This segment is just too fucking bizarre. Director Lucky McKee helms this weird short about a woman so upset at not being able to have children that she becomes some sort of witch/demon who abuses her husband and puts on a creepy act for Trick or Treaters. This segment even starts off with an unnecessary prologue that not only doesn’t reveal anything useful but doesn’t even set-up where the story is going, which sadly is nowhere. This piece should have been jettisoned to allow some of the better ones more breathing room.
Written and directed by Andrew Kasch and John Skipp this segment is the Halloween version of all the Christmas decoration wars we’ve seen in other movies. In this instance we have a guy with the traditional “Spooky Haunted House” theme going, one he’s been displaying every Halloween for twenty years, but now he must deal with the new neighbours who’s decoration lean more to the Rob Zombie meets Saw kind of thing. Sadly all this leads to is the Halloween rivals fighting each other while the neighbouring residents cheer them on. Another possibly cool premise that went nowhere.
Director Mike Mendez gives us easily the best entry in the anthology with his segment that drops us right in the middle of classic horror movie scene where a Jason Voorhees type killer is stalking what one would normally assume to be the film’s final girl, but then she is brutally killed and aliens show up. Did not see that coming. A tiny little alien is beamed down from a spaceship and asks the Jason Clone “Trick or Treat?” What follows is very much in the Sam Raimi vein where gore and humor run hand in hand.
Two idiots decide kidnapping is a safer bet than bank robbing in this entry by director Ryan Schifrin and it’s the segment that really has the fun vibe of those old Tales From the Crypt television shows. When these two knuckleheads kidnap the son of a local millionaire they get the shock of their lives when their abductees “father” refuses to pay the ransom. Turns out millionaire Jebediah Rex (John Landis) is more than happy at this turn of events because Rusty isn’t actually his son but a demon that has been harassing him for years. This is a one joke premise that may have gone on a bit longer than it needed to but the laughs are good and it had the perfect E.C. comic ending.
What’s a Halloween anthology without a killer pumpkin? Well in this last installment, directed by the great Neil Marshall, that is exactly what we get as we follow a police detective as she tries to track down a murderer who is clearly not your garden variety killer. Pun intended. This is a fun segment but is also another one that would have worked so much better as feature length movie; Kristin Klebe as Detective McNally is given no real character to work with as she runs from crime scene to crime scene and even Joe Dante’s cameo as a scientist can’t save this good premise from being criminally wasted. The segment ends with a silly cliffhanger that is a clear nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark but only makes you wish you were watching that film instead. If given a movie of its own Bad Seed could have been the new Jack Frost but as is stands it’s kind of a flat ending to what is a rather so-so anthology.
Stuffing ten horror stories into a 97 minute movie was a bit of a gamble and sadly it didn’t pay off, the few segments that work almost do it in spite of how they were crammed into the anthologies framework, which is kind of held together by the voice of radio DJ that is provided by Adrienne Barbeau in what I’m assuming is a nod to her character in John Carpenter’s The Fog. All ten stories take place in this one town, with some characters popping in and out of each other’s segments, but in the final shakedown what we are left with are a bunch of promising ideas cut short and some that should have been cut completely. This isn’t a terrible horror anthology but with the amount of talent on hand I was hoping for better.