(A.k.a. THE OCTOBER SOCIETY'S TALES OF HALLOWEEN)
Ten tales of horror all taking place in the same town, linked by being set on Halloween night. That may sound awfully reminiscent of TRICK 'R TREAT from just a few years back, or even - if you shift the timing of the action by a couple of months - the more recent A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY. It even opens with Adrienne Barbeau in a very similar role to William Shatner's in the latter movie, as the town's radio DJ and loose framing device for the ensuing action.
But ... with talent such as Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Pollyanna McIntosh, Stuart Gordon and Lalo Schifrin involved - to name but a few - this has to be worth a look. Right?
It begins proper with "Sweet Tooth", directed by Dave Parker. The story is simplicity in itself: young Mikey (Daniel DiMaggio) is enjoying gorging on the candy he's collecting trick-or-treating earlier that evening. His babysitter Lizzy (Madison Iseman) and her boyfriend Kyle (Austin Falk) they tell Mikey he needs to share his candy, otherwise Sweet Tooth will get him. Who? A wronged child from fifteen years earlier who now exists as an evil spirit intent on eating his fair share of sweets every Halloween. If you don't have any when he comes calling, he'll rip you open and take it from you.
This is a short, effective tale with a satisfying monster, agreeable protagonists and a fair bit of gore in store come the punchline.
Darren Lynn Bousman's "The Night Billy Raised Hell" follows. Young Billy (Marcus Eckert) is duped by older siblings into playing a trick on grumpy old Mr Abbadon's (Barry Bostwick) home. But this happens year-in year-out to Abbadon and he's had enough. Also, he's not quite what he seems to be. He takes Billy into his home, and under his wing, promising him a Halloween night he'll never forget...
This one didn't work so well for me. It's slick and stylish but too keen to impress in a short space of time. Unnecessary gimmickry such as speeded-up film and purposeless zoom-ins are distracting, while the surreal humour comes across as desperate.
Next up is "Trick", by Adam Gierasch. This is one of the film's highlights for me. Two couples (look out for genre stalwarts Trent Haaga and Tiffany Shepis) are enjoying an evening of getting drunk and stoned, their communal viewing of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD being interrupted occasionally by kids calling at their door for candy. Haaga answers one such call and ... well, watch it and see.
This starts off inauspiciously but develops into a tense, well-shot and expertly edited take on the killer-kids theme. There's a terrific tracking shot which seamlessly follows one character out of the house, across the back lawn and into the back alley where a shocking pay-off awaits. Good stuff.
"The Weak and the Wicked" comes courtesy of Paul Solet. It pays very obvious, and stylised, homage to Spaghetti Westerns in its tale of three outlaws terrorising local kids who are confronted by a nameless stranger. There's a dark past linking these characters and a daft, gruesome finale in store, but the high octane journey there is fun nevertheless.
Axelle Carolyn's "Grim Grinning Ghost" immediately earns points for by far the most interesting casting. In it, Lin Shaye hosts a Halloween party at her house for her daughter Lynn (Alex Essoe) and various other guests (Stuart Gordon, Mick Garris, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie ... see what I mean?). Shaye tells them all a spooky tale about a disfigured woman from the past who haunts locals at this time of year, and then bids a friendly farewell to the revellers.
But something untoward happens to Lynn during her drive back home...
A Gothic sensibility helps this vignette spook more than the others, though it is competing against a fair amount of cliché (cackling in the air; a heartbeat on the soundtrack that increases as terror nears). I enjoyed it though - and it demonstrates that Carolyn is really honing her craft of late.
Lucky McKee's "Ding Dong" pairs Pollyanna McIntosh and Marc Senter as a couple who've been trying for years to have a child, to no avail. This is in turn has driven the former to random acts of domestic violence against her husband. But there's more, including a final revelation that tips her well over the edge.
This is brisk, stylised tale with plenty of McKee's patented macabre humour along the way. It's quirky, of course, but it's also one of the shortest stories on offer - and the least satisfying. It feels like it busies itself so much with being absurd (yes, I get the metaphors for inner demons) that it forgets to connect with its audience.
"This Means War", from John Skipp and Andrew Kasch, takes the theme of feuding neighbours to illogical extremes, in a breathless tongue-in-cheek barrage of comic strip-style violence set to an eclectic score which incorporates heavy rock, classical strains and cartoonish frivolity.
"Friday the 31st" knowingly lampoons the excesses of the slasher genre, pitting the 'final girl' (Amanda Moyer) against a deformed killer (Nick Principe) as she unwittingly stumbles upon his remote, bodies-strewn lair. Mike Mendez directs with flair and, for the first five minutes, this is satisfyingly tense fare. But then we get a preposterous twist which totally alters the tone of the piece. Full marks for originality, I suppose, but the broad comedy that follows isn't for me - gory as it may be (paying clear homage to modern Asian horrors in terms of bloodletting).
Ryan Schifrin's "The Ransom of Rusty Rex" follows the misadventures of two kidnappers who snatch the wrong kid on Halloween night. It's not a bad little episode, competently performed and slickly edited. It's predictable but fun, and it's nice to see John Landis in a cameo as the kid's disinterested millionaire father.
Which leaves us with "Bad Seed", written and directed by Neil Marshall. Detective McNally (Kristina Klebe) has her hands full on the trail of a killer pumpkin in this daft but successfully deadpan, unexpectedly atmospheric old-school offering.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN perhaps would've benefitted from halving the number of stories on offer, and allowing the remaining five a little more room to breathe. As it stands, there's too much going on and it all feels rushed. We're never afforded the opportunity to warm to characters, the pace is so unrelenting and most stories have finished within a matter of minutes.
There is a concerted effort for consistency. The look of the film - generally dark but with CREEPSHOW-esque colours - is maintained throughout; characters are often seen watching NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on their televisions; Barbeau can often be heard on car radios; characters from other preceding tales sometimes turn up in passing during later vignettes. But the tone fluctuates between the knowingly camp, the macabre and the downright silly.
Resultantly, TALES OF HALLOWEEN is an extremely attractive film but not a substantial one. There are moments where you'll laugh and others where you'll cringe on behalf of the filmmakers. One thing you're less likely to do is remember the film to any great extent shortly after watching it.
Arrow Films are releasing TALES OF HALLOWEEN uncut on blu-ray and DVD. We were sent a copy of the former to review.
The film is presented uncut and uncensored, and in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The 16x9 transfer is, predictably, a stunning one. Striking rich colours, pin-sharp visuals, noise-free shading and a keen feel of cinematic depth prevail throughout. It's a polished production and that's certainly accentuated through this crystal-clear, luminous 1080p HD presentation. The transfer comes in the form of a nicely sized MPEG4-AVC file.
English audio comes in the form of a robust, stirring 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. This gives your surround system a real workout courtesy of intelligent channel separation and sharp shocks of blaring sound design in all the right places. Quieter passages are exceptionally clean; music and dialogue are evened out nicely so as to avoid the need to keep turning your volume up and down (always annoying).
The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for THE NEIGHBOUR, UNSPOKEN and ANGUISH. All of these are also presented in HD.
From there, an animated main menu page gains access to pop-up menus including a scene selection option, which includes 12 chapter stops.
Bonus features commence with an audio commentary from Mendez, Carolyn, Kasch, Marshall and Bousman. This is a tough listen, with Mendez and Marshall vying for centre stage while everyone speaks over each other, laughs raucously and strays off topic. They're clearly having fun, even if we're not.
We do get some entertaining bonus short films though, the best of which is Marshall's 21-minute BRAIN DEATH. Shot on old VHS and looking convincingly worn, this is a marvellous celebration of shit acting, bad English accents and risible dialogue. Oh, and zombie gore. Crude, badly executed gore. I loved it.
Carolyn's 7-minute THE HALLOWEEN KID is a nicely paced, atmospheric piece narrated by none other than Derek Jacobi.
McKee's BOILLY is a 30-second rush of claymation silliness.
Kasch and Skipp's 15-minute THIRSTY is better, despite some iffy acting. It's well-shot and cannily edited, and anyone who loves slushies will adore it.
Kasch and Skipp also proffer the less engaging 4-minute HOT ROD WORM, a gaudy music video with stop-motion animation and a band who like to pull stupid faces.
Schifrin's NO REST FOR THE WICKED sees two well-spoken Brits breaking into a casino, where some well-choreographed combat sequences and dry comedy ensue. I enjoyed it, and it's always nice to see Malcolm MacDowell - he's here in a most entertaining cameo (along with Kane Hodder as a bodyguard).
A 28-second deleted scene from Carolyn's episode doesn't add anything to the mix.
Much better is a 13-minute "anatomy of a scene" featurette on "Friday the 31st", which employs split-screens and storyboards to help demonstrate how the tense opening moments were developed.
A 7-strong photo gallery is basically stills of the makers posing for the camera.
51 seconds of original storyboards round off a decent set of extras.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN looks great, has amazing sound design and lots of enjoyable moments. It never quite gels and it's undeniably inconsistent, resulting in it having a "fast food" effect - it does its job at the time, but you'll soon feel hungry for something more substantial shortly after having finished it.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Films|
|see main review|