There was a time when horror anthologies were a thing to celebrate. Going back several decades, there have been classic examples such as “Dead of Night” and “Tales from the Crypt” (not the TV show, but the 1972 film starring Sir Ralph Richardson), a pair of films that were able to create terror from their well-told stories and the quality of their productions. Even as the tradition continued into the 80s with the stories getting sillier, there were still semi-decent entries like the “Creepshow” films that brought the fun of the original comics to life. Nowadays the tradition has grown somewhat dim, not due to lack of interest, but due to the lack of quality of the films themselves.
It would be fair to say that the anthology film has fallen victim to the pointless “gore factor” that many filmmakers think is required to scare audiences, with the prime offenders being the abhorrent “ABCs of Death” films, though, to be fair, there are still some filmmakers out there trying to make good on the original concept, such as Michael Dougherty and his highly-entertaining film “Trick ‘r Treat.” Now a new group of filmmakers looks to continue the tradition (whether for good or ill) in a new anthology known as “Tales of Halloween,” a collection of ten tales from eleven mostly-unknown directors.
Like with any anthology, its success is going to depend mostly on how many engaging stories it’s able to tell in its collection, for as veterans of these films know, it’s rare to find an entry where every single story is a keeper. Unfortunately, with “Tales of Halloween” what we get is a collection of stories that are mostly forgettable, lazily-written, and don’t even offer much in the way of entertainment value. For instance, two stories early on, one featuring a kid killing his babysitter and her boyfriend for eating his candy (“Sweet Tooth”) and another about kids getting revenge on a group of child killers (“Trick”), are a prime example of contemporary horror filmmakers’ faulty thinking. Like many others, they are under the mistaken impression that, if you throw buckets of blood all over the place, then it will be scary, but this simply isn’t the case.
Taking a look at another pair of stories, we have one where two neighbors battle it out over their celebration of Halloween (“This Means War”) and another where a young woman is supposedly stalked by a spirit that she only just heard about in a story (“Grim Grinning Ghost”). These are classic examples of tales with no payoff, both coming to a sudden end that leaves the viewer wondering, “Is that really it?” That being said, they do fair a little better than another tale that involves a witch and her husband (“Ding Dong”), where the primary problem is that the story is half-baked and seems quite confused as to what it wants to be.
All of that being said, it’s not a total loss as there are a pair of tales near the end of the film that are actually rather successful, one involving a deformed serial killer and aliens (“Friday the 31st”) and another about a pair of crooks who have kidnapped the worst “kid” imaginable (“The Ransom of Rusty Rex”). What’s different about these stories is that they are able to effectively combine horror with humor to create something memorable and engaging. It’s true that the story about the killer probably uses more blood than any other story in the film, but it’s done in such an over-the-top manner (somewhat in the style of “The Evil Dead”) that you can’t help but laugh at it, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the situation is completely absurd. It really makes you wish that all of the filmmakers had gotten together and agreed to use this approach to unify the film, for then it would have had a much better chance of being successful. I say “better chance” for even using a similar approach for the last story about a killer pumpkin didn’t help it very much, but that was mainly due to the tale’s poor writing than anything else.
Taken as a whole, “Tales of Halloween” is unfortunately a mixed bag of mostly tricks that will leave horror fans wanting something better. It’s not particularly surprising though, given that the few directors here that are known have been unable to deliver a decent horror film before, including Darren Lynn Bousman with his “Saw” films and Neil Marshall with “The Descent.” However it is a bit surprising to see that the two good stories came from directors and writers who aren’t well-known, including Mike Mendez (“Big Ass Spider!”) and Ryan Schifrin (“Abominable”). It doesn’t hit the depths of “The ABCs of Death,” but nor is it able to raise itself up to the level of the atmospheric classics, or even those entries on the lighter side of the spectrum. For a mere two decent stories out of ten, “Tales of Halloween” simply isn’t worth the time. 2/4 stars.
Now playing in select theaters and on Video on Demand.
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