As I laid on my couch last night, despondent over Halloween’s ghost quickly disappearing in my rearview mirror, I decided to watch the recently released horror anthology, Tales of Halloween, if only to keep the festive embers glowing just a little bit longer. It wasn’t something I had planned on watching; despite its voluminous cast and the certified Grade A horror pedigree involved, the trailer looked like the typical low-budget shot-on-digital crud that you’d expect to see being funded via Kickstarter. Alas, I was desperate for one last shot of Halloween, so I turned it on.
I will say this: it wasn’t terrible. In fact, it was totally watchable and easily digestible.
Horror anthologies — much like all things nostalgic and ripe for a modern exploitation — have been making a comeback in recent years. They flickered out in the early-’90s, but they were reignited in 2007 with the release of Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘R Treat. Since 2012, the stream of horror anthologies has been pretty consistent, starting with the fair-to-middlin’ V/H/S. That same year, the superior and much more cohesive The ABC’s of Death was released. Multiple sequels for both films followed, and the trend continues today with Tales of Halloween and the soon to be released Holidays.
Now some horror anthologies have a common thread that ties the stories together, while others have a wraparound segment that begins and ends the movie. Tales of Halloween tries to pull off both by having all the stories take place on Halloween night, all seeming to occur in the same neighborhood with the same residents (very similar to the aforementioned Trick ‘R Treat) and by having a radio DJ open and close the movie, while providing some interstitial narration. I’m actually not a fan of the “common thread” approach; to me, it’s a very worn out trope. It feels like a cheap, easy, and unnecessary device to excite viewers when in reality it’s more distracting than anything and always feels shoe-horned in. It isn’t terrible in Tales of Halloween, but they also coulda done without it and still had the same exact movie. So what’s the point, y’know?
Another facet of the horror anthology: determining the length of each segment. On one end of the spectrum, you have Two Evil Eyes, an anthology from 1990 which had only two segments, each one about an hour long. In the middle, you have Creepshow with five segments that clocked in around 22 minutes a piece. And at the other end of the spectrum you have The ABCs of Death, which had twenty-six segments, each only about 4 minutes long. Tales of Halloween falls somewhere in the middle with ten segments, each about 9 minutes long. Personally, I think Creepshow hit the sweet spot for segment length — not too short, not too long — the perfect format for an anthology. Despite this, I think the shorter length of the stories in Tales of Halloween actually works in its favor: get in, get out, no dragging of the feet.
Speaking of short episodic formats, one of the best parts about Tales of Halloween is that it reminded me of the TV show Tales from the Darkside. The segments vary from campy to gory to spooky, all crafted lovingly with a low-budget touch. Some anthologies — like Trick ‘R Treat — are shot very cinematically. They look like a typical movie, they feel like a movie. Tales of Halloween looks and feel like a collection of TV episodes — and I mean that in a positive way. I also got a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark vibe from a couple segments, too — which is another plus.
So a quick rundown of the segments before I wrap this up:
- “Sweet Tooth”, your standard spooky under-the-covers Halloween story come to life.
- “The Night Billy Raised Hell”, a little boy pulling pranks learns a lesson from a creepy old man. My second favorite of the bunch.
- “Trick”, a bit of Children of the Corn meets The Strangers. Simple entry but still fun enough.
- “The Weak and the Wicked”, a classic monster-infused tale of revenge.
- “Grim Grinning Ghost”, quick and one-note but reminiscent of a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark story.
- “Ding Dong”, a dark and wacky story of a husband and his witchy wife — heavy Tales from the Darkside vibes on this one.
- “This Means War”, neighbors battle over yard decorations. Funny and absent of any horror whatsoever, but still feels at home given the across-the-board variety of the movie.
- “Friday the 31st”, another funny horror tale. Imagine if Jason Voorhees and Rankin/Bass got together to make an ode to Evil Dead, and you’d get this segment.
- “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”, perhaps my favorite of the lot. Some kidnappers snatch a kid and get more than they bargained for. Creepy, funny, gory, silly. Hits all the major points. Definite Tales from the Darkside vibes from this segment, as well.
- “Bad Seed”, a killer pumpkin wreaks havoc on the town. Almost Troma-esque in its concept and delivery.
My overall opinion of the movie: it’s actually a pretty fun jaunt. At times, the acting is a bit wooden (I get it; it’s low-budget), but that’s about my biggest complaint. Give it a watch, but make sure you go into it with the right mindset — expect to smirk more than shriek.