The anthology is a tough nut to crack. They can be wholly terrible, insanely great or some dissatisfying combination of the two. The most recent horror anthology to make its way to theaters and VOD is The October Society’s Tales of Halloween, which falls somewhere on the right side of that spectrum. Since this is an anthology, let’s take these stories one-by-one, shall we?
The whole thing is tied loosely together thanks to mostly-VO narration by none other than Stevie Wayne, I mean Adrienne Barbeau, a local DJ who opines about Halloween and all the ghoulies and ghosties that come out that night. It’s nice to hear her voice laid over these stories, and I wish she did more work in modern horror films. I miss you, Adrienne.
The first story is “Sweet Tooth,” directed by Dave Parker (The Dead Hate the Living), an entry into the local Halloween legend type of tale in which a kid is terrorized by the recanting of a historical murder by a kid who was never allowed to eat his candy after trick-or-treating. When he discovers the ultimate fate of his forbidden candy, he goes a little bananas and becomes the stuff of legend. Of course, the legend is real and the story serves as the goriest of all. It’s fun and has a good villain, so we’re off to a good start.
Next up, Darren Lynn Bousman’s (Saw 2-4) “The Night Billy Raised Hell.” A young boy who is goaded into playing a trick on his devilish next door neighbor finds out what a real trick is when a night of violent debauchery follows. Barry Bostwick plays the neighbor with glee, and there are some real laugh-out-loud moments as the kid goes on a Hell of a rampage.
“Trick,” directed by Adam Gierasch (Autopsy), is the maybe the weakest of the bunch, though it does boast a turn from ubiquitous B-movie veteran Tiffany Schepis. We’re treated to a quartet of adults terrorized by kids who only offer the “trick” side of the “trick-or-treat” equation, though their murderous invasion has some justification. It’s mercifully short, but the reveal at the end is a bit ham-fisted and unsatisfying. Still, as segments of anthologies go, it’s still quite watchable.
Paul Solet (Deadgirl) taps his old pal Noah Segan to join him for “The Weak and the Wicked,” a sort-of Western/Halloween mish-mash that takes the idea of bullying and makes it a showdown between a boy and a trio of hooligans. The direction is sharp and, despite the fact that you can see the end coming a mile away, is still quiet fun.
We return to an old-fashioned ghost story with “Grim Grinning Ghost,” directed by Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate), which is a fairly routine girl-walks-home-alone-at-night story with a nice payoff, though it did remind me a bit of the spectacular short “Lights Out,” that employs the same tactic. For horror fans, it’s fun to pick out the royalty in this one, which features cameos by Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon and Barbara Crampton, as well as featuring Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but its brief run-time still holds some chills and nice compositions.
“Ding Dong” from Lucky McKee is surreal and bizarre, and stars Polyanna McIntosh as a child-eating witch. It’s possibly my least favorite, but it’s undeniably weird and makes for a nice break in the generally linear composition of most of the stories.
Comedian Dana Gould stars in “This Means War,” in which neighbors with very different takes on how to celebrate Halloween find themselves literally at each other’s throats. Directed by Andrew Kasch (Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy) and John Skipp (a whole bunch of amazing books – seriously, stop reading this and read his work with Craig Spector), it’s aone-joke short, but raises an interesting question about Halloween displays and what’s “appropriate” in their design. I think it highlights the two schools of horror thought in an interesting way, too. Plus it’s pretty funny.
Big Ass Spider!‘s Mike Mendez chimes in with “Friday the 31st,” a riff on the old unstoppable killer motif. Like his arachnophobic feature, this entry has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and contains the most obvious nods to the world of horror, including the head of Pamela Voorhees and the Necronomicon as background props. It involves a cuddly claymation alien that infects one of the killer’s victims and resurrects her to extract revenge for a disturbing lack of candy. It’s silly and over the top and I really enjoyed it.
Ryan Schifrin’s (Abominable) “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” is a very entertaining tale of would-be kidnappers who steal the presumable son of millionaire Jebediah Rex (John Landis), only to find they have inherited a real toothy problem. It’s also light on horror and heavy on comedy, but Landis is straight-faced terrific in some of his line deliveries and it’s a great short.
Finally, Neil Marshall of Dog Soldiers and The Descent fame rounds out the film with “Bad Seed,” in which a pumpkin carved into a jack o’lantern decides he’s had enough on goes on a killing spree. The final segment nods to the other films in the collection and is, on its own, a very funny send-up of the monster movies in which a lone detective is the only one capable of stopping our villain. One scene in particular involving the cop (Kristina Klebe) surrounded by potentially lethal pumpkins is drop-dead hysterical. Also, kudos to Marshall for his parallel to a classic shot from the classic remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Taken as the sum of its parts, Tales of Halloween is an often funny and occasionally chilling collection of tales. While not in the same league as Trick’r’Treat, it’s a worthy inclusion to your list of cinematic Halloween stories, even if it doesn’t earn the rank of classic. It’s entertaining and done with such earnest love for the holiday, it’s hard not to like. For you horror hounds, it’s also a cornucopia of references to other films, filmmakers and actors, so much so you can wile away much of the runtime simply pointing out these tips o’ the hat to friends and family. This one is definitely worth a look if you pine for the days of the horror anthology, or just need to see Barry Bostwick with horns.