Review: ‘Tales of Halloween’ (ahoy, trick or treaters)

Actors shouldn’t be more interesting than their characters’ stories.

As introduced by a late-night radio DJ (Adrienne Barbeau) on All Hallow’s Eve, ten spine-tingling tales all occur in the same small town on the same night. Bear witness to a babysitter’s story of a monster (Hunter Smit) ravenous for candy; a rite of passage when a boy (Marcus Eckert) graduates to a teen by playing his first trick on an old codger (Barry Bostwick); a Halloween decoration battle to the death; a grim grinning ghost; a child kidnapped for ransom whose father (John Landis?!) is perfectly happy not to pay; and a jack-o’-lantern from the wrong side of the pumpkin patch.

The Halloween anthology film Trick ‘r Treat was originally released to little fanfare, but it has steadily won the approval of horror fans ever since as must-watch Spook-tober viewing. Other notable anthologies include Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and more recently The Mortuary Collection, but such undertakings can be tricky, especially on a budget. This is where storytelling skills serve best, trimming necessary reveals to the minimum and saving up cash for the big money shots; production designers and special effects artists have made their names stretching dollars for such productions. While some anthologies have the same writers and directors throughout, others are individual collaborations made independently and edited together; for those such productions, do the multiple creators share in the reward for success as well as the blame for failure?

With a running time under 100 minutes and less than ten minutes per segment allotted, each are just long enough to set up a gag and let it play out. Half the segments nail this outline and half of them don’t, a fact highlighted by a final segment that fails to link any of the previous stories meaningfully and falls very flat. Shoving too many stories into the short running time is the obvious mistake; why didn’t anyone suggest trimming the weakest out and shoring up the best six or so into a better wrap-around segment? Hearing the sultry Adrienne Barbeau (channeling Stevie Wayne from The Fog) introducing each story while appearing in none of them is the biggest offense among many.

There are a few notable standouts. “Sweet Tooth” is effective as well as “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” “This Means War,” and “The Ransom of Rusty Rex.” Straddling the line are “Grim Grinning Ghost” and “Ding Dong,” but reserving “Bad Seed” for the final segment — in spite a fun cameo by Joe Dante — makes the end credit sequence look like a mercy killing. “Trick” suffers from a lack of context that makes it feel too random to be deliberate, while “The Weak and the Wicked” suffers from casting obvious adults as teens, unique in this anthology since there were plenty of kids for the other parts. “Friday the 31st” feels intentionally awful and is an acquired taste at best; viewers can be forgiven for forgetting this as abruptly as it ends.

Many scenes are graphic and gory with good use of storytelling, while some sequences are cringe-worthy but not in a good way. “Bad Seed” unfortunately stays with you, like watching the beginning of a fun B-movie before abruptly skipping to the end without explanation. Between this final act and the worst aforementioned segments, this anthology can’t be recommended in its entirety, but horror cinephiles may be interested if only in the name of completion.

Tales of Halloween is rated R for strong bloody horror violence throughout, language, brief drug use, and credits like “No animals were harmed in the making of this film, but we sure did kill a lot of pumpkins.”

Two skull recommendation of of four

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