Tales of Halloween Review
Tales of Halloween could easily be regarded as yet another anthology of cheap horror stories destined to exploit the famous date. However, when looking closely at the talents involved, it is definitely much more exciting than this. The list of directors includes big names of the horror genre such as Neil Marshall (director of Dog Soldiers), The Descent and the underestimated Doomsday, now unfortunately lost in the realm of promising directors doing their job on big TV series such as Game of Thrones or Westworld), Lucky McKee (May, The Woman), Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) or Mike Mendez (The Covent, The Gravedancers, Big Ass Spider!), and directors with already one more or less recognised title behind them (Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate), also creator of this anthology, Adam Gierasch (Night of the Demon), David Parker (The Hills Run Red), Ryan Schifrin (Abominable), Paul Solet (Grace)), and newcomers John Skipp & Andrew Kasch.
They all agreed to participate in this project which also benefits from the noticeable cameos from greats directors of the genre: Joe Dante Gremlins, John Landis An American Werewolf in London, Stuart Gordon Re-Animator or Mick Garris Sleepwalkers. Only John Carpenter (The Thing) seems to be missing but his influence can clearly be felt throughout the stories, either via quick references (the chocolate bar in Parker’s segment Sweet Tooth) or explicit homages (Marshall is an avowed fan of the director of Halloween and his segment, Bad Seed, is littered with references and it is difficult not to think about Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the famous non Michael Myers’ sequel which was, uncreditedly, written by the Master of Horror himself , when watching it).
As in all anthologies, the quality of the segments varies greatly with totally anecdotic segments (Gierasch’s gratuitously gory Trick, Skipp & Kasch’s interesting but badly treated This Means War) or frustratingly disappointing ones (Carolyn’s nicely shot Grim Grinning Ghost and Parker’s Sweet Tooth are both let down by their conventional ending, and Marshall’s Bad Seed features an amazing creature but a script disserved by the length of the segment and wooden acting).
Paradoxically, the standout segments of the anthology turn out to be the “funny” ones: Bouseman’s irreverent The Night Billy Raised Hell in which a great Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) embodies a revengeful demon, Schifrin’s reversed The Ransom of Rusty Rex and Mendez’s hilarious homage to, weirdly, slasher movies, sci-fi, The Evil Dead and Ray Harryhausen with Friday the 31st!
On the “more serious” side, McKee’s creepily offbeat Ding Dong, which also greatly benefits from another inhabited performance from his “woman”, Pollyanna McIntosh, and Solet’s Westernian The Weak and the Wicked) also clearly stand out for their artistic qualities.
Unfortunately, despite these inspired segments, Tales of Halloween will struggle to remain in the collective unconscious due to a lack of really memorable stories as was the case in cornerstones of the genre such as George Romero’s Creepshow (noticeably The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill with its farmer, played by Stephen King, confronted to a visitor from outer space and
This is even more disappointing when considering that Tales of Halloween strongly reminded of, relatively speaking, Tales From the Crypt or Masters of Horror, the defunct TV series created by Mick Garris in 2005, and that it features nearly everything that makes an unforgettable anthology: a good directive line (Adrienne Barbeau links the stories as a radio DJ, a role she already played in… Carpenter’s The Fog), a common theme (evil kids, although some of the segments go in different direction), the originality and variety of the stories or great cameos (in addition to the aforementioned names, some other directors like Greg McLean (Wolf Creek or Adam Green (Hatchet) also appear in the movie). The movie even benefits from a very efficient main theme composed by famous composer Lalo Schifrin (Bullitt).
In any case, a very welcome Halloween treat!
Tales of Halloween is released by Arrow Films on blu-ray disc on 24th October, right on time for Halloween.
The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (which is mandatory when paying homage to Carpenter, one of the best users of the ratio) in a very nice looking high definition 1080p transfer which allows to enjoy the beautiful cinematography of all the segments in optimal conditions. The colors and the darks are beautifully rendered.
Tales of Halloween is presented on blu-ray with a very efficient DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track which nicely enhances the viewing experience. I haven’t noticed any defects on the track.
The list of bonuses below is from the review version of the blu-ray I received from Arrow Films. The press release and the description on various websites, such as Amazon, mention some slightly different bonuses.
- Exclusive Shorts: this is a compilation of early shorts from some of the directors of the anthology totaling a bit more than an hour. In order: Marshall’s Brain Death (an early career homage to Carpenter’s The Thing), Carolyn’s The Halloween Kid (a nicely shot homage to Tim Burton’s early movies), McKee’s ultrashort Boilly (???), Kasch & Skipp’s Thirsty and Hot Rod Worm (both funny and inventive, and pretty catchy in the case of the second), and Schifrin’s No Rest for the Wicked (an entertaining homage to 30s serials). I think it’s a very good idea to include previous shorts from the directors, even if they are not all suited to this Halloween anthology and their quality is a bit hit or miss.
- Deleted scene: this is a fairly useless jump scare scene in a segment which already counts several.
- Anatomy of a scene: this is an interesting bonus showing, first, a comparison between the animated storyboard and the actual segment for Mendez’s Friday the 31st. Then, the comparison restarts this time with behind-the-scenes footage. I don’t really know why they didn’t show the three elements in the first place but in any case, this is an interesting bonus for one of the most fun segments.
- Photo gallery: this is a series of photos taken on set during the shoot of Carolyn’s Grim Grinning Ghost and Marshall’s Bad Seed.
- Storyboards: this shows the storyboard for McKee’s Ding Dong. This has limited interest as the shots are roughly drawn and they appear quite small on the screen.
- Full feature audio commentary: This is a fun track featuring Mendez, Gierasch, Bouseman, Kasch, Marshall and a later joining Carolyn. There is a lot of information given by the directors about the anthology about many aspects of the movie (the genesis of the project, the locations (most of them close to where they live), etc. but it is also full of anecdotes (James Wan (The Conjuring) and E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills) were supposed to participate) and the directors regularly point out the cameos and the crossovers between the segments.
It is, sometimes, not easy to follow everything that is said as the directors have a tendency to talk all at the same time but you can definitely feel the friendship between them and the great atmosphere there was during the shooting of the segments.