Tales of Halloween (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
“Tales of Halloween” is composed of ten horror short films, about nine to twelve minutes each, which range from an egregious bore to downright worthy of becoming a full feature film. This is expected given the varying talents, experiences, and strengths—or lack thereof—from behind the camera.
There are four standouts. The first short film titled “Sweet Tooth,” directed by Dave Parker, tells the story of a little boy who is visited by a supposedly fictional character based on the story young people tell each other during Halloween throughout the years. According to the story, if the visitor was not given candy, he would go as far as to eviscerate someone just to get some sweets. This segment is strong because there is a clear structure: the exposition, the rising suspense, and the inevitable release. There is an appropriate amount of gore to satisfy gorehounds.
Equally strong is Adam Gierasch’s aptly titled “Trick.” It plays with our fear of willingly opening our door to a stranger and that stranger harming us in some way. Initially, I felt sick by the idea of children doing the harm—even though the brutal attacks have, for the most part, a sense of humor to them. But the twist is a good one. The reveal is so good that by the time it ended, I found myself wishing that the segment had run longer. This sentiment is also reflected in Neil Marshall’s “Bad Seed,” the third of the good ones, commanding a wonderful use of special and visual effects.
“Grimm Grinning Ghost,” directed by Axelle Carolyn, is by far the most fully realized. A litmus test of horror films: close your eyes and listen to the dialogue, score, and sound very carefully. If having done so made the hair on the back of your neck stand up at any point, it signifies that the work is almost always effective. It begins with Lin Shaye telling a scary story of an apparition that follows. The director understands the art of patience and using the background to generate a creepy feeling. Not one drop of blood is shed. There is no slashing and hacking. There is only a sensation that the protagonist is doomed.
There are always rotten apples in a horror anthology. One can argue that “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, is far and away the worst of the bunch. There is no enjoyment to get out of it, just a rotten feeling when a trick-or-treater begins to wield a gun and starts shooting people. The lack of imagination offended me. Halloween is such a magical holiday that when something as tired as shooting a gun is introduced in the story, I begin to wonder why the filmmaker chose making movies as a profession.
But I argue that Andrew Kasch and John Skipp’s “This Means War” is the most unworthy of anyone’s ten minutes. It tells the story of a man who loves Halloween so much that when his neighbor across the street sets up decorations far better than his (with accompanying metal music), he becomes so upset that he goes up to his neighbor to start a fight. The climax is the brawl between the two. That is it. There is no ghoul, demon, alien, or serial killer. Just a fight between two people. I found myself glaring at the screen with such animosity for having to sit through something I could have seen at a nearest bar. And that would have been more exciting.
“Tales of Halloween” shows a lot of potential when taking clichés and turning them upside down. “Friday the 31st,” directed by Mike Mendez, appears to be just another slasher flick knock-off: the final girl discovering her dead friends’ corpses, dropping the weapon on the ground after every time the killer is attacked—the works. But there is a twist—charmingly bad visuals and all. But what separates the average from the aforementioned standouts is when an idea is taken to such a degree that we wish we are watching a full feature film.