Tales of Halloween is the must-see new Halloween movie this year, an anthology packed with 10 short films from 11 of horror’s hottest directors, all set on the same night in the same town, celebrating everything that we love most about our favorite holiday.
The wild fun begins with the voice of Adrienne Barbeau coming out of The Fog, literally, followed by a retro animated sequence that depicts a spooky children’s popup book brought to life over the opening credits, set to an instantly catchy original theme composed for the film.
Filled with genre-affectionate humor and twisted final act revelations, each segment is like a bite sized episode of Tales from the Crypt, but instead of the Crypt Keeper, horror icon Barbeau channels her Stevie Wayne radio DJ persona from The Fog to serve as your host for the evening, a cool voice echoing in and out of many of the Tales. The huge nod to The Fog is only the first of many tributes to John Carpenter.
When the first segment, Dave Parker’s Sweet Tooth, began with a trick-or-treater named “Mikey” dressed up as Snake Plissken ravenously tearing into his Halloween candy intercut with the zombies of Night of the Living Deaddoing the same thing to their victims, I was hooked and along for whatever adventures lay ahead on this night, but then the kid leaves a “Carpenter Bar” candy bar out to appease the always hungry titular villain, and I knew I was home.
Parker’s short may be my favorite of the 10, playing on the most basic of Halloween joys – the much anticipated eating of the candy treats – and introducing us to a new rule to remember every October 31st, to leave some candy out for the ghost of “Timothy Blake” (another Fog reference).
Each of the 10 Talesare crafted with obvious love for the spookiest season, with vintage plastic face masks in the flashbacks, cool modern references in the present day costumes, familiar neighborhood decorations, and fresh presentations of classic silhouetted imagery, though some of the stories use the hallowed day itself as a plot devise more efficiently than others.
The look of the movie remains effectively the same throughout, as many of the same crew members were likely used for each segment, but the different directors all bring varying tones to their individual entries.
They range from the almost slapstick silliness of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Night Billy Raised Hell, featuring cartoon sound effects and Barry Bostwick having a horned (and horny) good time, to Lucky McKee’s insanely deep and disturbing Ding Dong, which considers what a night of trick-or-treaters ringing the door bell might be like for a woman (witch?) who can’t have children. As the distressed childless wife, Pollyanna McIntosh is hauntingly terrifying and yet almost equally heartbreaking in what is definitely one of the weirdest stories.
I’d say all of the Talesare funny, much more so than they are scary, and some are downright hilarious, like the epic yard decorations battle royal of John Skipp and Andrew Kasch’s This Means War, though a few do get very creepy, like Axelle Carolyn’s Grim Grinning Ghost, a brilliantly simple yet effectively unnerving walk home alone in the dark with Starry Eyesbreakout star Alex Essoe.
Playing Essoe’s mother, the great Lin Shaye delivers one of those classic Halloween speeches (think Conal Cochran in Halloween III, Mrs. Blankenship in Halloween 6, or Mr. Wilkins in Trick ‘r Treat) in another of my favorite of the 10 Tales, maybe the creepiest of the bunch.
Adam Gierasch’s Trickflips the script on what most adults consider Halloween to be all about, letting the kids dish out some viscously righteous treats of their own to the grownups instead of begging for more sweets. The most terrifying scenes of all the Tales are when these kids are attacking, again intercut brilliantly with scenes and music from Night of the Living Dead, which is playing whenever a TV is seen on and thus serves as a small unifier of the different segments.
I also especially enjoyed the sheer fun of Mike Mendez’s Friday the 31st, a killer tribute to the slasher genre and specifically the Friday the 13th series, exploring what would happen if Jason Voorhees was faced with an adorable Halloween-loving alien. When the girl running for her life, dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, runs into a barn and grabs a pitchfork to use against the stalking slasher, I felt a small wink at a similar scene in a barn in Halloween 5.
Paul Solet’s The Weak and the Wicked is set “on the wrong side of the tracks” and features much less Halloween atmosphere, because presumably people in this bad part of town don’t decorate, setting up a revenge-of-the-bullied story, sparked by a devilish performance by Grace Phipps as “Alice”, the badass head of a masked trio of bike-riding bandits. She inhales her character like the cigar she’s smoking and spits out a memorable and original take on the leader of the pack.
Ryan Schifrin serves up a justified surprise to a pair of dimwitted kidnappers in The Ransom of Rusty Rex, while Neil Marshall summons an all-star cast, including Halloween’s Kristina Klebe as Detective McNally, to play the ridiculousness of a killer pumpkin on the loose deadly straight in Bad Seed, and it totally works as an ‘80s cop movie homage, carving out the simple but unforgettable man-eating jack-o-lantern that Halloween deserves.
Backed by very cool synth-heavy soundtrack, Klebe flexes her muscle and plays her tough investigator straight down the line, as does costar Pat Healy (read our interview here), in the Richard Dryfuss role from Jaws to the giant jack-o-lantern’s hungry shark. It’s a fun ride that culminates at the suspiciously named Clover Corp (a little Silver Shamrocky if you ask me), where the super pumpkins are grown.
In deciding how much I truly like any movie, I tend to put a huge emphasis on rewatchability, and watching Tales of Halloween is an experience that definitely gets better with repeat viewings. It’s a lot to swallow the first time, almost like too much delicious candy from the treats bag. On a second viewing, you can enjoy the many characters, mostly the trick-or-treaters, who pop up in the various segments, vaguely connecting the events of the entire night, and the shifting tones of the Tales flow better, like a well crafted song playlist.
I have watched the movie three times now, and I have enjoyed it more with each viewing, able to better appreciate the subtle set details, sound effects, and cameos on repeat viewings, of which I am sure there will be plenty for many Octobers to come.
The wickedly playful spirit of All Hallows’ Eve is alive in each story, playing on traditions both old and new, and Tales of Halloween is a big bag filled with darkly humorous tricks and bloody tasty treats, a love letter to the most wonderful day of the year.