All hell breaks loose on Halloween night in one small suburban town in this collection of gags and gore, which offers homicidal trick-or-treaters, a man-eating pumpkin, and a woman who transforms into a crimson-skinned witch when her biological clock strikes midnight as just a few of the subjects of ten loosely bound stories.
The great thing about multiple-filmmaker anthologies, other than providing a variety of styles, is that you can have a stinker or two without compromising the whole package. While a couple of weak links immediately come to mind, “Tales of Halloween” really suffers from the brevity of its most promising installments more than anything else. “Grimm Grinning Ghost”, for example, gives us a nerve-rattling few minutes as a young woman is stalked by an apparition after her car breaks down on the way home from a party. But director (and “Tales” creator) Axelle Carolyn’s nightmarish venture down a dark neighborhood street ends in a disappointingly premature jolt that could’ve concluded any garden-variety ghost story. Likewise is the segment “Trick”, another well-crafted bit that bears shades of John Carpenter’s “Village of the Damned” and “Halloween”, wrapped around an ingeniously unsettling twist that’s worth more time than director Adam Gierasch has been allotted.
The film’s opener, Dave Parker’s creepy and gory “Sweet Tooth”, is maybe the most solid of the bunch, combining elements of a zombie flick and the first scene in “Candyman” with one shot unmistakably borrowed from “Exorcist III”, as the urban legend of a young boy who goes to gruesome lengths to reclaim the trick-or-treating bounty deprived him by his borderline-sadistic parents becomes a startling reality for two teenagers and the kid they’re babysitting. Skip to the moral: don’t eat all of your Halloween candy, kids.
Then there are the sketch-comedy style quickies: Mike Mendez’s “Friday the 31st” is a comical mash-up of horror benchmarks that pits a generic Jason Vorhees-type slasher against a demon of the”Evil Dead” variety, all at the behest of a tiny claymation extraterrestrial. “The Night Billy Raised Hell” (from “Saw” franchise alum Darren Lynn Bousman) watches with much amusement (and a soundtrack befitting “The Three Stooges”) the chaos that ensues when Satan (Barry Bostwick) becomes a little boy’s trick-or-treating chaperone. Both bits are hilarious.
Segments that fail to make much of an impression are “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”, “This Means War” and “The Weak and the Wicked”, all of which easily could’ve been excised to make more room for the stronger entries, if staying within the film’s 90-minute running time were in fact the goal. “Ding Dong” and “Bad Seed” are visually inventive in their respective ways, the former a stylized modern horror/fairytale/comedy that contains one of the anthology’s two allusions to “The Wizard of Oz”, while the latter really “strikes a gourd” as the most outrageous and satirical of the collection.
The film’s cast includes B-movie superstar James Duval, Sam Witwer (the U.S. version of “Being Human”), and the late Ben Woolf (FX’s “American Horror Story”), while Adrienne Barbeau’s off-screen radio voice pays tribute to Carpenter’s “The Fog”, the most distinct of many winks at the director (look for a “Carpenter” candy bar). Ultimately, “Tales of Halloween” is a mixed bag, but it’s got the holiday spirit for sure, and is at least enough to get you in the mood to watch 2007’s diabolically clever anthology “Trick ‘r Treat” again, if you really need a reason.