90 min., rated R.
A new wave of extreme horror anthologies where more filmmakers contribute his or her own short-form yarn has made a welcome recovery in recent years. In the tradition of 2007's "Trick 'r Treat," a consistently fun and crisply atmospheric holiday staple that probably had Warner Bros. kicking itself for not giving a theatrical release, "Tales of Halloween" is yet another horror anthology not merely set on All Hallows' Eve but very much reveling in the iconography of October 31st. Eleven directors—all under a collective moniker, The October Society—helm ten stand-alone stories in one 90-minute package, so there is diversity but enough of a cohesive vision. Furthermore, it is thankfully more tonally at one with that aforementioned genre treat, as well as its obvious influence of 1982's EC Comics incarnate "Creepshow," than the extremely hit-or-miss duo of 2013's "The ABCs of Death" and 2014's "ABCs of Death 2." By now, it goes without saying that, with an omnibus structure from a smorgasbord of artistic voices, some stories will be stronger than others. "Tales of Halloween" rolls the same way, as some tales are more Halloweeny than other ones, but there is always a sense of macabre fun and danger to put genre buffs in the mood for the season of the witch.
Opening with a main title sequence, rendered in disappointingly shoddy animation, that credits the filmmakers beforehand, the film tries weaving in an omnipresent narrator with Adrienne Barbeau essentially reprising her role as breathy radio disc jockey Stevie Wayne in John Carpenter's "The Fog" (1980). Launching this compendium of ghoulish stories is "Sweet Tooth," in which an urban legend comes to grisly life when a babysitter and her boyfriend end up eating all of her charge's candy. Writer-director-editor Dave Parker ("The Hills Run Red") spins a humdinger of a story-within-a-story, perfect for around the campfire, and it sets the tone for the entire film with a devilishly wicked cautionary tale that should put the kiddies on a candy strike. Next up is director Darren Lynn Bousman's (he of three of the "Saw" sequels) "The Night Billy Raised Hell," in which a neighborhood recluse (Barry Boswick), the devil himself, spreads plenty of mischief and uses innocent trick-or-treater Billy (Marcus Eckert) to do the evil deeds. This one is subjectively familiar of 2004 feature "Satan's Little Helper," but Barry Boswick's full-tilt-boogie turn is darkly amusing, and Bousman caps it all off with a mean resolution.
The third segment, "Trick," follows two couples at home who are terrorized and dispatched by a group of malevolent trick-or-treaters. Directed by Adam Gierasch (2010's "Night of the Demons" remake), it is well-shot, suspenseful, and features one cleverly sick little twist that changes perspective. As for director Paul Solet's ("Grace," "Dark Summer") contribution, "The Weak and the Wicked" stands out from the rest for being a strange revenge-fueled western between a trio of murderous hoodrats (Grace Phipps, Noah Segan, Booboo Stewart) and a wannabe vigilante (Keir Gilchrist) in a Viking costume. Given the title, it's also the weakest. "Grim Grinning Ghost," written and directed by Axelle Carolyn (who spearheaded the whole project), is a great rebound from there. After leaving a Halloween party hosted by her mother (Lynn Shaye), a young woman (Alex Essoe) experiences car trouble and then suspects her walk back home comes with being stalked by a ghostly woman. Ominous and tense, this particular tale is the creepiest of the bunch and ends with a perfectly timed jolt. Director Lucky McKee's ("May," "The Woman") "Ding Dong" makes a creepy allusion to "Hansel and Gretel" as a woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) grieves over the loss of her child every Halloween, so much that her emasculated husband (Marc Senter) can't handle it when she turns into an actual witch. McIntosh gives an inspiredly nutso performance, enhanced by some seriously freaky effects. To read the rest of the review, go to Diabolique Magazine.