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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Tales of Halloween  (2015)
2½ Stars
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp, Paul Solet.
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Kristina Klebe, Alex Essoe, Barry Bostwick, Pollyanna McIntosh, Marc Senter, Keir Gilchrest, Grace Phipps, Noah Segan, Booboo Stewart, Greg Grunberg, James Duval, Ben Woolf, Daniel DiMaggio, Marcus Eckert, Cerina Vincent, Lin Shaye, Tiffany Shepis, Elissa Dowling, Lisa Marie, Barbara Crampton, Sam Witwer, John Landis, Clare Kramer, Madison Iseman, Robert Rusler, Joe Dante, John Savage, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Caroline Williams, Pat Healy, Adam Green, Stuart Gordon, Austin Falk, Dana Gould, Mick Garris, Ben Stillwell, Casey Ruggieri, Nick Principe, Sean Clark, Natalie Castillo, Amanda Moyer, Jennifer Wenger, Sage Stewart, Nicole Laino, Cameron Easton, Shaked Berenson, Felissa Rose, Rebekah McKendry, Marnie McKendry.
2015 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, October 13, 2015.
Ten ghoulish yarns dot the small-town landscape in "Tales of Halloween," an anthological labor of love for both its namesake holiday and the craft of short-form filmmaking. Enlisting the talents of eleven directors and a sprawling cast of recognizable genre faces, the picture is structurally closer in nature to 1982's story-by-story "Creepshow" than 2009's seminal, interwoven "Trick 'r Treat," though both clearly served as inspiration. The foreboding fun-yet-spooky heart of All Hallows' Eve is alive and well throughout the multiple narratives—the autumnally decorative production designs are impressive across the board—though, as is often the case, some are more involving and fully realized than others. By traversing ten separate plots in the span of an hour and a half, it is difficult to become properly acquainted enough with the many characters to care about them on a substantive level. The eerie atmosphere and behind-the-scenes giddiness clinging to each frame, however, is where "Tales of Halloween" knocks it out of the park. This project must have been produced on a shoestring budget, but one would never be able to guess such a thing based on its cumulative creative scope.

Kicking off the ghastly festivities is "Sweet Tooth," wherein the urban legend of candy-obsessed psychopath Timothy Blake (Cameron Easton) turns out to be frighteningly true for youngster Mikey (Daniel DiMaggio). Director Dave Parker (2009's "The Hills Run Red") ably crafts an aura of encroaching terror for his protagonists, while one key scare is an unmistakably welcome tribute to the infamous hospital hallway scene in 1990's "The Exorcist III" (even if the shot should have held longer during the lead-in). Next up is Darren Lynn Bousman's (2012's "Mother's Day") "The Night Billy Raised Hell," sending little Billy Thompson (Marcus Eckert) on a night of increasingly devious behavior alongside the devil-horned neighborhood man (Barry Bostwick) he made the wrong decision to prank. This story leads to a clever little twist, but the premise hails too closely to 2005's remarkably similar "Satan's Little Helper."

Adam Gierasch's (2010's "Night of the Demons") "Trick" is hair-raisingly intense as two adult couples hanging out at home are terrorized by murderous, weapon-wielding trick-or-treaters. The cinematography by Scott Winig is a highlight, gracefully gliding alongside its characters like a fellow participant about to be butchered. "The Weak and the Wicked," directed by Paul Solet (2015's "Dark Summer"), is one of the weaker and less overtly Halloweeny interludes, pitting three trouble-making hoodrats (Grace Phipps, Noah Segan, Booboo Stewart) against a vengeance-seeking guy (Keir Gilchrist) in a Viking costume. Next up is the far more memorable "Grimm Grinning Ghost" from director Axelle Carolyn, as a young woman (Alex Essoe) returning home from a party experiences car trouble and is subsequently stalked by a relentless female ghost. Carolyn ratchets up an expert maelstrom of suspense and pulls off a few particularly ominous shots (one involving shadows of hands is especially crafty).

Lucky McKee's (2011's "The Woman") "Ding Dong" ties with "Grimm Grinning Ghost" as the outright scariest of the bunch, a nightmarish fusion of "Hansel & Gretel" and David Lynch that finds Pollyanna McIntosh going unnervingly full-throttle as a grieving woman whose desire for a child is so strong it transforms her into a witch. "This Means War," directed by Andrew Kasch (2010's "Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy") and John Skipp, is one of the few duds of the collection, as the rivalry between two neighbors (Dana Gould and James Duval) over their front-yard Halloween decoration display goes nowhere quickly. "Friday the 31st," from Mike Mendez (2013's "Big Ass Spider!"), suggests what might happen if Sam Raimi were to helm a "Friday the 13th" sequel. In it, the tables suddenly turn when a woman dressed as Dorothy Gale (Amanda Moyer) is possessed by an alien and goes on a mad rampage targeting the Jason Voorhees-like killer who has been stalking her. "Friday the 31st" is slight but amusing, flipping conventions on their heads.

In "The Ransom of Rusty Rex," helmed by Ryan Schifrin (2006's "Abominable"), kidnappers get more than they bargained for when they abduct young Rusty Rex (the late Ben Woolf). This story surprises in its tonal shifts, starting as a gritty crime drama before introducing broad splashes of humor and fantasy into the mix. The grand finale falls to Neil Marshall's (2006's "The Descent") "Bad Seed," a killer jack-o'-lantern farce involving a corporate "Halloween III: Season of the Witch"-style conspiracy and the police detective (Kristina Klebe) on the case. It's a solid, if not overwhelming, closer with an entertainingly unlikely villain and impressively icky special effects.

"Tales of Halloween" leaves the viewer wanting more—a positive sign in an anthology already featuring ten respective stories. Some (but not all) of the segments are introduced by Adrienne Barbeau (2012's "Argo"), unofficially reprising her role as silkily voiced deejay Stevie Wayne from 1980's "The Fog." This is a great idea, but used inconsistently; the choice to not have Barbeau as the seguing thread between each tale rather than just a handful of them is a missed opportunity and leaves the picture feeling slightly uneven. When "Tales of Halloween" works, however, it is a vicious, spirited, aesthetically sumptuous delight. By allowing each filmmaker free rein, there is the tendency to touch upon similar iconography again and again while missing out on other parts of the holiday (including its Celtic historical origins), and yet the movie nevertheless has enough connective tissue to form a complete whole. The potential to further explore in future installments the magic, mystique and dark underbelly of October 31 is boundless; with any luck, a new annual cinematic tradition has been born.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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