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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tales of Halloween (Epic PIctures VOD) - The Plight and the Present of Modern Anthology Horror

 The concept of Tales of Halloween isn’t exactly new save for the inclusion of the Halloween theme. After ABC’s of Death, its sequel and the V/H/S series, anthology Horror has been slowly expanding. Basically you take a bunch of proven, successful Horror filmmakers, have them produce short films or use previously created shorts and smash them together with the loosest possible wrap story possible. But Tales of Halloween… well, it just looked like it was going to be special. It was going to be unique. It was going to fix all the problems with ABC’s of Death and create a quality collection of Horror stories slammed together with the glue being our favorite damn holiday. It has some great poster art. It has the backing of some great folks. It has an exceptional list of talented actors and filmmakers. What could possibly go wrong?

I regret to report that what could go wrong with Tales of Halloween has gone wrong. That’s not to say the whole thing is a disaster because it most certainly isn’t. There are a few quality stories, told well, with original concepts or creative interpretations of old stories. For the most part, this is one great big mess of an anthology, slammed together without enough glue to keep my child’s science fair project together and filled with some common issues we see with many Horror pictures lately.

I’ll go through each story, and I apologize in advance to the filmmakers and actors in these movies because I’m going to be very raw about them. I truly do not think this is an accurate representation of their work nor do I think I could do better. I’m just going to call it like a I see it. First let’s start off with the general issues with Tales of Halloween.

1. Stop using Night of the Living Dead as the movie that every family is watching in the background of every Halloween Horror movie. Yeah I get it. It’s “public domain”. Or maybe it really isn’t anymore anyway. Or maybe you just wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest Horror pictures of all time. Stop using it. It detracts from the movie almost in the same way that the goddamn Wilhelm Scream detracts from all modern Action and Sci-Fi pictures. This collection also featured Carnival of Souls, used for the same reason even though at least it’s less used. Hey, why not go for Horror Hotel? Or better yet… shoot a faux movie to use within the movie. I’ve seen that done and it always has a better feel. It make the movie feel less forced. This was a problem for several of the story.

2. The credit sequence didn’t quite work for me in the beginning or end nor did the “glue” that held this picture together. Now maybe it was the watermark on the screener I reviewed, but I though the whole intro seemed just a little messy. A little sloppy. In theory the fly over of an artistically created town should work. This felt messy especially with Adrienne Barbeau’s voiceover as a radio host (nods to The Fog to be sure). It’s not the performance by Barbeau; she does a great job. It’s how the voiceover is used. We get brief snippits of the radio voice of Barbeau between some of the stories. No consistent titling for each story to let us know what we are about to watch and no Cryptkeeper/Horror host/The Creep clever dialogue to tie the stories to each other or introduce properly the new story in theme.

3. This movie has everyone you want to see in a Horror picture and yet you never really seem to SEE them except for the final story directed by Neil Marshall. Cameo here. Cameo there. I don’t feel like I’m seeing these great talents on the screen nor am I seeing their TALENT on the screen. It’s a poor use of film economy by most of the filmmakers. Throw big names in a movie, even a bunch of shorts and then don’t really use them… that’s like putting Llloyd Kaufman in your indie movie to sell the legitimacy of your picture (which we have all caught on to my friends)

4. For a ten story anthology we only get an hour and half run time. Same problem plagued ABC’s of Death. Let’s take 26 stories, cram them into two hours and see what happens. No development of story. No room for error and a rushed botch job in most of the stories. Take some time. REDUCE the number of stories. Less is more. It’s hard enough to convey an idea over an hour and half without dumping a bunch of filler in, but cramming no suspense, no build up Horror into nine minutes is a whole other trick.

Now let’s go through each story.

SWEET TOOTH

I like the premise overall. It’s a fun urban legend tale told to a young trick or treater being babysat.  The legend is that a long time ago, a kid was forbidden to eat any of his candy by his parents only to discover his parents shoveling it their mouths later that night (I’m guilty of this). The boy takes revenge (it’s what any of us would do). Now the boy supposedly wanders around on Halloween night… hungry for your candy…all your candy… even the candy you already ate!

This one feels a little like Nightmare in a Damaged Brain aka Nightmare. There’s no real grit, a few Halloween Store esque gore pieces  and some juicy reds inside. I actually like that kind of stuff. I’m a big HG Lewis fan and something about this initial story reminds me of that. The music is fairly ordinary Horror stuff featuring a piano.

Two things to note… one… Night of the Living Dead is playing the background (we went over that) and they have a fire lit in their fireplace. Do people light fires in their fireplace on Halloween night? Also keep your eye out for a “Carpenter” brand candy bar. Homage to John or generic prop? You decide.

Directed by Dave Parker who did The Dead Hate the Living and contributed to the Masters of Horror series and features Caroline Williams who I didn’t recognize until I watched the credits. I love her, so it’s strange that I would miss her.

THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL

This is a Darren Lynn Bousman picture. I often times enjoy his work. I loved his work on the Saw Franchise, but there are times where even he goes a little bit into the “over the top in a bad way zone”. The Night Billy Raised Hell is borderline on the cusp of that zone. It also happens to feel a great deal like Jeff Lieberman’s Satan’s Little Helper, which I adore. It’s not a rip off, but there’s a feel and story elements that connect the dots between the two pictures ultimately forcing a comparison, a comparison Bousman can’t win.

Basic premise: kid pulls a Halloween prank on a Dentist who turns out to be a demon or the Devil or some sort of evil Hellish baddy. Said Demon/Dentist than brings forth a rash of Hellish pranks on an unsuspecting town on Halloween with boy in tow. The boy is dressed up like a red devil… thus starts the connection between Satan’s Little Helper and this short.

I love that the Dentist’s house is decorated with vintage looking decorations. I also think some of these pranks are fun, vicious and enjoyable. The front yard ghosts in one scene also remind of the ghosts in the opening of Trick R Treat. Every time the demon/dentist points his cane or takes any action a stupid, cheesy sound effect goes off. This annoyed the ever loving piss out of me. It’s rakes your ears!

The move has got a nice twist, but the music blows! The additional music is by Kung Fu Vampire, a great name.  The star in this one… Barry Bostwick… who I didn’t even notice.

TRICK

Adam Gierasch has acted in many solid new Horror movies over the years and directed the Night of the Demons remake, which I enjoyed quite a bit. With Trick he brings Tiffany Shepis (horror regular), Rebekah McKendry (of Fangoria and now Blumhouse) and daughter to a horrific tale of what happens when the Trick or Treater at the door chooses the non-treat option.

The story is a little confusing at first but ends up winding into a Halloween revenge tale that allows for some kiddie Horror with children committing brutal acts. There’s a lot of color, almost too much colored lighting even for Halloween. Sometimes it’s effective. Sometimes it isn’t.

The gore looks like the stuff from Party City, and there’s one neat rat poison kill that I was particularly interested in. Did I mention Night of the Living Dead is playing in this one too? This is especially problematic when you realize that it’s at an early spot in the movie than in the first story. Now I’m sure both features didn’t plan to use Night of the Living Dead or coordinate how it was being used. They aren’t even in the same universe really… I mean… or are they supposed to be? Either way… two stories. Two uses of the Romero classic inserted. This could have worked so well if the TV was playing the same marathon of Horror. Remember how The Thing and Night of the Living Dead were used in John Carpenter’s Halloween… do more of that.

GRIMM GRINNING GHOST

This one’s got everyone! Stuart Gordon, Mick Garris, Lisa Marie and Barbara Crampton… and yet I noticed none of them and didn’t know they were there save for the credits. It’s odd how I can stare at their faces now that I know that they’re in it and see each one of them. I’m not familiar with Axelle Carolyn’s work, but I need to check out The Halloween Kid from 2011. I like the cover art.  Carolyn is the person responsible for getting everyone together to produce Tales of Halloween as a whole.

Grimm Grinning Ghost features Alex Essoe of Starry Eyes fame. She’s always perfect as the victim, and I’m convinced we have a true Horror actress ready to support the genre for years to come. Grimm Grinning Ghost isn’t a bad story at all though it falls into the category of formulaic. We thank Lynn Shay for offering a brilliant origin story. Her voice is like beautiful dripped Sugar Daddy melt in my ears. Is it wrong to be attracted to an older woman? Not if it’s Lynn Shay.

Get ready for quite a few little jump scares and a fairly good makeup job. While I’m glad that Carolyn chose to put Carnival of Souls in his short rather than Night of the Living Dead, it still seems to pull me right out of the movie instantaneously.

THE WEAK AND THE WICKED

Talk about a revenge picture. The Weak and The Wicked is actually quite a fun tale of childhood revenge revisited on some long time bullies. It’s well acted and the only failure is that I want more revenge on screen and less in my head. I know that it’s not always economical to do so and that the “punchline” of the tale would be ruined with a more gruesome revenge, but The Weak and The Wicked inspired me to dislike its villains. That means they deserve pain.

The filmmaker on The Weak and The Wicked is Paul Solet who is billed as having directed Grace, but you can ignore that. Paul Solet directed Dark Summer and that movie was pretty damn great. I urge you to check it out and enjoy this story.

DING DONG

This is another team up between McKee and Pollyanna MacIntosh who did The Woman together.
Ding Dong features MacIntosh, completely disheveled about the loss of her child and her husband trying to comfort her with their annual, pass out treats to kids. They dress up as Hansel, the Witch and pull a rather humorous gimmick where the Witch keeps pulling Gretel’s pony tail out of her mouth. That part worked. Once they’re at the door passing out candy and scaring kids, the story is fine, but before that there’s all this strange metaphorical, demonic shit that just felt completely forced and artsy.  There’s not enough time for that.

MacIntosh does just great, completely goes over the top and actually gets a little scary. If you get rid of the strange, demonic metaphor (or lack of metaphor or whatever) it’s not a bad story at all. Well that and the sudden introduction of Wizard of Oz themes into a Hansel and Gretel story.

THIS MEANS WAR

One of my favorite stories in the whole bunch comes courtesy of Andrew Kasch and John Skipp featuring a battle for the ages between an old school haunter who decorates his house traditionally and has been for a number of years against a new wave Halloween party animal. I myself am an old school fella and actually felt like I could identify with the plight of the haunter over the partier. I was actually rooting for the haunter during the all-out brawl that ensues. I laughed at myself getting riled up.

This is a fun story that isn’t perfect and is a bit overacted, but you’ll enjoy the ride as well as the ending. Keep your eyes out for the graveyard on the haunters lawn, the names on the tombstones in particular. The one that I caught was Max Schreck but there are definitely others. The party scene background is filled with some of our favorite Horror folks including Sean Clarke and Rebekah McEndry, the party animal Halloween god is played by James Duval. Perfect casting. 

I wasn’t thrilled with the scoring/soundtrack for this until the metal version of Night on Bald Mountain came on by Dead Rose Symphony. That works. The rest… does not.

While there may not be any true resolution I suppose this thing ends the only way it can.

FRIDAY THE 31ST

Mike Mendez directed a Masters of Horror episode. He directed The Convent. He directed The Gravedancers, but most importantly, he directed Big Ass Spider! And LAVALANTULA! This may have set expectations very high for his entry into Tales of Halloween. I’m glad it did because his one was one of the best of the bunch.

I must admit that when I saw a Jason Voorhees clone chasing down a “final girl” I was a little put off. I just watched Final Girls, the new Horror Comedy that has a hefty does of Meta and plays the same riff in a different key. Thankfully the story has the perfect unsuspected twist (that I will not mention). I will say that involve a strange voiceover that sounds like Bobby Generic as voiced by Howie Mandel. It also involves some rather awesome Claymation. I’m a sucker for Claymation. Enjoy it. The word “cute” will become synonymous with this story.

This picture has obvious nods to the Friday the 13th series (thus the title with clever number switcheroo), but it also plays on Evil Dead and has plenty of blood spraying, a satisfying battle and a cool ass severed head inside a pumpkin.

Well done.

THE RANSOM OF RUSTY REX

I keep reading the title of this wrong. The Ransom of Rusty Sex. It’s not my fault. It’s totally Freudian. Two kidnappers think they have a great idea on how to make some bucks only to discover that THEY have the problem and not their innocent victim. The boy in question is played by Ben Woolf who recently passed.

The story is fine, the execution somewhat humorous but it really doesn’t do much for me save for a nice makeup job on Ben Woolf. Perhaps the thing to watch for is John Landis making a random appearance.

THE BAD SEED

THANK YOU NEIL MARSHALL! I wasn’t overly thrilled by the way Tales of Halloween had gone. I found a few stories to enjoy and a few moments in others to attach to even if I wasn’t altogether thrilled with the entire story. The Bad Seed sells the entire movie, could be made into a full length picture and also plays off one of the major themes of my favorite comic book of the year, Blood and Gourd. My advice to Neil Marshall… go find the writers and illustrators of said comic, kickstart a new movie based on the comic and include the current creators in your team. You’ll have something truly special that will have the perfect balance of heart and gore with comedic presence. This is what you do well. This is what the Blood and Gourd guys do well. Team up!

Pumpkin bites man will be the headline. In fact a killer pumpkin that has the feeling of a killer tomato only with an expressive face filled with a beautiful Jack o Lantern grin goes on a blood lust rampage. The local police department must try to stop it, locate the pumpkin and destroy it. The Bad Seed takes wonderful turns, is perfectly Halloween and has some great gore effects.

Be prepared for the load of cameos from Adam Green Pat Healy, Joe Dante even… it’s fun and it works. This made the whole experience okay, and it’s the chief reason I can recommend this picture.


Tales of Halloween will be available on VOD and iTunes October 16th. While my somewhat bipolar review of the picture may not suggest it, I think you should give it a watch. Find your favorite stories and especially enjoy the last one that truly shines. Perhaps I’m being a jaded Halloween Horror fan or maybe I need to give this picture more of a break. I appreciate the concept. I’m glad that this project happened and I’ll keep my eyes open for a sequel next Halloween. Hopefully some of these flaws will be corrected. Hey, even ABC’s of Death 2 was better than the original.

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