Anthology films are known for being inconsistent, and after the wild mood swings of recent horror anthologies like the V/H/S and ABCs Of Death movies, it’s a relief to report that despite consisting of 10 segments directed by 11 people, Tales Of Halloween is remarkably cohesive. Part of this can be attributed to the film’s production style, where directors shot segments back-to-back on the same suburban street using many of the same extras and crew. Another part can be attributed to Adrienne Barbeau, who revisits her role as a radio DJ from 1980’s The Fog and whose commentary between segments forms the skeleton of the film.
But mostly it’s the palpable sense of fun that makes Tales Of Halloween such a treat. (There’s really only one segment that doesn’t fit with the others tonally, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) Horror nerds will find plenty of in-jokes (characters snack on Carpenter Bars, and Night Of The Living Dead plays on every TV) and cameos (besides Barbeau, John Landis, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, and more appear in small roles) to gorge themselves upon. And an emphasis on old-school practical effects and behind-the-scenes craftsmanship—Lalo Schifrin came out of retirement to compose the main theme, and Star Wars poster artist Drew Struzan designed the poster—proves the filmmakers’ fandom bona fides.
Director Dave Parker’s background with Full Moon Entertainment comes in handy in the first segment, “Sweet Tooth,” a bloody riff on urban legends featuring some tongue-in-cheek humor and cool creature design. The second segment, “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” is slightly less successful, although it’s saved by a hammy performance by Barry Bostwick and a hilarious hell-raising montage. Other highlights include Axelle Carolyn’s straightforward ghost story “Grim Grinning Ghost”; Paul Solet’s Sergio Leone-meets-George Miller BMX revenge tale “The Weak And The Wicked”; Mike Mendez’s absurd Evil Dead homage “Friday The 31st,” which utilizes both animatronic aliens and goofy splatter effects; and Neil Marshall’s closing segment, “Bad Seed,” which combines cop-movie clichés and killer pumpkins while neatly tying up the movie’s recurring themes.
Of course, there are a few forgettable segments, and unfortunately Lucky McKee’s “Ding Dong” falls flat by introducing serious themes of domestic violence into what is otherwise a relatively gleeful affair. (Adam Gierasch’s “Trick” slightly miscalculates the fun-to-brutality ratio as well.) But overall, Tales Of Halloween effectively strikes a balance between the sinister and the cheerful, and with so many segments, if there’s something you don’t like, it doesn’t last that long anyway. Like another celebrated recent horror anthology, Trick ’R Treat, Tales Of Halloween embraces Halloween imagery without irony, and this, as well as its obvious affection for the genre, might make it a new annual tradition in horror-loving households.