Review: All Hallow’s Anthology, Tales of Halloween

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The idea that every omnibus film, especially a horror anthology, is a ‘mixed bag’ can have less to do with each segment’s quality than it does their predilections. For genre audiences, anthologies may act as litmus test. Which obsessions, subgenres or creatures do you as an individual latch on to? Which filmmaker are you vibing with? Perhaps no collection of terror shorts could hold such potential as The October Society’s Tales of Halloween, a ten-segment collection from eleven directors focused intently on a passion nearly all of us share: All Hallow’s Eve. Samhain. Halloween.

But Halloween is broad, a worldwide holiday with vastly different meaning, and vastly different obsession, to everyone. So regardless of quality—and much of Tales of Halloween is quite handsomely produced in an autumnal atmosphere—any one viewer will give their love over to an unpredictable segment, just as the filmmakers involved reveal in which bag of candy, or piece of folklore, their own hearts lie. Do you love the lawlessness of the night? Paul Solet’s “The Weak and the Wicked” might speak to you directly. What of the all-out assault of spookiness? The possibility anything will rise? Mike Mendez’s “Friday the 31st” is a mad bunch of glow-eyed minutes. Adam Gierasch’s bloody, killer kid delight “Tricks,” meanwhile, evokes a truly mean spirit. Neil Marshall’s murderous pumpkin short “Bad Seed” is simply insane. Lucky McKee’s hallucinatory domestic fairy tale “Ding Dong” (featuring a stunning, physical performance from Pollyanna McIntosh) will be a divisive treat for those in search of the weird. 

There are many unifying aspects, of course. The whole film, created in concept and produced by Axelle Carolyn, takes place on one Halloween in the same American suburb, and minor characters, references and cameos will often pop up along the way— John Landis, Joe Dante, Barbara Crampton, Caroline Williams, to name a few. Adrienne Barbeau essentially reprises The Fog’s Stevie Wayne as this town’s DJ. Many of the filmmakers hone in on the motifs of a child’s experience of the holiday, specifically trick-or-treating. They’ll cross taboos with violence perpetrated on, or by, the little ones and pervert the act of trick-or-treating and mischievous shenanigans to murderous extreme; as is the case with Darren Lynn Bousman’s stylized, sneeringly wrong segment, “The Night Billy Raised Hell.” Its punchline is perhaps the ultimate Halloween trick, executed by a hammed up Barry Bostwick as Satan himself.

Since Tales of Halloween so often calls upon contemporary celebrations, like the trick-or-treat, one unfortunate common thread is its lack of fright. Many of the filmmakers involved are largely disinterested in trying to outright scare the audience. This leaves Tales of Halloween a tremendously fun movie—almost akin to a massive bag of sweets—but often missing the eerie ambiance of the holiday; the worry that something might actually break through.

This highlights Carolyn’s “Grim Grinning Ghost” and Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth” as standouts. In their brief runtimes, both build atmosphere and folklore. Carolyn’s, which stars Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe and Insidious’ Lin Shaye, recalls something older in its campfire aura and the simple unease of a long walk home. Parker invents a whole new urban legend, however, telling the tale of Sweet Tooth, a once candy-deprived child-turned-annual Halloween killer. Parker’s engages in the comedy of the entire film, but laces it within a warped tale and elicits possibly Tales of Halloween’s best jolt.

Tales of Halloween exists in the toothy grin of a jack o’lantern, all of its filmmakers —interested in delicious humor or true horror—eagerly awash in the glow of the holiday candle within. This is a film built in earnest love of genre, this single day and the season which surrounds it. It’s perhaps irrelevant if it doesn’t frighten the viewer. Surprise and delirium are its focus; kinship with those who’re similarly obsessed, its intent. It’s a Halloween party. Luckily, those who would hope for some spookier séance action will find reasons to attend.

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Weekend: Nov. 21, 2019, Nov. 24, 2019

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