The anthology film has a long and varied history within horror, the only genre which has truly embraced that format even though science fiction sprung from a similar background of short stories and so should be an equally fertile source.
Instead, from Dead of Night to the portmanteau films of Amicus such as The House That Dripped Blood and Vault of Horror to Creepshow and Cat’s Eye in the eighties and more recently TheABCs of Death and V/H/S it is horror which has embraced the arrangement and returns time and again to scavenge the bones.
Stylistically, Tales of Halloween is most similar to 1982’s Creepshow, written by Stephen King and directed by George A Romero, but unlike that film each of the ten segments is written and directed by a different team yet all are visually and tonally consistent with subtle continuity between them as the background Trick or Treaters drift from house to house and story to story across the course of one night.
With occasional linking narration provided by genre legend Adrienne Barbeau, the voice of San Antonio’s radio station in The Fog, the opening piece is Sweet Tooth, written and directed by Dave Parker, as a child (dressed for the night as Escape from New York’s Snake Plissken) is told a grotesque story designed to frighten those who love Hallowe’en treats just a little too much.
The Night Billy Raised Hell (written by Clint Sears, directed by Saw II-IV’s Darren Lynn Bousman) is a traditional “creepy guy next door” tale which turns into a night of proper seasonal fun mediated by The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Barry Bostwick, unmistakable even under his heavy makeup.
Short, shocking and very sharp, Trick (written by Greg Commons, directed by Adam Gierasch) is perhaps the most direct and one of the weaker segments but knows enough to get in, make its point and get out again as a get-together enjoying Night of the Living Dead (with no copyright a frequent atmospheric selection for filmmakers) receive visitors who demonstrate how well they have learned the lessons their hosts taught.
The Weak and the Wicked (written by Molly Millions, directed by Paul Solet) is a tale of revenge on the urban backstreets with more than a hint of the western about it, and the only segment which momentarily breaks the style in the kinetic bicycle chase sequence.
Exemplifying how simple but effective the segments are is Grim Grinning Ghost (written and directed by Axelle Carolyn), opening with Insidious‘ Lin Shaye telling an audience including We Are Still Here‘s Barbara Crampton and Tim Burton regular Lisa Marie the story of Mary Bailey who died bullied and unloved, but who now takes her turn to have the last laugh.
Ding, Dong (written and directed by Lucky McKee) sees a distraught wife facing up to the obligations of the night while deep in grief in a piece as deranged and over the top as the manic performance of Let Us Prey‘s Polyanna McIntosh.
Traditional American Hallowe’en meets the devil’s music as the annual garden display of a long term resident finds competition from a new neighbour (Kaboom‘s James Duval) with other ideas which quickly descend into a knockabout farce.
With a soundtrack which includes Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain alongside the heavy metal, This Means War (written and directed by Andrew Kasch and John Skipp) is also the only segment to partially exist beyond the hours of darkness.
The most openly slasher of the pieces, Friday the 31st (written by Mike Mendez and Dave Parker, directed by Mendez) at least plays the gore in a slapstick fashion before becoming something quite different when the tables are turned.
Battlestar Galactica‘s Sam Witwer and his accomplice decide to make some big money quick by kidnapping the son of a millionaire in The Ransom of Rusty Rex (written and directed by Ryan Schifrin), but unfortunately neither the father nor son choose to play the expected parts of concerned parent or helpless victim.
The shifting expectations reminding of a particularly grim episode of The Twilight Zone, that link is emphasised by a cameo from An American Werewolf in London director John Landis who contributed a segment to the feature film version of that show.
Closing the film is the crazy carnage of a killer pumpkin in Bad Seed (written and directed by Neil Marshall), as ridiculous as it sounds and a return to the early tongue-in-cheek fun of Dog Soldiers rather than the director’s entirely humour free nightmare of The Descent.
In equal parts funny and horrifying and always in delightful bad taste and spattered with cameos from Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon, The Howling director Joe Dante, Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife’s Greg Grunberg, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2’s Robert Rusler, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Clare Kramer, Carnivàle’s John Savage, artist Drew Struzan and many others from the modern era of horror, there is much to entertain sharp eyed viewers beyond the quality maintained across the ten segments, unusual for a joint project of this nature.