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Published Sunday, October 10, 2021
I didn't know anything about 2015's Tales of Halloween, but I wasn't expecting much when I turned it on. Amazon tried to convince me to rent it a couple of years ago, but it wasn't well reviewed. Still, the poster image struck me as compelling for reasons I can't explain. It's a big orange moon with a skeleton face with a twisted, dead tree in the foreground... Well, you can see it right over there, can't you? How much more cliche can you get?
I liked it a lot, though, so I went over to Rotten Tomatoes to see what I was missing. Professional critics give it a score of 79%, and audiences gave it 41%. I'm not sure reviews mean anything, but I thought the disparity was interesting.
Tales of Halloween is an anthology movie comprising ten different stories by ten different directors which all take place on the same Halloween night. Most are funny and all are gory, and those two points dominate both positive and negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
Yes, you say, but what of the vignettes themselves? I'd been dreading this part. The stories run together in my mind, not because of any fault in the movie, but because I watched it in fits and starts over about nine hours for reasons I don't want to get into. We meet a kid whose parents eat most of his trick-or-treat haul, and unsatisfied with just the leftovers, tears into both parents to retrieve partially digested chocolate. We meet Mr. Abbadon, an actual demon who just wants the damn kids to get off his lawn. A stalk-and-stab scene right out of any '80s slasher film is interrupted by an annoyingly cute alien invasion, and a genetically engineered pumpkin becomes sentient and goes on a violent rampage. A lawn-decorating rivalry takes a turn for the macabre, a couple of kidnappers find themselves with more than they bargained for, and a trio of too-old-to-be-doing-this bullies get what's coming to them.
Actually, that last one is an important point: most of the victims get their just deserts. In a way, this is a movie in the grand tradition of E.C. Comics and movies like Creepshow in that most of the stories have some grimly amusing twist. They're not all like that, though, nor are they all winners. At 92 minutes Tales of Halloween already fairly gallops along, but I wouldn't mind losing one or two of the episodes. Maybe even three or four.
The stodgy B-movie snob in me was impressed with how well Tales if Halloween played on my nostalgia for horror classics from a more innocent time. I'm not referring to the way that all of the characters seem to be watching the same broadcast of Night of the Living Dead followed by Carnival of Souls (although it's a nice touch!). I'm talking about a thousand little nods to horror films of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. My favorite? Adrianne Barbeau—the radio DJ from The Fog—plays a DJ again in this one. We never see her, she never takes part in the action, but her voice opens the movie and guides us through the evening. Barbeau isn't the only big classic horror name in the cast, either. The many directors of Tales of Halloween have gone out of their way to work with dozens of recognizable faces: Barry Bostwick! Lin Shaye! Barbara Crampton! Stuart Gordon! John Landis! Joe Dante! Etc.! It's a detail intended, I'm sure, to telegraph to the audience that we're in good hands.
As I said, it's not a perfect movie, but it's more hit than miss, and viewing it with a group (remember when we used to do things in groups?) would be a hell of a lot of fun. That critical 79% feels about right to me; it's not impeccably brilliant, but it does deliver a little something for everybody.