Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #525
Number of Views: One
Release Date: July 24, 2015 (Fantasia International Film Festival)
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 92 minutes
Directors: Neil Marshall, Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Adam Gierasch, Jace Anderson, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Dave Parker
Producers: Shaked Berenson, Axelle Carolyn, Tada Chae, Patrick Ewald, Mike Mendez
Screenplay: Axelle Carolyn, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, Clint Sears, John Skipp
Special Effects: Marcel Banks, Jerami Cruise, Erik Porn, Ryan Ward, Matt Falletta, Melissa Garcia, Robert Giddens
Score: Lalo Schifrin, Joseph Bishara, Bobby Johnston, Edwin Wendler, Kung Fu Vampire
Studios: Epic Pictures, Film Entertainment Services
Distributor: Epic Pictures
Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Austin Falk, Madison Iseman, Cameron Easton, Barry Bostwick, Marcus Eckert, Adrianne Curry, John F. Beach, Tiffany Shepis, Casey Ruggieri, Trent Haaga, Alex Essoe, Lin Shaye, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon, Pollyanna McIntosh, Lilly Von Woodenshoe, Ben Woolf, Felissa Rose, Keir Gilchrist, Grace Phipps, Booboo Stewart, Noah Segan, Dana Gould, James Duval, Adam Green, Nick Principe, Amanda Moyer, John Landis, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sam Witwer, Kristina Klebe, Pat Healy, Greg McLean, Cerina Vincent, John Savage, Joe Dante
Suggested Audio Candy
 Kung Fu Vampire ft. Hopsin “Turnt Up (Remix)”
 Lalo Schifrin “Tales of Halloween”
My faith in horror anthologies has been reinstated over the past few years after a decidedly subdued couple of decades that produced precious little of any real note. It all kick-started in 2007, with Michael Dougherty’s fabulous festive frightfest Trick ‘r Treat, and the following few years have seen a number of new arrivals on the scene. V/H/S seemed to have the found footage angle soundly covered, while The ABCs of Death shoehorned twenty-six entries into its alphabet for those with shorter attention spans. Meanwhile, Damien Leone’s grossly underrated All Hallow’s Eve reminded us, in no uncertain terms, that Halloween has an obligation to be scary.
Recently I was underwhelmed by its sequel, which adopted the rather ambitious approach of interweaving ten individual tales of terror into its brief runtime and couldn’t help but feel that ten may not necessarily be the magic number. Few of the segments felt substantial enough and it didn’t hang together particularly well as a cohesive whole. Given that some of the shorts had been picked up after failing to make the cut for other projects, it just felt a little tacked together and I began to harbor mild doubts over whether Epic Pictures’ new ten-piece omnibus Tales of Halloween wouldn’t suffer a similar fate. However, having heard nothing but positive echoes on the grapevine, and considering the personnel involved, I felt there was no real cause for lost sleep.
I’m as pleased as pumpkin punch to report that my gut got it bang on the money on this occasion. Belgian director Axelle Carolyn’s brainchild wastes no time whatsoever in offering us our first treat in the form of Ashley Thorpe’s glorious pop-up style animated credit sequence that wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in the eighties. More critically, we learn the origin of our disc jockey narrator and there isn’t a set of vocal chords alive more suited to welcoming us in than Stevie Wayne herself, Adrienne Barbeau. As strokes of genius go, this one’s a bona fide doozy as Ms Barbeau’s dulcet tones coerced me into slumber land throughout my entire adolescence and, thanks to Tales of Halloween, that dream cycle is about to reconvene.
Our first tale, Dave Parker’s Sweet Tooth 🎃🎃🎃🎃 is perfectly placed on meet-and-treat duties as it focuses on some archetypal urban folklore and offers up a whole handful of bloody candies to stuff our faces with. The boogeyman of the title is an orthodontist’s dream and everyone else’s worst nightmare as no amount of Novocaine can curb his insatiable appetite. There are no real surprises per se but it sets the tone perfectly well and delivers us swiftly to the capable hands of Darren Lynn Bousman.
Here we are taken in by wise cracking spook Mr Abaddon (a devilish Barry Bostwick) as he embarks on a joyful door-to-door rampage with the help of his very own fall guy minion. The Night Billy Raised Hell 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃 is an absolute joy from start to finish and I was still clutching my bladder by the time the next segment started.
Adam Gierasch’s Trick 🎃🎃🎃🎃 has the thankless task of not paling into comparison and, thankfully, the director of Night of The Demons knows precisely what to do in such circumstances. As a group of slacker twentysomethings are set upon one by one by a horde of mean-spirited ankle biters, he reveals a kicker just as perfidious and maintains the lion’s share of momentum.
Moving swiftly on to Paul Solet’s contemporary spaghetti western The Weak and the Wicked 🎃🎃🎃 and perhaps the weakest link in a fairly sturdy chain. Grace Phipps is fine as the girl power behind a vicious posse of BMX bandits, hell-bent on punishing the meek. The eventual pay-off is slight and we have ourselves our first blip, albeit a rather diminutive one.
Carolyn herself then puts in a graveyard shift with Grim Grinning Ghost 🎃🎃🎃 populating the screen with a veritable who’s who of horror. This includes Lin Shaye, Barbara Crampton, Stuart Gordon, Mick Garris, and the starry-eyed Alex Essoe who, I’m fairly assured, can do absolutely nothing wrong. This sinister slice of Samhain ensures that we remain up close and personal with Essoe as she wanders home all Little Miss Riding Hood with her mother’s stern warning still ringing in her ears. Alas the pay-off, when it arrives, is slight.
Remaining with the fairy tale flavor, Lucky McKee’s twisted take on Hansel & Gretal Ding Dong 🎃 🎃🎃🎃 benefits from some delightful chemistry between Pollyanna McIntosh as Bobbie and Mark Senter as the long-suffering Jack. I can think of few better candidates to fire up the kiln than McIntosh.
Next up is Andrew Kasch and John Skipp’s metaphor-laden battle royale This Means War 🎃🎃🎃🎃 and it is here that we are required to read between the lines some. It is all too easy coming to the assumption that this be a fairly standard entry but one look at the sparring pair’s lawn decorations will reveal a lot more than shallow loggerheads. It’s like the ultimate melee between fifties and eighties, Gothic one side and Goth punk the other, and a skirmish worthy of its name.
Mike Mendez then opts for the latter with the cunningly titled Friday the 31st 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃 and what a way to kick off the final act that proves to be. Nick Principe is way off-the-chain as Victor Crowley’s inbred second cousin and exhibits the kind of comic timing that you just don’t learn overnight. What’s more, Amanda Moyer flees and pursues with the same double-edged purpose while Mendez throws many a bucket of grue into the melting pot and an unidentified flying object to assist in turning the tables for our final girl.
Ryan Shifrin’s The Ransom of Rusty Rex 🎃🎃🎃🎃 supplies more treat than trick as petty criminals Dutch (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Hank (Sam Witwer) learn what not to do in a hostage situation after bagging themselves a most unruly pint-sized demon (Ben Woolf) and trying to squeeze a few bucks out of the ominously named Jedediah Rex (A wonderfully relieved John Landis). An affable comedy of errors ensues and leads us directly into the gaping maw of our closing fable.
Carolyn’s significant other Neil Marshall wraps things up in outrageous fashion with Bad Seed 🎃🎃🎃🎃 finding the middle ground between CSI and Tromaville and decking it out with ravenous death pumpkins. With hard-nosed cop McNally (Kristina Klebe) and sidekick Forensic Bob (Pat Healy) on the case, we’re in great company right through to the final curtain.
That’s when we realize that we have been delivered safely. Tales of Halloween is more than simple sum of its parts as it possesses a cohesion that most anthologies fail to display. Too many cooks is never the case here as the same color correction is applied in post and the same spit and polish provided across the board. We’ll all have our own personal favorites and that is the whole beauty of the thing but it will be fruitless searching for a kink in the armor as it keeps on the move whilst never being required to cover too much ground. Epic Pictures are onto a winner here and, on this evidence, October the 31st may well be about to become a treat again.
Dedicated to Ben Woolf (September 15, 1980-February 23, 2015)
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: With the likes of Jerami Cruise and Erik Porn amongst the SFX team, you know there will be plenty of gristle and Tales of Halloween certainly doesn’t come up short with regards to splatter. Sweet Tooth, Trick, Friday The 31st and Bad Seed ladle on the grue with particular relish, offering all manner of dismemberment, disembowelment and decapitation to further sweeten the deal.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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