Trick or Treat 2017 — Pumpkins and Demons and Ghosts, Oh My!

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

As we mentioned in our Body Bags installment, there is a long and healthy history of horror anthologies, with the trend probably peaking in the 70’s thanks to horror houses like AIP, Hammer, and, most especially Amicus, which loaded up on “portmanteau” films like Asylum and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (which does not feature a house, at all, but does involve Christopher Lee being terrorized by a severed hand. So that’s something).

The anthology film faded away and relocated to TV, thanks to shows like Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside or even the more kiddie-flavored Are You Afraid of the Dark?

But recent years have seen a major resurgence in the form. And while many of the horror anthologies in the past made a point of having one director directing all the stories, the modern trend is to get a bunch of disparate filmmakers and let them go nuts. Sometimes this results in a V/H/S 2, but other times you get, well…V/H/S.

But let’s talk Tales of Halloween. Ten stories, ten directors, with Adrienne Barbeau’s radio DJ (a nod to her iconic turn in The Fog) serving as a sort of de facto Crypt Keeper. Participating directors include Darren Lynn Bousman (various Saw sequels, Repo: The Genetic Opera), Lucky McKee (May, The Woman), Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones), along with many more.

Tales of Halloween also boasts a score by the incredible Lalo Schifrin (his son, Ryan, directed one of the stories) and appearances by horror royalty including John Landis, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, and Lin Shaye.

But is Tales of Halloween a new holiday standby, or should it be dumped out back with the other rotten pumpkins? We put it to the film club to tell us!

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

After pleasing audiences at Fantastic Fest (where our own Ed Travis happily reported his approval), a lean and mean actioner starring rising star Frank Grillo is now available to wider audiences as a Netflix exclusive. Join us in reviewing the un-baby driver that is Wheelman!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight Thursday!

Our Guests

Derek Smith:

As far as modern horror anthologies go, I feel you can’t get much better than Tales of Halloween. Conceived in the now defunct Jumpcut Cafe, this collection of Halloween themed shorts is a lot of fun crammed in together, like running a train on Fun Sized candy post-trick or treating.

“Sweet Tooth” is one of my favorite shorts as the monster is truly horrifying and something that would ward off anyone from eating all their candy that night.

And with “Friday the 31st”, Mike Mendez of Big Ass Spider/Lavalantula fame brings us the most adorable little alien getting to twick or tweat for the first time. Hilarious, adorable, and oh so wrong all at once.

Brendan Agnew:

Horror anthologies are, as a sampling of the genre, a singularly rewarding throw of the dice. A couple standouts and some solid also-rans, and you can feel like you got a worthwhile viewing experience, even if there are a few duds.

Tales of Halloween stacks the deck in its favor in this regard by keeping the entries coming fast and furious, serving up bite-sized (sorry) vignettes that have just enough time to execute an unexpected twist, build to a well-earned jump scare, establish a single clever setup and payoff, or create a fun single-serving monster. Along the way, there are some genuinely clever bits, like a sci-fi riff on Texas Chainsaw Massacre that goes “full Sam Raimi,” or an inside view of what the usually-useless police get up to during horror goings-on.

I wasn’t a big fan of every entry (“This Means War” did absolutely nothing for me), but the overall concept — executed with just enough connective tissue between stories to feel like easter eggs rather than homework — won me over, and…well, let’s just say I’ll be careful not to eat ALL my candy on Halloween night. (@BLCAgnew)

Husain Sumra:

Tales of Halloween somehow never made it onto my radar, and I’m deeply ashamed of that because I had a great deal of fun looking for all the cameos and references to John Carpenter, John Landis and other staples of 80s horror.

In fact, the entire thing feels less like anthology of Halloween stories and more like a bunch of filmmakers who were really excited to play around with references and Halloween-set stories. This is no Trick ‘r Treat, which completely and fully understands the feeling of Halloween.

I think a lot of that is because Tales of Halloween gives you tonal whiplash. Sometimes you’re watching a legitimately creepy story, like the opener, or the one following a girl home. Other times you’re in a bizarre comedy, like with the story featuring the devil and the kid.

But you know what? I still had a blast with this one, and I’m kicking myself for having missed it earlier. (Husain Sumra)

The Team

Justin Harlan

I love a good anthology horror film or series. In fact, if I were pressed to choose a favorite style of horror film, the anthology may be what I would choose. Tales of Halloween surely fits that mold, even if a bit uneven in ways that prevent it from being truly great.

In rewatching it this week, I’ve come to the realization that I think I prefer the 3–5 story format over the larger number of segments format, as many segments in films like Tales feel like a short pitch session without much meat or flesh to them. While a few segments here really work, several of them have incredible concepts without the story to fulfill their potential.

Yet, the film is fun — from beginning to end, it’s fun. It takes a decidedly less serious tone pretty early and sticks to it. Even weightier themes are handled with lighter hearted, even comic, overtures. In short, it really does embody the enjoyable and jovial feeling of Halloween that made so many of us fall in love with horror as youngsters.

It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a delightful watch that no fan of the season should miss. (@ThePaintedMan)

Brendan Foley:

Wild shifts in tone and quality are nothing new for anthology horror films, but man is it pronounced in Tales of Halloween. It’s right there in the basic design of the film: By stuffing the film with ten short stories (as opposed to the more standard three-four yarns) from ten separate directors, Tales from Halloween is more or less setting itself up for wildly disparate results. The brevity of the stories is itself another double-edged sword: None are so long as to wear out their welcome and relatively thin premise, but most have to rush through their beats and punchlines. “Trick” and “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” are both deliciously mean little ditties that recall the morality plays so gruesomely illustrated in EC Comics, yet the gleefully nasty kick is diluted by the sprint-like pace of each story. Only Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth”, which opens the film, feels like it has been properly calibrated and paced for the format.

What’s maybe weirdest about Tales is that the more established directors turn in the weakest stories. Bousman, McKee, and especially Marshall really let the side down on this one, turning in stories that are ugly rather than fun, while also feeling needlessly convoluted and hard to follow.

Tales of Halloween is plenty of fun and would not be a bad fit for your annual Halloween movie-watching marathons. But there are just certain hurdles endemic to this format, and the film trips over pretty much all of them. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Like most horror anthologies, Tales Of Halloween is a mix of good, bad, and mostly average.

For most of the film, the shorts felt generally pleasing without any noticeable dips or highlights, before losing steam with the mean-spirited Hansel and Gretel riff “Ding Dong” followed by the annoying neighborly one-upmanship of “This Means War”. This would have been a pretty dire state of affairs had things ended there, but Tales of Halloween truly saves its best for last, finishing strong with a trio of stellar shorts in a row, if not the best three then certainly the most fun — slasher villain spoof “Friday the 31st”, and the monstery duo of “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” and “Bad Seed”.

Pepper in some fun cameos and references, and the end result is a great time that manages to be better than the sum, or average, of its parts. The formula has a lot of potential, and I’d love to see this become a franchise with annual entries in the vein of the original vision for Halloween. (@VforVashaw)

Watch it on Netflix:

Get it at Amazon (with soundtrack and bonus shorts!)

Next week’s pick:

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