Tales of Halloween is a Halloween anthology film that tends to be overshadowed by its 2007 forerunner (and clear influencer), Trick ‘R Treat. This 2015 effort, though, boasts a broad array of talent (both onscreen and behind the camera) and features plenty of finely-executed scenes of horror and black comedy. Like any Halloween haul, the narrative pieces aren’t uniformly satisfying, but they make for a rewarding experience overall. Here’s my quick ranking of the ten (loosely connected) segments comprising the film:
10. “The Weak and the Wicked” (Segment #4, directed by Paul Solet)
A limp tale of comeuppance, in which a trio of terrorizing punks are dispatched by the summoned “Demon of All Hallows Eve.” For all their acts of arson and trick-or-treater tormenting, these street toughs are hard to take seriously when they traverse the neighborhood turf on their bicycles.
9. “Ding Dong” (Segment #6, directed by Lucky McKee)
The always stellar Pollyanna McIntosh shines as a frustrated, unpregnant wife/seething red witch-demon. But the “Hansel and Gretel” overlay feels a bit forced here, and I’m admittedly confused by the abrupt “I’m melting” ending.
8. “Trick” (Segment #3, directed by Adam Gierasch)
The Children of the Corn appear to have migrated to Haddonfield, as a group of trick or treaters engage in home invasion and the brutal murder of adult residents. While it ultimately subverts its doorstep-delinquents trope, this segment (which presents images of gruesome child torture) proves too unsavory to really enjoy.
7. “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” (Segment #9, directed by Ryan Schifrin)
A couple of hapless kidnappers get much more than they bargained for when they snatch the titular trick or treater (played by the late, great character actor Ben Woolf). Terrific horrific hijinks ensue, but the effectiveness of the segment is mitigated by the fact that its central, monster-under-the-kid’s-mask device gets utilized earlier in the film.
6. “Friday the 31st” (Segment #8, directed by Mike Mendez)
An inspired reversal of the “masked slasher chasing the final girl” motif. Evil Dead-levels of gonzo gore are achieved here, but are undercut somewhat by the jarring inclusion of that cutesy Claymation alien.
5. “This Means War” (Segment #7, directed by Andrew Kasch and John Skipp)
This combative narrative gives new meaning to keeping up with the neighbors. A pair of yard haunters (one a nerdy suburbanite, the other a shock rocker) with contrasting sensibilities take their decorating rivalry to desecrating, deadly, yet highly entertaining extremes.
4. “Sweet Tooth” (Segment #1, directed by Dave Parker)
A local urban legend concerning a candy-ravenous slayer turns out to be all too real. The plot twist is hardly unexpected but can be appreciated nonetheless, as Sweet Tooth has some impressively visceral kills. And bonus points here for the segment’s Big Ass Spider! (Easter) eggs.
3. “Bad Seed” (Segment #10, directed by Neil Marshall)
How could any self-respecting gorehound not like a tale that starts off with a jack-o’-lantern coming to carnivorous life (like some gourd version of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors) and decapitating its carver? Yes, the police procedural elements are painfully corny, but the segment pays off with a wonderful final image of Halloween sublime.
2. “Grim Grinning Ghost” (Segment #5, directed by Axelle Carolyn)
This brief but memorable tale (studded with horror genre luminaries such as Lin Shaye, Barbara Crampton, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon) baits the hook with a Halloween party spook story designed to get a frightened rise out of a skittish young woman. The heroine’s subsequent journey home is steeped in creepy atmosphere, but the segment earns its high ranking from its concluding, perfectly-revealed scare.
1. “The Night Billy Raised Hell” (Segment #2, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman)
For unabashed Halloween mischief, this witty story (featuring a delightfully dark Barry Bostwick) is unparalleled. The extended pranking montage packs a lot of clever devilishness into a short space, the climactic twist is wicked good, and the implications of the segment’s conclusion are supremely sinister.