I want to be very clear here: when I originally reviewed Tales of Halloween I did give it very high marks. It inspired my list of the best “alternative” Halloween movies thanks to its under-the-radar status. I think every Halloween fan owes it to themselves to watch it, and now is the perfect time because it is currently available to stream for Amazon Prime members, just in time for the Season.
But the film isn’t perfect. In fact, it has some serious flaws owing to the natural fluctuations in quality that come with this variety of anthology film. Each segment is totally self-contained and made by a different director(s). To put it bluntly, some of the vignettes are straight up bad. But this is also the rare film in which that works to its favor. I compared it to a haul of candy at the end of trick or treating – there’s gems and there’s junk, but it’s all part of the experience. With ten short stories, even a dud doesn’t torment you for very long. There’s another treat just around the corner at all times.
So with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to rank each of the ten short stories that make up Tales of Halloween. I’m sure your own ranking will differ! And I’d be pleased if you made your own in the comments.
#10: Ding Dong
Holding up the rear is this “comedic” modern retelling of Hansel & Gretel, starring the world’s most non-believable married couple as they greet trick or treaters. This one suffers the most out of all the segments from the tight time restriction, as it attempts to tell a story about a woman who desperately wants children, an (obviously, undeniably gay) abused husband who thwarts that desire, and the wife’s monstrous true form, wrapped up in a ham-fisted Hansel & Gretel tale with a conclusion so predictable you can’t believe it actually ends that way. Awkward in every possible way.
#9: The Weak and the Wicked
This segment has one interesting idea – a horror tale set in the modern day that is filmed and acted like a classic Western – but everything else about it falls flat. Certain stories just don’t work in a bite-sized format like this, and here is the perfect example. When it’s revealed that three bike-riding teenage bullies (played by actors obviously in their 20’s) had straight up burned another kid’s parents alive in their trailer home when they themselves were kids, it completely chafes against the tone this movie is trying to set. Speaking of tone, there’s a frenetic bicycle chase scene set to thrashing heavy metal music that kills the Western mood they’re trying to establish. And the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.
I know I’m becoming repetitive here, but it happens to be true that the least effective shorts in Tales of Halloween all feel hobbled by not having enough time to work with. This is a story of a group of adults being terrorized and murdered by trick or treaters, but its foundation is a twist that just kind of makes you go “huh?” when it happens, and leaves you feeling stutter-stepped through to its inevitable conclusion.
#7: The Night Billy Raised Hell
This short has a lot of promise, and I suspect that other fans of this movie would probably rank it a lot higher than I do, but to be honest I just didn’t like the juvenile style of humor in this one. Barry Bostwick plays a mysterious, devilish old man who brings along a trick or treater on a terror spree as a Halloween “prank”, with a mean-spirited twist. Bostwick is great, chewing the scenery with all he’s got, but as soon as the trick or treater pulls out a pistol and starts shooting, the whole thing just becomes gross and tacky. This whole short makes me feel dirty. Maybe that’s your thing! It’s not mine.
#6: The Ransom of Rusty Rex
The super-short format works really well for a simple story like this, which starts with a kidnapped trick or treater and quickly turns the tables. It gets the humor right, has some great gore, and just has fun with a simple premise. It’s just that the premise might be a bit too simple. The extended John Landis cameo is super distracting for a knowledgeable horror fan, and his acting leaves… much to be desired.
#5: This Means War
Two neighbors, one a middle-aged, old school Halloween lover, the other an obnoxious gorehound metalhead, come to blows over competing Halloween displays in their front yards. I related to this one a lot, given the conflict between more traditional, haunted castle style Halloween motifs and the modern, heavy metal and torture porn Rob Zombie aesthetic. But I actually appreciate both in their own way. Which makes the ending to this short perfect as it explicitly does not choose a winner in that argument.
#4: Friday the 31st
This section of Tales of Halloween had the (second) most enthusiastic crowd response when I saw it in a limited release theater environment. If Evil Dead-style splatstick is your thing, this is the short for you. It starts as a miniature version of a quintessential masked slasher movie. Then a tiny little stop-motion alien shows up. Yes, this short does not take itself seriously, but it’s fun as hell, and gory as all get-out.
#3: Sweet Tooth
The creators of Tales of Halloween were very smart about their sequencing of the ten shorts. Sweet Tooth is the very first one, and it starts the movie off strong, earning much-needed goodwill to carry the viewer through the less good entries. It has a great monster, excellent practical gore effects, and the right balance of humor and horror.
#2: Grim Grinning Ghost
The only proper ghost story of the bunch, Grim Grinning Ghost could easily work as a standalone short film in the style of David F. Sandberg’s (Light Out) work. Essentially just a long build-up of suspense leading to a single horrifying gag at the very end, this is how you do short form horror properly. I’d love to say more about it, but there’s not much else to add that wouldn’t spoil the best parts. It’s the exact jolt of horror this movie needed at the mid-point.
#1: Bad Seed
Ending the movie on the strongest possible note, Neil Marshall’s Bad Seed is pretty much perfect. It got by far the biggest cheers, laughs, and screams when I saw it in the theater. It’s a story about a man-eating pumpkin. That’s all there is to it. But this is peak horror comedy, itself a little anthology of styles – some suspense, some gore, some laughs, some mystery, and a perfectly ominous ending. The sketch artist’s composite of the killer pumpkin is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.