Fangoria called this the best horror anthology since Trick 'r Treat. This statement makes me wonder how many horror anthology films actually saw release between 2007 and 2015.
Ten short stories, then, in the vein of the old horror comics, take place one Halloween night. Adrienne Barbeau, clearly the most recognizable name who would work for them, provides sporadic narration as the town's night DJ.1 It's an entertaining conceit, especially given the number of on-air horror hosts who began or ended their careers on radio. Barbeau's fine, as far as it goes. We hear her throughout the night and see her only once. Her role here rather recalls Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti, but the approach is nevertheless a fairly original one for a horror host. The stories themselves, however, serve up very little that is original.
"This Means War" has (apart from the obvious and apt reference to Bugs Bunny) an amusing premise. It pits a pair of Halloween-obsessed neighbours with very different horror preferences in a violent, cartoony war of yard decorations. Others might prefer the over-the-top, buckets-o-blood-filled, genre-bending parody, "Friday the 31st." They're both amusing,2 but neither does enough with their material.
"Bad Seed," the final story, is the best of the lot.
Otherwise, Tales from Halloween has too many tales—ten in less than two hours—for any of them to develop mood or characters. Most feel more like filler than thriller.
The pretence that the events all occur in one city in one Halloween night evokes Trick 'r Treat, but there's nothing like that film's interrelated nature. Connections don't really become apparent until the second half, and they're mostly superficial. Worse, most get dumped into "Bad Seed", requiring McNally's supervisor to call her back to the station in the middle of a case to give her a pep talk. During this time, we hear about other cases happening around town. For this very small payoff, we have to endure a scene that makes no dramatic sense and derails the pacing of the anthology's strongest story.
So-- if this is the best horror anthology film since Trick 'r Treat, what's the competition? How many horror anthology films appeared between 2009 and 2015?
A handful, as it turns out. With the exception of the V/H/S series, I hadn't heard of any of them. Christopher Lee made a cameo in a 2011 entry called Grave Tales. It was removed before the film became available for home viewing. Chillerama (2012) features such entries as "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein" and "Wadzilla." The latter concerns a giant kaiju sperm attacking NYC. In short, Fangoria may be technically correct about Tales of Halloween's status, and there are some frights and laughs to be had watching it.
But the bar it had to clear to achieve its status is practically lying on the floor.
Directors: Neil Marshall, Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Adam Gierasch, Jace Anderson, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, and Dave Parker
Writers: Dave Parker, Clint Sears, Greg Commons, Molly Millions, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall
Adrienne Barbeau as DJ/host
Barry Bostwick as Mr. Abbadon
Kristina Klebe as Detective McNally
Marcus Eckert as Billy
Christophe Zajac-Denek as Mordecai/Little Devil
Ben Stillwell as Todd
Natalis Castillo as Britney
Adrianne Curry as Herself
Hunter Smith as Sweet Tooth
Cameron Easton as Timothy Blake
Caroline Williams as Mrs. Blake
Robert Rusler as Mr. Blake
Clare Kramer as Lt. Brandt-Mathis
Greg Grunberg as Alex Mathis
Austin Falk as Kyle
Madison Iseman as Lizzy
Daniel DiMaggio as Mikey
John F. Beach as James
Tiffany Shepis as Maria
Casey Ruggieri as Catilyn
Trent Haaga as Nelson
Marnie McKendry as Princess
Rebekah McKendry as Mother
Keir Gilchrist/ Jack Dylan Grazer as Jimmy Henson
Grace Phipps as Alice
Booboo Stewart as Isaac
Noah Segan as Bart
Alex Essoe as Lynn/Victorian Woman
Lin Shaye as Lynn's Mother/Pirate
Liesel Hanson as Mary Bailey
Barbara Crampton as Witch
Lisa Marie as Victorian Widow
Mick Garris as The Phantom of the Opera
Stuart Gordon as Sherlock Holmes
Marc Senter as Jack
Pollyanna McIntosh as Bobbie
Lily Von Woodenshoe as Gretel
Vanessa Menendez as Lone Child's Mother
Lucas Armandaris as Lone Child
Daniel DiMaggio – Mikey
Dana Gould as Boris
James Duval as Dante
Elissa Dowling as Velma
Amanda Moyer as Dorothy
Jennifer Wenger as Possessed Dorothy
Nick Principe as Jason-like Killer
Ben Woolf as Rusty Rex
Jose Pablo Cantillo as Dutch
Sam Witwer as Hank
Pat Healy as Forensic Bob
Greg McLean as Ray Bishop
Cerina Vincent as Ellen Bishop
John Savage as Captain J.G. Zimmerman
Dana Renee Ashmore - Coroner #1
Dylan Struzan - Coroner #1
Joe Dante as Professor Milo Gottlei
John Landis as Jebediah Rex
1. Barry Bostwick also appears in the film, while Joe Dante and John Landis are among the cameo appearances.
2. My comments here assume you're okay with excessive but obviously fake violence played for laughs. "Friday the 31st" recalls more than a little Arthur's encounter with the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Libera te Tutemet ex Inferis: The 2023 Halloween Horrorquest