Here in the Queen’s country we don’t really don’t celebrate Halloween as much as our American cousins do. We think it’s all a bit crass and uncouth. Trick or treating is even worse as it seems like a desperate attempt to get money of strangers and we’d never been caught dead begging. Of course we’re completely missing the point. Dressing up as ghouls and goblins may well be crazy and weird but it’s as old a celebration as any in most societies, and more importantly it’s an excuse to dress up as SEXY ghouls and goblins. This isn’t a religious affair like Easter or even an overtly commercial one like Christmas has become. It’s about dressing up and having fun. That’s what I think we don’t always realise about Halloween in America, it’s about having a making yourself look crazy, mucking about in the macabre and having a laugh.
Saying all that I approached Tales of Halloween with a huge amount of trepidation. It’s directed by some of the best indie horror movie makers around at the moment, it’s also a horror anthology with each story directed by these guys and girls, sorry girl. Well one is better than nothing I suppose. The trouble with a number of these anthologies of late is that the different directors bring such wildly varying tones and styles than the stories feel more like a collection of shorts competing against each other rather than one film. The advantage something like Creepshow had was than George A. Romeo made one big film with the same asthetic, and the connecting story, though minor, helped bind all the others together. The only thing binding the Tales from Halloween seems to be the great Adrienne Barbaeu who reprises her role as Stevie Wayne the smokey voiced DJ from The Fog. This time we only here her and she’s not attacked by undead leaper pirates but it’s better than nothing.
However, as it turns out I had nothing to worry about. All the stories have a similar feel to them in that they embrace the fun element of Halloween and of the horror movie in general. Sure there are countless intestines pulled out, heads chopped off and eyes gouged out but it’s done with a light touch. The locations are mostly of the LA suburb variety so it feels like this is all one neighbourhood these stories are unfolding, with a number of characters wandering in and out of the different tales. Plus the main film showing on TV in each story is, of course, Night of the Living Dead (with a bit of Carnival of Souls thrown in for good measure). The stories all seem to have a similar look to them too so there are lots of extremely red rooms with very blue corners, harking back to the EC comics and Dario Argento at his best. Most of this seems to happen in camera rather than in a colourist’s suite in post production which leads me to believe there was some mood meeting where all the director’s agreed on certain things.
Another thing they all agreed on (and which modern horror director worth their salt wouldn’t agree to this?) is to use as many practical effects as possible. This results in buckets of blood and some very old school looking monsters. There’s even a bit of stop motion in there which is more Morph than Harryhausen but is thoroughly charming nonetheless. These film makers really have embraced what horror movie fans enjoy and it could have been a self indulgent disaster with the amount of cameos and in jokes, however everything is so brisk and breezy that nothing is around long enough to outstay it’s wound-dripping welcome.
The stories themselves are mostly silly bits of fluff. There’s a killer pumpkin on the rampage, devil dwarves terrorising crooks, a ghost following lonely women home (which has probably the bast scare and made May jump out of her skin) and a urban legend come to life. We have aliens vs a Jason Vorhees type, murderous children and vengeful demons. Most of these stories don’t have much meat to them (although they do have a lot of MEAT to them) but all of them are at least entertaining and some of them legitimately great. As a sucker for crazy gore I particularly liked the Jason Voorhees type one which just went way over the top with the arterial spray and limb dismemberment. It also had the cute stop motion alien in it so was kind of the perfect film.
The only one which really bucked this trend was Lucky McKee’s entry which was about being barren women and domestic abuse. But don’t let that put you off, it was still a barrel of laughs and was certainly the weirdest with Pollyanna Macintosh as an unhinged witch with multiple red arms beating her poor, suffering husband insensible. Maybe because it was saying a little bit more than most of the others (although I’m not entirely sure what) but that’s the one that has stuck with me the most.
So the Tales of Halloween that these directors have to tell us aren’t going to change the world, and probably won’t change our British minds about this festive season, but as a celebration of the day everyone stateside puts a pumpkin in their garden and send their children out to their doom, I mean for candy, it’s pretty bloody great. Even non-horror fans will enjoy this, although if you’re a non-horror fan, what the hell is the matter with you?