Category Archives: Anthology

Creepshow 1982

If you think about it it’s almost bizarre to think that Creepshow even exists. It’s five stories and a wrap around tale all by at-his-peak Stephen King, it’s directed by George A. Romero at his most confident, King stars in it, as does his son, Joe Hill. There’s also a host of great actors: Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Adrienne Barbeau, E. G. Marshall, Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen when he was still a straight actor. It’s also got Tom Savini and his amazing practical effects at his most creative and playful. It’s basically a beautiful gift to horror fans. How is this even a thing?

Creepshow starts as a weird reflection of my own childhood. A horror obsessed kid has his favourite comic, the EC inspired Creepshow, thrown out by his father who doesn’t want any such filth in his house. Back when I was a child my father also had a fanny fit about the first issue of Fangoria magazine I’d bought. How could I have such vileness and depravity in his house? He threw it out and told me I was to never buy that magazine again. Much like the kid, played by Joe Hill, in Creepshow I decided that my father had no moral authority over me so fetched it out of the bin. Unlike the kid I didn’t decide to kill my father with a voodoo doll, even though I might have thought about it at the time. Instead I just got my mum to order me a monthly subscription and covered my bedroom walls with the “Scream Greats” pull out posters which came with each issue. Dad never mentioned Fangoria again.

The first story proper is probably the weakest story of the five, which is a good thing as the only way is up after that! “Father’s Day” concerns the returning corpse of a family tyrant desperate for his cake. Sure it’s got some early work from Ed Harris but the walking corpse make-up is decidedly rubbery and there is some truly terrifying disco dancing. The comic book styling is immediately apparent though. Romero freezes shots, turns them into comic panels and slides them along as a transition into the next scene. The lighting in moments of horror will flip to primary colours and action graphics will swirl out from behind characters as they look on in shock. It’s a little bit clunky and old fashioned nowadays with modern technology being able to do so much better and easier, but it’s also incredibly charming and, to this old horror comic fan, strangely comforting.

The second story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is, by some margin, the silliest story here. Basically a one hander about a simple farmer who is infected and mutated by some florescent green meteoroid space plant, I can never work out if Stephen King as the farmer is it’s biggest asset or it’s biggest problem. To say King plays it broadly is something of an understatement. With his face in full gurning-simpleton mode and speaking more like a cartoon than a real human being, King is about as far away from a proper actor as you can get. And yet there is still something tragic and weirdly heartfelt about Jordy Verrill as he remembers his life full of mistakes and imagines what it could be. Also the eleven year old me loved King in this so maybe this is one aimed at the kiddies, even if it does end with (spoiler) Verrill blowing his mossy head off with a shotgun.

“Something To Tide You Over” treads the familiar ground of revenge from beyond the grave. So familiar in fact partly because we just had this two stories ago in “Father’s Day”. However this story is much tighter and filled with incident. It helps that the two stars, Ted Danson and Leslie Nelson both known for their excellent comedic acting, take the story so seriously. Nelson is the angry older husband getting revenge on his wife and her lover by burying them in the sand and watching them drown in TV as the tide comes in. He is a cold hearted son of a bitch. His motivation has nothing to do with love or heartbreak, he only sees his wife as his property that Danson has the cheek to try and take. Danson goes through a range of emotions from cool, above it all boy-lover to a man begging for his life as he’s literally up to his neck in it. The scenes where Danson and Gaylen Ross have the tide coming in and the water splashes over them are particularly effective as, no matter how many safety regulations they had in place, the actors must have genuinely been half drowned for the sake of this creepy little tale. I also love the soggy, water logged zombies at the end, with their puffy blue skin all covered in seaweed. They are kind of ridiculous looking but so much fun with their waterlogged voices and dark green blood pouring down their faces.

And that’s what is so great about Creepshow. Yes it is dealing with murder, revenge, the undead and weird monsters but it’s done not so much as as a comedy but with its slippery black tongue planted firmly in its rotting cheek. Horror here is not trying to scare you but delight with its bizarre, fast paced and wonderfully macabre little tales.

“The Crate” is the perfect example of this. The story is simplicity itself: a university Dean finds an old crate which contains some ancient beast brought back from a find two hundred years previously and dumped in a cellar*. The creature munches his way through some of the faculty before another professor realises this might be the perfect way to get rid of his nagging, spiteful wife. The monster itself is a fur ball throwback to a cross between a yeti and a particularly mean Muppet. It could almost be endearing (on set the crew loved it so much they gave it the nickname Fluffy) if it wasn’t so vicious and bloody in its attacks. It tears through throats like they were butter and drags the corpses away to be eaten whole in the comfort of his crate. Then there are the performances. Hal Holbrook is so perfect as the educated man imagining violent deaths for his wife. He is down trodden but surprisingly calculating when push comes to shove (literally, he shoves his wife into the crate). Adrianne Barbeau, as always, is superb as his mean, drunk, belittling spouse. She is so different from Holbrook that you wonder how he could have ended up with her, and yet despite that you can see how he was attracted to her – she IS fun, her differences must have been appealing once upon a time. However you are totally on Holbrook’s side by the time he decides she should be Fluffy’s main course. This is the great thing about Creepshow, it can take the idea of a husband wanting to kill his wife and make it hugely entertaining.

The final story, ¨They’re Creeping Up On You¨ is the”greatest story here and also a showcase of Romeroś direction at its very best. E. G. Marshall goes for broke as a neurotic millionaire locked away in his hygienic ivory tower, under attack by an infestation of cockroaches. It is one actor in a white room and little else, but you learn everything you need to know about this contemporary Scrooge. you learn how he relishes in people’s misery, how his business deals are all the better if someone else suffers (hmmm…. where have heard that before?), and the abject terror he has with anything that is in the slightest bit unclean. The realisation he has that the muesli he has been eating contains more than just raisins is the most horrific moment here and that’s before the cockroaches start pouring out of every orifice.

This last story always freaked me out enough as a child. So much so that I would stop the tape before getting to it. Not sure I know why this was. Maybe it was the idea of all those bugs waiting for me in the bed or the thought of finding cockroaches in my Ready Brek. Maybe the story was too dark for my young mind.

Not so nowadays, this last story in particular but Creepshow in general is just great. Go on, show it to your kids, creep them out a little.

 

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Twilight Zone: The Movie 1983

On paper the idea of two of the most successful directors (at the time) cherry picking two up and coming directors and the four of them revisiting their childhood memories of TV’s The Twilight Zone must have seemed like a great idea. Especially when those two directors were John Landis, having just made An American Werewolf In London and Trading Places, and Steven Spielberg who was coming off the most successful of all time, E.T. Yet somehow both of these mega talents fluffed it. Well Spielberg fluffed it, Landis sowed the seeds that would ultimately destroy his career in the most awful way. Thank god the two directors they picked for the other two segments of the Twilight Zone movie where Joe Dante and George Miller.

It is, it has to be said, a relief that the first story in the film is the John Landis one. Not only because it is easily the weakest one of the lot (that things can only get better after this) but because of the tragedy that happened whilst making this story. It hangs over the production like a ghost. The story concerns a loud mouth racist, bitter about having been passed over for promotion for a fellow, Jewish worker. He finds himself flipping through time to various racial atrocities in recent history, from being lynched by KKK members to being rounded up as a Jew in Nazi occupied France. If you did miss what happened behind the scenes, Landis made some ill advised judgements about safety whilst filming the story which resulted in the lead actor and two child actors being killed by an out of control helicopter (you can look up the footage up on Youtube but I would NOT recommend it). Vic Morrow was the lead actor and is the highlight of this story, playing the bigoted protagonist with wild-eyed conviction. Of course the story doesn’t have the ending which was indented for it as Morrow was not there to film it. It just kind of stops, the downbeat ending has him shut away in a train and shipped off to the gas chambers (the original ending which was meant to involve him rescuing two Vietnamese child prisoners). However even if things hadn’t gone so awfully wrong you have to wonder why on earth Landis chose this story in the first place. Its not to say it isn’t an interesting idea, or that it couldn’t have something to say about bigotry, but its simplistic, sledge hammer stuff – a racist learns how to not to be one. And whilst it does have time travel (for no explained reason) it just doesn’t feel particularly Twilight-Zoney. Plus if you’re going to start a big budget scifi anthology movie is this really the tone you want to start it with? With some white dude making racist slurs to half the audience and then the best they can come up with is a denouement where he is executed along with millions of Jews? Plus, and I’m not sorry to repeat myself, three people died making this.

Steven Spielberg’s story is up next and obviously fares much better in that everyone survives, but we’re still stuck with the same question – why would you choose something as bland as “Kick The Can” to represent you in the Twilight Zone movie. The story involves some wise old black man who visits old people’s homes and gives pensioners their wishes by turning them back into children. Actually you can see EXACTLY why Spielberg chose this. It plays into the man-child Peter Pan ideas that Spielberg was supposedly crazy about back in the day, until he was able to fully plummet this trope with his Hook movie – THAT sure put him off. Here though he is in full saccharine mode. Everything is so sweet and twee it makes you want to throw up. Its all so inoffensive it actually goes right round the other way and becomes offensive. Worst of all it is all so trivial and pointless. It doesn’t have any real insight into ageing – old people yearn for their youth, no shit Sherlock – and the acting is muggy and over the top. I’ll admit it is hard not to love Helen Shaw as Mrs. Dempsey who might be the cutest old person their has ever been, apart from my mum. At least this story is beautifully and cinematically shot, unlike Landis’s one which looked like a poor TV movie.

Things finally turn around at the half way mark when Joe Dante gets to take up the director reigns and deliver one of the classic Twilight Zone stories “It’s a Good Life”. When you think of the Twilight Zone there are certain stories that you know, and the one about the boy who can wish for anything is one of those. How did Landis and Spielberg not KNOW that  if people were wanting anything from their cinematic version of this anthology show it was to have the great stories retold in a big, beautiful way? I get the feeling that after all the stories were in the can, Spielberg must have sat down and had a look and realised he and Landis had fucked up. The last two stories are SO much better than the first two it is like Dante and Miller had been given totally different briefs. Its surely why the last two stories are the best – save the best til last huh?

Joe Dante was apparently picked by Spielberg because he thought Dante’s Jaws rip-off Piranha  was the best of all the Jaws rip-offs (he’s right) and this was a good move. The story of Michael, a ten year old who’s relatives all live in terror of him and his whims, is told with demented cartoon-like energy as the adults stagger about in fear of what the boy will do to them next. Its particularly good to see Kevin McCarthy from Invasion of the Body Snatchers in there as Uncle Walt, having to perform dreadful magic tricks involving giant mutant rabbits being pulled out of his top hat. The weird live action cartoon creatures which appear here are pretty revolutionary and they, along with the child-like (but not childish) macabre tone, are something Dante would revisit and refine over his career. Maybe this story is a little bit of a case of style over content but it’s a lot of fun all the same. Why couldn’t Landis and Spielberg have this sense of glee in their stories is beyond me. Any fun at all would have been nice.

They say save the best til last, and maybe by having the all-time classic Twilight Zone story Nightmare at 20, 000 feet George Miller had it easy, but the final story really is so much better than all of the ones that came before it. The original television episode had William Shatner ripping apart the scenery as a demented passenger convinced there is a gremlin on his plane, tearing apart the engines in a storm whilst everyone else thinks Shatner is a loon. Even watching that crusty old black and white story now has the power to thrill. Miller takes the same story and cranks it up to eleven. This time it is a perfectly cast John Lithgow who starts of paranoid and ends in an insane, mouth-frothing frenzy. Miller whips the tension up so masterfully and with so much dynamism that you can feel Lithgow’s deranged horror, as only he can see what is about to happen to the plane and all its passengers. It is a supremely exciting roller coaster of pure cinema boiled down to twenty minutes. There’s a small and annoying pig-tailed brat who perfectly reflects poor Lithgow’s mind: the more convinced  they are going to die the more annoying she gets, needling away at him like an irritating inch. At the same time the gremlin on the plane wing torments Lithgow by pulling apart the engines whilst laughing in his face/ Lithgow´s fragile state is being attacked from inside and out. It’s a fantastically thrilling climax.

Twilight Zone The Movie is definitely a mixed bag. Its the more established directors who let the thing down. The new guys they brought in were clearly hungrier and more willing to let their imaginations and technical skills run riot. Thank god Spielberg recognised this enough to finish the film on a high note.

 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch 1982

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I think it’s fair to say that the Halloween sequels are like doner kebabs – even when they’re good they’re still pretty bad. You can cover them in as much chilli sauce or Jamie Lew Curtis cameos as you like but ultimately they’re still only worth having a go at when you’re right royally pissed up.

Upon its release Halloween III: Season of the Witch was considered the worst of the lot. This is mainly because it has nothing to do with Michael Myers or Donald Pleasance or killing teens with a kitchen knife and leaving their corpse spread out on your bed with a stolen headstone as a bedstead. Audiences felt short changed – this wasn’t what they paid their hard earned money to see: some gubbons about killer Halloween masks. They wanted The Shape in a boiler suit dealing out death wearing William Shatner’s face. This was not to be though. Whilst the Friday the 13th franchise was doubling down with more and more of the same, the great John Carpenter had had enough. He was not going to be doing the same old sequel. It was bad enough that he’d had to write and produce Halloween 2 (the night HE went to the hospital for a check up). Now Carpenter had free reign to persuade his original idea for Halloween sequels: an anthology series with a different horror story set at Halloween in each film.

Season of the Witch was the first of the anthology films, it was also the last.

You can see why it annoyed people so much. It is such a U-Turn from Halloween. Its a weird mix of witchcraft, Videodrome and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. An ordinary man, escaping suited strange figures, is carried into a hospital clutching a Jack-o-Lantern children’s mask and claiming “they’re going to kill us all”. He’s soon bumped off by having his eyes pushed into his skull and its left to his tending physician (Tom Atkins) to unravel the mystery of who killed him. Meanwhile the nation’s children are in the grip of toy fever over the “Silver Shamrock” Halloween masks – the same as the mask the dead man was holding…

Atkins is assisted by the deceased’s daughter, Stacey Nelkin. She is firstly, trying to find out who killed her father and secondly, waaaaaaay too young for Atkins. Nelkin may have been in her early twenties when she filmed this but she looks a hell of a lot younger than that. Add in the fact that poor old Atkins always looked about ten years older than he ever was (although here he was 47) and the whole coupling starts to feel more than a little uncomfortable. And they couple a lot. They do it twice before Atkins even asks her how old she is (risky attitude there Tom) and when someone in the next room gets zapped in the face by a laser, Nelkin worries “What was that?!?” “Who cares!” says Tom as he goes down on her breasts once more.

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Anyway, I recounted the entire plot to the always delightful, and soon to be my wife, May. She proclaimed “wait! What! That’s the actual plot of a film! Nonsense! That sounds dreadful!” May has a point, it IS kind of ludicrous. However, on the other hand how can a film involving slimy suited robots, children’s heads melting into a mountain of insects, stones stolen from stone henge and a villainous Irish magician ever really be that bad? Okay, yes. Maybe quite easily, but the way Season of the Witch is made it feels like a lost John Carpenter movie, mainly because that’s what it is.

Tommy Lee Wallace would go onto direct a number of interesting projects (including Fright Night Part 2 and Stephen King’s It) but, whether by choice or not, here he is purely channelling Carpenter’s directional style. He does it through framing with sinister characters just being out of shot and then stepping into view, or being revealed with a slow pan. He has some great use of steady cam, especially early on when Atkins is chasing the suited killer out of the hospital, the villain always just at the edge of Atkin’s (and our) view. Wallace also uses dark very effectively with mysterious shapes running through the night. Add into all this a great synth score by John himself (along with Alan Howarth) and this feels like vintage Carpenter.

I mean, it’s NOT vintage Carpenter. May was right, the story is nonsense, but it has the mood and feel of the master. Plus the mystery, whilst it’s being solved, is weirdly compelling. And there is something disturbingly hypnotic about the Silver Shamrock masks and that repetitive advert that plays throughout the film: promising fun and prizes for all the children but really only giving death and sacrifice in the name of something old and horrible.

If you thought Halloween III: Season of the Witch was also old and horrible then maybe it’s worth giving it another shot. It’s certainly better that Halloween: Resurrection which is set on a reality TV show. Now that really is dreadful, like as a doner kebab from “Chick Pizz”* in Stoke Newington on a Saturday night.

 

*They do Chicken AND Pizzas (and Doner Kebabs) and are the worst in London. I’m not being cruel, its been scientifically proven.

 

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H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon 1993

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It’s weird to think that HP Lovecraft was such a cerebral and understated horror writer when the his cinematic translations are mostly filled with big slimy monsters. Considering what an uptight know-it-all Lovecraft seemed to have been, he would probably have hated the work of his greatest champions Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna. Where Lovecraft was all about the unknowable ancient evils he can barely describe, such is their horror, Gordon/Yuzna like nothing better than getting a one-eyed tentacled shoggoth to wrap it’s extensions around a semi naked starlet. But then if these filmmakers have mined Lovecraft’s work for countless stories on film and TV then surely, no matter what the results, the author owes them unending gratitude for reminding the public that he even existed.

H.P. Lovecraft is a legitimately great horror writer but until Stuart Gordon directed and Brian Yuzna produced Re-Animator he was all but forgotten outside a very small circles of weirdos. His short stories were difficult to get hold of and his novella next to impossible. It’s not like Re-Animator set the world on fire, but the wider public suddenly remembered who Lovecraft was and even I could pick up At The Mountains Of Madness at my local WH Smith.

Gordon and Yuzna continued to mine his work over the years but it was whilst Gordon was moving more into scifi territory (with the likes of Fortress and Space Truckers) that Yuzna decided to take on the bible of the Lovecraftian universe, the oft mentioned but never seen Necronomicon, also known as the Book of The Dead. It was a spectacular anthology with three great directors, three classic Lovecraft stories and more monstrosities than you could shake a severed tentacle at. It was such a celebration of all things Lovecraft that the star would be the great man himself (played by Jeffrey Combs obviously).

And so Necronomicon was made. Nobody saw it.

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Well I’ve finally seen it now. We begin with Jeffrey Combs as HP arriving at a monastery’s library to casually do some research for his latest work of “non fiction”. Really he has the ambition of finding the Necronomicon and copying some stories from it. Two questions arise from this. Firstly, only one of the stories seems to be partly set in the past, another I’m not sure when it’s set and the final one is about a couple of cops in the nineties. I know the book is meant to be magical but why would it want to tell you about a police car chase from the future? It would just be gobbledegook to most readers up to and beyond when Lovecraft is meant to copying them (the 1930s). Secondly, is Yuzna suggesting that Lovecraft basically plagiarised his work from old manuscripts? Hardly a homage to the great man!

Of he’s not. Yuzna is trying to present the literature accurately. Hell, the three stories presented here are barely related to their origins at all. Not that it matters as they’re special in their own weird ways.

Once Lovecraft has found the Necronomicon were off into the first story. Based on The Rats in the Walls it is the closest thing to what you’d hope from a Lovecraft story. It’s got tragic regret, rejection of God, water logged sea people and a massive tentacled ancient God living in the basement. Really it has got it all. Directed by Christophe Gans with a huge amount of style and ambition it defies it’s meagre budget to deliver one of the best Lovecraft adaptions ever filmed. The story is pretty straightforward but it fits a lot in its twenty minutes or so including a wonderfully hammy flashback starring Richard Lynch and a fish man with a massive seaweed covered hat. By the time you get to the heroe’s dead wife coming out of the sea to give him a water logged blow job you think things can’t get any better. That’s when we meet the giant Lovecraftian being under the floorboards. Beautifully realised with miniatures, it may not look perfect, how could it with such limited means, but Gans goes for it anyway, and packs in some good action beats and stunts to boot. If anything it’s the perfect ending to the three stories and in some respect it’s a shame it’s the first one. I guess that Yuzna wanted to get his audience gripped with an exciting yarn. Well he and Gans certainly did that.

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That’s lucky because the next story isn’t so special. Basically a mix between a vampire story and Re-Animator it’s set in one location and you can guess the ending a mile off. On the flip side it also has David Warner in it which automatically makes any film five times better. He’s an old school character actor who will take this kind of nonsense as seriously as he would Shakespeare, so makes it much more interesting than it really is. This story has a hilariously long winded body melt with the victim tearing his skin and flesh off for about five minutes before collapsing on the floor in a pile of goo and eyeballs. It’s a testament to Yuzna and his dedication to special make up effects. Necronomicon came out (well, barely came out) at the tail end of the Fangoria-lead eighties horror boom when make up effects ruled. Yuzna clearly understood that: him and his co directors made sure that a substantial amount of the money was set aside for prosthetics, fake blood and KY jelly – ooh sounds like a party I won’t be attending.

The final story is directed by Brian Yuzna himself. He goes for a completely different approach to the story telling, starting off as if we are in the middle of the climax of a different film. A male and female cop are giving chase to some unknown criminal, screaming their heads off at each other. When they crash their car the male, injured and dying is dragged away underground and his regretful, angry and pregnant partner has to go in and rescue him. This chase leads down into what I guess is the depths of hell with a very annoying old couple with no eyes, some weird rubbery bats and lots of bloody surgery. What it has to do with the short story The Whisperer in the Darkness is beyond me. It is still called Whispers so I guess that’s something, but no one actually whispers in the film or even eats a Whisper chocolate bar. The short story was about extra terrestrials removing peoples brains for interstellar travel. This seems to be about hell babies. By this point though it doesn’t really matter. Yuzna is clearly more caught up in throwing gore and weird images about that homaging Lovecraft and it’s a lot of fun for that.

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Things then all wrap up with all manor of Lovecraft vs killer monk mayhem with the book of the dead itself having a big old light show to finish things off. If you wanted a serious representation of Lovecraft’s work then you’ve come to the wrong place. The first story is as close as it gets, maybe as close as anyone has got. Not that it is that easy to tell from the picture I watched because, once again, I am watching a film on a DVD that is copied from a VHS and in 4:3 ratio. Could someone release this properly please? There’s a French Blu ray out there somewhere (in France most likely), which I might get if only to see if that monster in the first story is as good as I like to think it is.

I also like to think I would have seen Necronomicon in  the cinema if it had been released but it never got a cinema release over here (it was shown at the London Film Festival – what must of the arty-farty crowd thought of that?!?!). It never even had much of a video launch either and limped onto USA as a “video premiere” (ooh fancy) three years after it was completed. There was probably some distribution rights problem or company folded which meant it got buried. Or maybe it was an anthology movie which are notoriously hard to market*. Whatever the case, if you can find it, then like the book itself, its worth having a little look at.

 

*I call bullshit on that and all so called difficult to market films. Its a bad marketing department who can’t work out how to sell something, not a bad film. If its too hard to market then go get another job. If someone can make The Greasy Strangler** a hit then you can make anything a hit.

 

** I have no idea if The Greasy Strangler was a hit or not.

 

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Trick ‘r Treat 2007

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To many horror fans Trick ‘r Treat Is the horror movie that should have been a good commercial hit and become a repeated seasonal favourite loved across world. It should have seen that commercial success mixed with being a critical darling and its director, Michael Dougherty, should have gone on to a varied and successful career as horror’s new champion. However the film got dumped by Warner Brothers on to a very minor straight to DVD release two years after being made and it’s taken Dougherty eight long years to get his second feature done. It’s one of the great crimes of horror cinema along with The Devils being buried (again by Warners) for years and that terrible Nightmare on Elm Street remake being allowed to exist.

Why did Warners dump Trick ‘r Treat? Well there are rumours that it was in response to the supposed failure of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns which Dougherty wrote (Singer produced this) but that seems like madness: our giant summer tent pole did only average business so we’re going to fuck you over with your smaller horror anthology, oh and fuck ourselves over at the same time because we paid for the thing. It doesn’t make any sense but then I don’t know how some minds work. The main reason though seems to be the old it’s-too-difficult-to-market-to-a-mainstream-audience bullshit. I have never understood this argument for two fairly simple reasons:

1) if you think no one is going to see this film then why bother pouring money into it in the first place? It’s not as if you didn’t read the script before you invested in it, unless of course that’s exactly what you did.

2) If a marketing team says that a film is too hard to market then it is not the film that is at fault it is the marketing team. They are clearly either the wrong people for the job or talentless knob cheeses who should be fired straight on the spot. You know a film about multiple characters taking shit in LA where the hero played by a then unhirable John Travolta who dies half way through is a tough film to sell, but not that tough that some marketing gang with some serious skills can turn the obscure cultural referencing and extremely violent Pulp Fiction into a worldwide smash. Why couldn’t Warners find a way to get this beautiful little movie out to the general public? It’s a tragedy I tell you.

I mention Pulp Fiction because Trick ‘r Treat is not your average horror anthology but is instead the Pulp Fiction of Halloween horror. However, instead of Travolta as a hitman you have Dylan Baker as a child killer. And instead of Bruce Willis as a washed up boxer you have Anna Paquin as Little Red Riding Hood. Okay it doesn’t sound as cool but really it is.


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Essentially Trick ‘r Treat consists of four tales set over one night but instead of them happening one after each other with a surrounding story, they weave and intermix with each other, characters cross over from one story to another, plots are connected to other plots, some are even the ends of a different story and it all wraps up with some clever use of time so that the end of the film is also the beginning and vice versa. It also helps that whilst there is a lot of variety in the four tales and you could say that two of them a comedic and two of them are more straight forward (well not straightforward at all actually) scary tales, they also flip about on the heads with some genuine frights in the comedy tales and some terrifying bits in the funny ones.

What I’m saying is there’s something for everyone here.

If we are really going to break things down then the first story would be about Dylan Baker and his quite frankly awful approach to parenting and children in general. If you’ve been fortunate/unfortunate enough to see Todd Solondz’s Happiness then you know full well that Baker excels at doing awful things to children. Trick r Treat goes nowhere near that dark but Baker is great at black comedy, trying to cover up a despicable crime whilst attempting to give the aura of the opitame of normalcy. He does this all whilst covered in a dead child’s blood but hey, it’s Halloween, it’s just a costume right? That’s one of the lovely things about this film, the most atrocious crimes and murders happen right in the public eye but everyone just ignores it, thinking it’s all just part of the fun. I imagine it’s only the next day when the police find bodies all over the place that they realise they’re not just props from a seasonal costume store.

The next story involves Anna Paquin and her chums rolling into town to party and pick up some blokes for a good time. Paquin is the classic horror virgin cliché but there’s a twist in the tale and it’s worth watching a second time just to hear how almost every bit of dialogue tells you what is really happening but you just don’t know it until you know it. Actually Trick ‘r Treat is worth watching multiple times anyway because despite its very tight eighty minutes it is so packed with incident, detail and clever asides that you might never get bored of it.

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The third story is probably the scariest with some kids playing a trick on a nerdy girl in their neighbourhood. The setting here is an abandoned water filled quarry and is incredibly creepy, what’s hiding in the water is even more so. This sequence is filmed with more mist that John Carpenter’s The Fog and with its water-logged monsters is probably scarier.

Watching all these different events unfold is a weird little boy dressed in a dirty orange costume with a sack on his head called Sam. He flits in and out of the different tales like a happy little observer untouched by the horrors in front of him and maybe even enjoying them a little too much. Sam is a fantastic character even though we know next to nothing about him: he’s like the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween – creepy and weird but also a lot of fun. Sam is the main player in the final story, tormenting an up-for-it Brian Cox in a story that is like a Halloween version of A Christmas Carol only with chocolate and Stanley knives.

Watching Trick ‘r Treat now it is impossible to understand what some Hollywood executives at Warner Brothers must have been thinking back in 2007. The film is a near perfectly made slice of macabre movie entertainment. It’s not that it isn’t dark and gory because it is, but it is also so brilliantly crafted and entertaining that it is apparent to anyone with even half an understanding of cinema that it is a modern classic. Maybe it could be said that it might not work quite so well watching it in the middle of summer as it does the week before Halloween but then that’s all the more reason to roll it out now, turn off the lights and curl up with some chocolate and wine and enjoy Trick ‘r Treat for the seasonal wonder that it is. And next year you can put it on and enjoy it all over again. And then do it again the year after that. And the year after that…

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Tales of Halloween 2015

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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.

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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.

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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?

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