Most horror movies don’t usually do much for me — I tend not to find gore frightening — and the ones that are supposed to be funny typically do even less: I tend not to find gore funny, either. But the little packages of horror and horror comedy that make up the new anthology Tales of Halloween offer among them a few gems that made me laugh out loud or shiver with their creepy atmosphere.
The ten stories here are vaguely interconnected: they’re meant to be occurring in the same Los Angeles neighborhood on the same Halloween night, and sometimes characters from one short appear in the background of another. (The radio DJ played by Adrienne Barbeau, narrating the night, doesn’t quite work as connective tissue; Barbeau is but one of many faces familiar to genre fans who will show up here.) Mostly, though, the shorts stand (or fall) on their own. A few left me cold: “Trick,” by Adam Gierasch, and “The Weak and the Wicked,” by Paul Solet, are like unironic stories of Purge night, cruel and bloody spurts of uninteresting vengeance. (Except where noted below, all the segments are also written by their directors.) “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Clint Sears, is a little better, but its Twilight Zoneish spin ultimately exacts its vengeance on the least satisfying of potential targets it presents.
Then there’s the batch that satisfy in spite of their flaws. Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth” plays like a traditional urban-legend slasher flick: it may feel somewhat stock, but it’s cleverly and stylishly pulled off. Axelle Carolyn’s “Grimm Grinning Ghost” has almost nothing going on storywise, but it drips eerie moodiness. “This Means War,” written by John Skipp and directed by Skipp and Andrew Kasch, takes neighborly competition in a battle of holiday house decorations to its obvious Halloween conclusion, but it’s amusing along the way.
Another step up in quality takes us to Lucky McKee’s (All Cheerleaders Die) “Ding Dong,” which gives a psychologically incisive new spin to an old fairy tale, one the genre has, strangely, avoided, even though it is quite horrific indeed. And Ryan Schifrin’s “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” is weird and funny in how it brings well-deserved and ironically appropriate punishment to wrongdoers who have gone out of their way to court it.
But the absolute best of the lot — and worth the price of admission or a rental on their own — are two outrageous and uproarious genre pastiches. “Friday the 31st,” by Mike Mendez, layers horror tropes atop one another in deliciously unexpected ways; it’s nothing like The Cabin in the Woods as far as its story is concerned, but it tickles your nerd sweet spot in the same way. Neil Marshall’s (The Descent) “Bad Seed” isn’t just a sendup of horror movies but also of cop movies, and it works in deeply hilarious ways along both genre vectors.