Horror omnibuses are frequently a mixed bag. Sometimes they’re not even a bag of tricks, let alone treats, but more like a box of inedible rocks. That, unfortunately, is pretty much the story with “Tales of Halloween,” a collection of 10 macabre miniatures that are disposably diverting at best and execrable at worst, despite the participation of some familiar genre faces and directors. Opened on 12 screens around the country Oct. 16, simultaneous with a VOD/iTunes release, the pic will no doubt make a more lasting impact as junk food for buffs in home formats.
Thinly connected by audio input from Adrienne Barbeau as a sexy-voiced radio DJ, the tales here all take place on All Hallow’s Eve, presumably in the same town. Many unimaginatively revolve around a folk tale that turns out to be horribly true, as the characters discover to their mortal peril. In “Sweet Tooth,” it’s the ghoulish spirit of a perpetually hungry child once deprived of his holiday candy by greedy parents. “Grim Grinning Ghost” has a woman terrorized by another local legend, while in “The Weak and the Wicked,” a demonic figure is summoned to wreak vengeance on bullies.
Loutish humor dominates “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” with Barry Bostwick as a jokey Beelzebub playing nasty pranks on neighbors, and “This Means War,” in which rival Halloween yard displays roil bad blood between Dana Gould and James Duval. “Trick” finds two partying couples attacked by trick-or-treaters in reprisal for some tastelessly ugly crimes of their own.
These early entries are polished enough but utterly routine in their simple concepts and broad execution. There’s an uptick in quality later on, though improved directorial style and energy can only do so much to elevate what remain one-joke premises. Different kinds of monsters ensure crime doesn’t pay for the respective serial-killer and kidnapper protagonists of “Friday the 31st” and “The Ransom of Rusty Rex.” “Ding Dong,” from Lucky McKee (“May,” “The Woman”), exerts a more assertive visual personality than can be found elsewhere here in its bad-mental-health-day spin on “Hansel and Gretel.” Finally, “Bad Seed,” directed by Neil Marshall (“The Descent,” “Doomsday”), is an antic, frenetic tale of a man-eating jack o’lantern. Even the best of these, however, are held back by brevity from developing silly ideas into anything truly memorable.
Horror fans will enjoy spotting various favorite genre actors, and even a few helmers (including John Landis, Stuart Gordon and Joe Dante in cameos), along with the inevitable in-joke references to prior films. It’s really time, however, for movies like this to give poor old “Night of the Living Dead” and “Carnival of Souls” — the most over-exposed public-domain features ever — a rest from gratuitous excerpting.
A rather tacky computer-animated opening credits sequence aside, tech/design contributions on the film (which credits “”Grim Grinning Ghost” writer-director Axelle Carolyn as overall creator) are competent. There’s a closing dedication to Ben Woolf, the actor with pituitary dwarfism who plays the titular figure in “Rusty Rex,” and who died as a result of an auto collision earlier this year.
Directed, written, edited by David Parker. Camera, David Tayar; music, David Parker.
With: Hunter Smit, Cameron Easton, Caroline Williams, Robert Rusler, Clare Kramer, Greg Grunberg, Daniel DiMaggio, Austin Falk, Madison Iseman.
“The Night Billy Raised Hell”
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay, Clint Sears. Camera, Joseph White; music, Bobby Johnston.
With: Barry Bostwick, Marcus Eckert, Christophe Zajac-Denek, Ben Stillwell, Natalie Castillo, Adam Pascal, Adrianne Curry.
“The Weak and the Wicked”
Directed by Paul Solet. Screenplay, Molly Millions. Camera, Zoran Popovic; music, Austin Wintory.
With: Keir Gilchrist, Grace Phipps, Booboo Stewart, Noah Segan, Matt Merchant.
Directed by Adam Gierasch. Screenplay, Greg Commons. Camera, Scott Winig; music, Joseph BIshara.
With: John F. Beach, Tiffany Shepis, Casey Elizabeth Ruggieri, Trent Haaga.
“Grim Grinning Ghost”
Directed, written by Axelle Carolyn. Camera, Jan-Michael Losada; music, Christian Henson.
With: Alex Essoe, Lin Shaye, V. Nixie, Liesel Hanson, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon.
Directed, written by Lucky McKee. Camera, Alex Vendler; editors, Zach Passero, Vanessa McKee; music, Sean Spillane.
With: Marc Senter, Pollyanna McIntosh.
“This Means War”
Directed, written by John Skipp, Andrew Kasch. Camera, Losada; music, Michael Sean Colin.
With: Dana Gould, James Duval.
“Friday the 31st”
Directed by Mike Mendez. Screenplay, Mendez, David Parker. Camera, Richard Vialet; music, Joseph Bishara, Edwin Wendler.
With: Amanda Moyer, Jennifer Wenger, Nick Principe.
“The Ransom of Rusty Rex”
Directed, written by Ryan Schifrin. Camera, Losada; music, Chris Drake.
With: Ben Woolf, John Landis, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sam Witwer.
Directed, written by Neil Marshall. Camera, Vialet; editor, Eddie Oswald; music, Christian Henson.
With: Kristina Klebe, Pat Healy, Greg McLean, Cerina Vincent, John Savage, Joe Dante.