Forgive the pun, but anthology films are a bit hit-and-miss, both in terms of their vignettes, and the films as a whole. That might be why they went away for a while, with few being made in the late '90s and early '00s. But then in the later '00s, anthologies came back in a big way. The slick Trick 'r Treat, despite not getting a theatrical release, laid the groundwork for a new batch of anthology films. Whether or not those movies lived up to Trick 'r Treat's standards is debatable, but the fact of the matter is anthologies aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Halfway through the month of October, the 10th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival opened with a new holiday-themed anthology, Tales of Halloween. Taking its cues from the ABCs of Death, there's no framing story here, just ten vignettes, one right after another. But, like Trick 'r Treat, some intersect, as characters from one story appear briefly in others. Also like Trick 'r Treat, the film balances funny and scary, and the monsters are phenomenal.
The film opens with one of the best stories, Sweet Tooth, n local urban legend about a candy-starved monster. Sweet Tooth sets a high bar for the rest of the night, and not every vignette hits the mark, but still the movie is fun to watch. Friday the 31stand The Ransom of Rusty Rex were favourites, as was Bad Seed (although its ending is a bit weak). The movie's got everything from serial killers, to demons, to aliens, and they're all name-checked in the film's final story.
Like a lot (read: all) horror anthologies, Tales of Halloween is heavily marketed based on its horror cred. Meaning, the film is made by and features horror heavyweights. I'm of two minds when it comes to stuff like this. On the one hand, I can appreciate how much a big name will help sell a film. On the other, the movie's value shouldn't be tied to the names alone. That's what happened to the first ABCs of Death (M is for Miscarriage by Ti West, for example). Tales of Halloween has a lot of big names associated with it, but it's best to just get lost in the stories these people tell.
If you'll allow for another pun, all in all, Tales of Halloween is a treat. The ten vignettes are, for the most part, evenly-matched in tone (The Weak and Wicked and Ding Dong are more serious), giving the film a sense of balance and cohesion. Moreover, because these stories all take place on the same night in the same town, there's a visual coherence as well. Unity in an anthology is not easily accomplished, especially with eleven different filmmakers, but Tales of Halloween made it happen.
Now, how about Christmas, or Valentine's Day?
As is TADFF tradition, all feature films are preceded by a Canadian short. And what better movie to precede Tales of Halloween and open the festival than Portal to Hell! Roddy Piper's last movie is a delightful tale about a downtrodden building super who, on top of everything else, has to now deal with a gateway to R'lyeh in the basement. It's funny, it's gross, and it has a great punchline.
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