TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Horror Violence throughout, Language and brief Drug Use

THalloween poster

Directed by: Dave Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Paul Solet, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Written by: Dave Parker, Clint Sears, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Starring: Barry Bostwick, Lin Shaye, John Savage, Pat Healy, BooBoo Stewart, Grace Phipps, Alex Esso & Kristina Klebe

TALES OF HALLOWEEN is arguably the most ambitious horror film to hit VOD during this spooky season. This Halloween-themed anthology has eleven directors telling ten stories that take place over the course of one night. However, the only real connections between these tales are a radio announcer (Adrienne Barbeau) who occasionally pops in and small lines of dialogue uttered by certain characters. So, an actual flowing wraparound between these segments is virtually nonexistent, but this anthology does give us an excuse to watch ten short films all centered around the scariest holiday of the year. It’s definitely no TRICK ‘R TREAT, but TALES OF HALLOWEEN is a fun flick that’s perfect for this time of year. As with every anthology that I review, I will focus on each short individually before ranking the film as a whole…

1. Sweet Tooth

SWEET TOOTH: Dave Parker (THE HILLS RUN RED) directs and writes this story about a kid who discovers a local urban legend of a candy-eating monster. Seeing that this is a horror anthology, you have a good idea as to whether or not the monster is real. This segment has some creativity to it and a nice set-up, but doesn’t fully come to a satisfying ending. You know where everything is going as soon as it starts and there was room for this short to go a little darker in its finale. B-

2. Night Billy Raised Hell

THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL: Darren Lynn Bousman’s contribution to this film is the first solid segment. This one follows a little boy who finds himself committing horrible “pranks” on Halloween under the guidance of a creepy old man. This segment is definitely more comedic than I was expecting, but I quickly warmed up to its dark sense of humor and cheesy sound effects. Also, the ending was a nice touch! B+

TRICK: A group of adults find themselves terrorized by some particularly violent trick-or-treaters. This segment had a lot of potential, especially seeing how one legitimately shocking moment occurs near the beginning. It quickly turns into a simple cat-and-mouse game that, while effective and to the point, doesn’t pack nearly enough of a punch as it should have. B

4. Weak and Wicked

THE WEAK AND THE WICKED: Paul Solet (who previously penned 2009’s brilliantly bloody GRACE) sadly underwhelms with this fourth segment. The story revolves around some violent bullies who find themselves confronted by a would-be vigilante. Though the effects are cool during the final minutes, the story is pretty silly and never really had me engaged. You’ve seen this sort of short film before and I’d guess that you’ve seen it in many different ways. C

5. Grim Grinning Ghost

GRIM GRINNING GHOST: Director/writer Axelle Carolyn makes up for Solet’s disappointing short with this highly effective and atmospheric one. A young woman hears a spooky ghost story at a Halloween party and soon finds herself on edge as she walks home through dark, fog-laden streets. It’s not exactly hard to guess where this short will eventually end up, but I really enjoyed the whole execution of it. This segment actually got two solid jumps out of me with its scares and playfully thwarted potentially cheap moments. Though it’s not exactly original, this short is extremely well-done and scary nonetheless. A-

6. Ding Dong

DING DONG: Lucky McKee is one of the most well-known directors of this anthology (with MAY and THE WOMAN in his filmography) and that’s why this sixth segment is so very disappointing. The plot revolves around an odd couple and I don’t really want to say more for fear of spoiling some of the few redeeming factors. Pollyanna McIntosh was brilliant in THE WOMAN and I just don’t know what the hell she’s doing here. Meanwhile, Marc Senter (who’s been fantastic in THE LOST and RED, WHITE & BLUE) makes the most of the material he’s given. There’s definitely an interesting idea at the center of this short, but the execution feels cheap and far from fully developed. C-

7. This Means War

THIS MEANS WAR: The best short of this entire anthology belongs to Andrew Kasch and John Skipp! Combining a great sense of humor with horror, this story focuses on an erupting battle between two neighbors with very different tastes in Halloween decorations. The segment plays out like a really nasty piece of dark comedy and I absolutely loved it. It also helps that production values are rock solid (that’s true of the next two shorts as well) and it’s all very fast-paced. Though I guessed the ending before it actually happened, that didn’t make it any less satisfying. This is easily my favorite segment of this anthology! A

8. Friday the 31st

FRIDAY THE 31ST: The award for most bizarre entry in this anthology goes to Mike Mendez (director of the appropriately titled BIG ASS SPIDER!). This segment starts out as a slasher-esque bit that turns into something else entirely. I won’t say what because a lot of the fun comes from the goofy “what the hell am I watching?!?” tone in this segment. I haven’t seen any of Mendez’s other work, but this short strikes me as the work of someone who could potentially become the next Sam Raimi. In other words, this short is cheesy, goofy and a friggin’ blast! B+

THE RANSOM OF RUSTY REX: This segment stands out as my second favorite of the film. Two kidnappers find their plan falling apart after one horrible mistake. That’s all I’ll say, because this segment is really fun to watch. An over-the-top sense of humor is combined with creepy horror, but this story leans slightly more on the scary side than THIS MEANS WAR did. The two performances of the leads as well as one well-placed cameo and some stellar make-up effects make this into the second-best of these ten shorts. Also, I would easily watch a feature-length horror-comedy centered around this premise. A

10. Bad Seed

BAD SEED: Neill Marshall has brought us enjoyable flicks in the past, such as THE DESCENT, DOOMSDAY, and CENTURION. Now, he brings us a short about a killer pumpkin. That’s right. A cop is investigating a killer pumpkin on Halloween night and we see this occur for about 10 minutes. Think of this short as a Halloween-centered version of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES…but with pumpkins. I really wanted to enjoy this short and there were a couple of goofy moments that worked. However, I felt that this segment was a weak way to close out the film, especially given how it ends. At least, the always enjoyable Pat Healy shows up for a few minutes. C+

11. Overall

TALES is the second horror anthology to come out this year that’s based around a holiday and features a radio host as the main connection between the stories (the first is A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY). Like that other holiday anthology, TALES OF HALLOWEEN has a mixed bag of segments. There are bad ones (Lucky McKee’s and Paul Solet’s), so-so ones (Neil Marshall’s and Dave Parker’s) as well as some good ones (Mike Mendez’s and Darren Lynn Bousman’s) and fantastic ones (Ryan Schifrin’s, Andrew Kasch’s and John Skipp’s). The good far outweighs the bad though! If you’re looking for a fun anthology that’s perfect for this time of year, then TALES OF HALLOWEEN won’t disappoint.

Grade: B

STARRY EYES (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

StarryEyes poster

Directed by: Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer

Written by: Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer

Starring: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy & Marc Senter

Ever wonder why certain actors and actresses have careers in Hollywood? A low-budget horror flick, that combines three various styles of scares with a biting satirical edge, offers a troubling possible answer to these concerns. I had been hearing about this film since its early production stages and was hesitantly excited to see it. As awesome as some independent horror flicks may be, the genre is overpopulated with crap. STARRY EYES falls on the better side of things aided by a clever script, solid cast, and mix of different horror sensibilities. Though this one might not work for some people, I could see STARRY EYES going down as a possible cult classic.

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Hollywood is a place of broken dreams. Millions of souls have been shattered trying to become the next famous celebrity. Sarah is one of these many sad people trying to make a living off her passion and failing around every corner. She works as a waitress, but her passion seems to be failing auditions for any part that comes across her eye. After auditioning for a new horror film produced by a big studio, Sarah finds herself at a crossroads where she can either follow her dream (corrupting herself) or do the right thing (remaining a starving artist). Her decision has unexpected consequences that manifest themselves physically onto her body and a nasty transformation begins.

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Newcomer Alex Essoe steals the show with a fearless performance. She injects enough sympathy into Sarah that I felt for her struggles and the awkward audition scenes are painfully realistic. There’s also a darker element to this character that makes her Faustian pact into something believable. She makes dumb decisions, but that’s inherent in what her character craves and how she wants to go about achieving stardom. A few recognizable faces spring out of the cast too. Amanda Fuller is good as Sarah’s genuinely caring, but somewhat loose-lipped roommate. Pat Healy and Marc Senter (both solid actors in their own right) aren’t given much to do, but make the most of the scenes they have.

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STARRY EYES is admirable in trying to achieve three very different types of horror in the same movie. Its success rate is a bit muddled given inconsistent pacing and a final third that drops the ball in a couple of areas. The story works best as a dark slow-burn that merely hints at the madness to come in the latter half. There’s an effective, unnerving sense of foreboding that drips onto the screen as each scene ramps up the tension little by little. The last third is where all the suspense should have paid off. This is where the film changes from psychological slow-burn into a mix of body-horror and slasher territory. The combination of these two visceral subgenres feels a tad rushed though. The body-horror angle almost feels like a quick take on last year’s CONTRACTED. When the film enters slasher territory, a couple of kills go so over-the-top that they feel cheesy. The movie fixes some of the damage with a legitimately creepy final scene, but the last third almost seems like an entirely different movie in an awkward way.

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STARRY EYES is a creepy little flick that almost falls apart in its inconsistent final act. There are solid ideas that aren’t given enough time to fully develop in the last third, but the slow-burn and character development are both impressive in the first hour. The film is ambitious beyond belief as it’s the first flick I’ve seen to weave Polanski madness, Cronenberg biology, and 70’s satanic panic all at once. Its overall impact might not be as big as one hopes, but STARRY EYES still comes recommended for horror fans who are the least bit curious about it.

Grade: B-

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