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

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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

CENTURION (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Violence, Grisly Images and Language

Centurion poster

Directed by: Neil Marshall

Written by: Neil Marshall

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West, Liam Cunningham, David Morrissey, JJ Feild, Ulrich Thomsen, Noel Clarke, Imogen Poots

It really is quite unfair how many good films from across the pond get a shitty release in the states. I wish I could say that I went opening night to a multiplex and saw CENTURION on a massively sized screen with a crowd of enthusiastic filmgoers. Unfortunately, this film got a very limited theatrical run and was a VOD offering with little fanfare. Given that Neil Marshall’s DOOMSDAY wasn’t hot among the masses, it makes sense that CENTURION got regulated to a smaller release. This is a shame, because CENTURION is a no holds-barred, kick-ass adventure. The film works wondrously well in spite a couple of pacing problems. Marshall has never been one to skimp on the gratuitous violence. This benefited a dark horror film in THE DESCENT and elevated the goofy fun factor of DOOMSDAY, but in CENTURION things has a more serious tone and the violence echoes sheer brutality of the story being told.

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Based on the legend of the Roman Ninth Legion, CENTURION is primarily about the struggle of a few Roman soldiers trying to stay alive deep in enemy territory as they try to make it back to their base alive. The first twenty minutes cut between Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) and Roman general Titus Virilus (Dominic West). Quintus has been captured by the vicious Picts and Titus is being assigned to entirely wipe out the Picts. The two Roman soldiers soon meet and after an ambush, the handful of survivors are left with some difficult decisions that will ultimately make or break their survival. It certainly makes matters more dangerous that a band of vicious Pict warriors are hunting the remaining group led by a character that can only be described as one mean bitch. Much chaos, suspense, and bloodshed ensues as the band of Roman soldiers face off against their enemies and the harsh terrain.

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There was clearly a budget behind CENTURION. The story plays out on an epic scale. There are plenty of period pieces that feel almost stagey in their sets and costumes. In this film, I bought everything that I saw as a mostly authentic piece of history. It helps that most of the story is set in a vast wilderness that is bleak to say the least. I can’t think of a single moment where I saw a sun in the entire course of the movie. It’s an atmospheric piece of work that proudly states on the poster “History is written in blood.” As far as that blood goes, the film is unabashedly brutal. Severed limbs, decapitated heads, and a whole lot of red bodily fluid flies freely in the battle scenes. A few of these moments (particularly in the first half) show off some iffy blood that looked very CGI and there is one key moment that was ripped off from 300. Other than these hiccups, the film is a bloody blast of action, violence, and gore.

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One surprising element that made CENTURION even more gripping was that I actually cared about most of these characters. The cast consists of some fine actors. Michael Fassbender headlines as Quintus and though he’s proven himself a superb actor by taking on many different types of characters, he’s an absolute badass here. The secondary character mainly comes in David Morrissey (known for his recent work as The Governor in THE WALKING DEAD) and I appreciated that this older Roman soldier was given some depth. British familiars Noel Clarke and Dominic West are welcome additions to the highly capable cast. One moment was clearly included for some exposition and didn’t come off as cheap in the slightest. In fact, this scene (you’ll know it when you see it) dealt with fleshing out these characters very well. The character development makes it all the more devastating when someone bites it in a painful manner.

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As far as baddies go, the Picts aren’t given much of a personality. This is all with one exception: French actress Olga Kurylenko. She is the aforementioned mean bitch and comes off as the ultimate violent villainess. Her character of the main Pict tracker never speaks a word, but just oozes intimidation. The goriest scenes come courtesy of her.

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The pacing itself takes a little while to gain momentum. The first 20 minutes jumping back and forth from Fassbender and West wander aimlessly. The same issue can also be attributed to the final 20 minutes. The bloody climax is well worth the wait, but there are a series of rushed plot points that follow afterwards. I was interested in what was happening, but not necessarily how quickly Neil Marshall was throwing them out. If less time had been dedicated to the opening and moved instead to the closing, then CENTURION would have been a much stronger film.

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Neil Marshall delivers yet again with CENTURION. This film is unlike his horror flicks and the one campy action sci-fi movie that the man has done before. It’s a (mostly) fast-paced adventure revolving around an ancient legend and dripping with layers of gore. Also props to Marshall for directing excellent coherent fight scenes that didn’t rely on any shaky cam bullshit that so many others rely on. It’s a good time for action fans, gorehounds and history buffs!

Grade: B

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