Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2015: TALES OF HALLOWEEN Review

The best endorsement for an anthology film, I think, is when you leave the theatre wanting to see more of the segments on display. In the After Dark 2015 festival opener, Tales of Halloween, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t complain if every one of these ten segments were to become its own movie.

 I’ve written before that the number of segments in something as bloated as The ABC’s of Death can hamstring the movie as a whole. While ABC’s whopping 26 segments is clearly too much, I’m of the opinion that an anthology’s strength is less about the number of segments than it is about the connection from one to the next. In Tales of Halloween’s ten segments there’s a great flow throughout - characters will pop into the background from one to the next, storyline threads will intersect in a subtle way - and there’s just this perfectly cohesive sense that all this nightmarish stuff is happening in a small neighborhood on one night, which is the intent. In no way does it ever feel like a slog, and the segments move with a perfect pace that suits the tone of each one. You can tell that some thought actually went into the order of these, which is as rare as it is necessary (that is, very) in an anthology of this length.

PSA: Don't withhold candy from kids, folks.
First up is Dave Parker’s Sweet Tooth, a cautionary tale about the dangers of eating too much candy. Managing to tell a monster’s origin story while fitting in a few kills is an impressive feat for such a short segment, but Parker pulls it off well and is a perfect opener for the film. Sweet Tooth features the first couple of really great performances by kids in this anthology, showing that a child with his parents' intestines hanging out of his mouth is, well, about as disturbing as you'd expect it to be.

This leads into Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Night Billy Raised Hell, an extremely dark comedy about a bullied kid pranking the wrong guy - Satan himself. A scenery-chewing Barry Bostwick as the devil isn’t something I knew I needed before now, but it’s brilliant. When the story takes a pretty abrupt left turn in the end, you’ll probably be surprised and horrified to find yourself laughing.

Next we have Adam Gierasch’s Trick. This is one of only a couple out of the ten segments I found legitimately scary and unnerving, as opposed to going for laughs. A group of friends is having a quiet Halloween, taking bong rips and answering the door for trick-or-treaters, when a seemingly unprovoked act of violence leads to...well a lot more violence, as well as a pretty ghastly twist. Tales of Halloween features a ton of different kinds of gore effects, mostly of the cartoonishly excessive variety, but the imagery here is pretty realistic and extreme, which adds some ‘legitimacy’ to the overall work, at least for some of the more hardcore horror fans.

The slickly weird world of Paul Solet's The Weak And The Wicked
The Weak and the Wicked from Paul Solet is my favourite of this anthology, and one of my favourite anthology segments ever. A gang of three stylish teen outlaws are terrorizing a hapless kid, when a mysterious stranger and his otherworldly protector show up to even the score. It’s a take on Sergio Leone by way of Rian Johnson’s Brick and The Warriors with a slickness and style all its own. If there’s a Kickstarter for a full-length version of this, they can have all my money.

Grim Grinning Ghost by Axelle Carolyn, creator of this anthology, is fairly short but effective. It’s basically the first and third acts of a story about a woman being haunted and pursued by a supernatural entity, elevated in its setup by the wonderful Lin Shaye. Grim Grinning Ghost is punctuated by an effective scare and is beautifully shot, even putting a fresh coat of paint on some pretty standard horror tropes. Despite its brievity, this works nicely as a centrepiece of the overall movie.

Imagine being married to this, and you're halfway to experiencing the madness of Lucky McKee's Ding Dong
Lucky McKee’s Ding Dong is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in one of these anthologies. It's full-on unsettling creepiness that comes from a couple’s relationship that is so dysfunctional and insane that it completely belongs in the middle of a horror film. When you drop that couple into a perverted take on Hansel and Gretel that takes place in two time periods (a year apart), you’ll feel like you’ve done a couple hits of unbelievably bad acid. Or maybe really good acid? I don't know what your tolerance is like, reader. McKee regular Pollyanna McIntosh is otherworldly here and you’ll have her voice in your head for days. This is another one that you'll be laughing through and finding yourself completely unable to express why.

This Means War, from John Skipp and Andrew Kasch didn't really do it for me, but if you're the type to sit, likely hungover, though one of those holiday decorating challenge shows on TLC or Slice, you'll probably get what's being referenced and turned on its head here. Two neighbors have very divergent ideas of how to decorate a house for Halloween.  One, a traditionalist, and one, played by James Duval, with more of a darker and more metal sensibility.  As you'd expect, these two ideas don't really mesh well and the cartoonish escalation of 'warfare' is good for a laugh, but seems a bit tonally out of place with the rest of the segments.
The main character in Mike Mendez's Friday the 31st. He's totally not Jason, folks! Honest!

Mike Mendez of Big Ass Spider fame puts his fetish for 80's horror on display again with Friday the 31st. Taking an obvious Jason Voorhees ripoff to it's completely illogical and adorable, gory, batshit ends sounds like a bad idea but...What? It sounds like a great idea, and though the execution here is a little amateurish, it's a ton of fun with about a dozen surprises packed into it.

The Ransom of Rusty Rex by Ryan Schifrin introduces us to two would-be kidnappers that get way more than they expected when they try to collect a ransom on a millionaire's son. What starts off as a pretty regular caper scene, quickly turns into a very different kind of pursuit, this time with the kidnappers running for their lives. This one takes a little longer to get going than some of the other segments but it's a wild ride once it does.

Hopefully they can identify the culprit in Bad Seed using this police sketch and facial impression.

Finally, we reach our last segment - Neil Marshall's Bad Seed. Though this one is a little on the long side and feels that way, once you get the joke it's brilliance can't help but shine through.  Bad Seed plays out like a traditional police drama, except the killer being pursued is a living, murderous pumpkin.  The fact that everything is played completely straight, even as people are battling this sentient squash, makes it all the more hilarious. This is also where a lot of the other segments intersect, as the police station is filled with references to the other nightmarish events from that night. When the segment and the film near its end, it becomes an homage to a certain non-canon installment of a classic franchise that should please horror fans that get it, and even if you don't, it works as a great final gag.

Interwoven with a dreamy set of interludes from the prolific Adrienne Barbeau as a psychedelic rock radio DJ, the ten segments feel exactly as distinct as they should be, while retaining a feeling of cohesion throughout. I can definitely see Tales of Halloween becoming a Halloween tradition for me, occupying a spot on my shelf right next to Trick R Treat


Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here. You can find all of our coverage as it's released throughout the week here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on, the CBC Street Level Blog,, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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