Nobody likes a good horror anthology movie as much as I do. Except perhaps my wife. And some of her friends. Anyway, we’ve got a new one out, so let’s take a look, shall we?
You know, it’s genuinely not a good sign to start your trailer off with a terrible day-for-night shot. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It reeks of cheap, amateur filmmaking. Of course, for all I know, that’s what we’re looking at, so let’s not dwell on it and just move along.
So according to this cop fella, “Every year, on Halloween, this town goes batshit crazy.” If I may pose a question: why the hell does anyone still live there, then? Of course, the locale will alter your definition of “batshit crazy.” One town’s batshit crazy is another town’s charm. Can you imagine how many things occur in New York and Chicago that are considered part of their charm, but would be considered malicious acts of misanthropy almost anywhere else in the world? Hell, the townsfolk don’t even need to move if they don’t want to. When Halloween rolls around they can just take a couple days off work, pack up the kiddies and skip town. It’s easy enough to plan around; Halloween isn’t one of those shapeshifting holidays like Easter, jumping around to a different time every year like a magic rabbit hopped up on meth, never knowing when it’s going to happen until you walk into your house after work and find it clutching your rare coin collection while watching an old UFC pay-per-view with its pants around its ankles. I admit that this simile doesn’t really make any sense, but neither does what that cop said, and this already sounds like it would be a better movie.
This trailer utilizes the “throwing names at you” technique, a strategy that seems to be used to get your interested in a movie if the actual story doesn’t do anything for you. Think of all the times you’ve seen a trailer or spot for a TV show that shouted from the rooftops that it was “brought to you by exectuvie producer Steven Spielberg/Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay/James Cameron.” Nine of of ten times the person named had little-to-nothing to do with the movie or show that’s namedropping them. It’s a cheap trick, but they use it because it works. I’m as guilty as anyone; if you told me Chris Nolan made a silent film about Carrot Top running a coin-operated laundromat, not only would I be in line to see it opening day, I’d pre-order it on Blu-Ray at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. But this trick only works when you use an established, recognizable name, which makes this trailer’s use of it so weird. Most of the names that they toss at us aren’t recognizable at all, and those that are aren’t the people anyone would ever use to try and sell a movie. Barry Bostwick? The goofy mayor from SPIN CITY? Michael J. Fox has been busier and he’s got a horrible disease! They tell us John Landis and Joe Dante are in it too, and they’re at least recognizable names, but they’re just making cameo appearances as actors. Will they also have John Carpenter as best boy and Eli Roth working as a foley artist?
The real problem here is that a trailer should give you a brief look at what a movie is about - what’s the story, who are the characters, what’s at stake? This is hard enough to do when you’re working with a traditional narrative film that’s got a single cogent storyline. TALES OF HALLOWEEN has got ten segments crammed into 92 minutes. That’s less than ten minutes per story! They probably had a hard enough time tying them into a coherent feature, let alone a trailer that made any sense. Watching this thing is like having a nightmare, and not in a good way. There’s a scary guy in a mask, a jack-o-lantern that’s eating people’s arms and faces, some fella without a jaw, slutty Dorothy. It’s like watching an adaption of a college student’s free-flow essay about what scares him.
Because the movie, segments, and trailer itself are so short, there’s not enough time to be able to figure out what the hell is going on and none of it seems to make any sense. But if you’re still not sold, have we mentioned that Lin Shaye is in it?!
Horror anthology movies are nothing new. There have been bad ones, there have been good ones, sometimes both within the same movie. You can have an anthology where almost all of the segments are great (CREEPSHOW); you can have one where one segment is incredibly memorable and the others are instantly forgettable (TRILOGY OF TERROR); you can have one where every story in it is a steaming piece of crap (CREEPSHOW 2 - a vengeful cigar store Indian? A mutilated undead hitchhiker who won’t stop repeating himself? A man-eating pool cover?) Most likely, this movie will end up being a mixed bag - parts will be good, parts will be mediocre, and parts will make you yearn for a time when the most you had to worry about was hillbilly Stephen King turning into alien grass.
At the same time, this movie definitely has some things working against it. For one, movies in general just aren’t very good right now. If there’s one thing the 21st century will be remembered for, it definitely won’t be its quality filmmaking. What percentage of movies being released in the last, say, ten years were any good? 30, 40%? And that may be generous. So if this general percentage were applied to TALES OF HALLOWEEN, which with its ten different segments is basically like ten mini-movies, we’d have to be pretty lucky to see an anthology where even half of the segments are decent. And while we’re on the subject, don’t you think ten segments is a few too many for an anthology movie? CREEPSHOW ran a full two hours and only had five segments (plus a prologue and epilogue). Guys, this new movie has twice as many segments and runs a half an hour shorter! Averaging just nine minutes per story, I don’t think the directors are going to have enough time to tell each of their stories, even if they are all loosely connected.
The biggest grab-bag associated with this movie might just be the people making it. Some of these guys have made some horror flicks that garnered mainstream attention and success, some have made well-received flicks within the genre, some have made celluloid crapfests that are the filmic equivalent of watching someone have a colonic irrigation. Let’s take a look this movie’s ten directors one-at-a-time:
The most commercially successful of the lot is probably Darren Lynn Bousman, who wrote and directed SAW II, and helmed III and IV. Aside from being the same movie over and over, the earlier SAW sequels were at least much better than the later ones. Of course, getting paper cuts on the webbing between your toes or under your fingernails would be better than the last SAW flicks.
I’ve noticed a theme with Adam Gierasch’s work, he having written SPIDERS, CROCODILE, CROCODILE 2: DEATH SWAMP, and RATS (which all sound terrific, by the way). Picking up on the pattern?
Andrew Kasch has until-now focused on documentaries about horror movies: he helped the very-well received four-hour long (!) documentary about the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. He also directed short features about the making of HALLOWEEN 4, 5, and H2O, which I assume were featured on the series collection Blu-Ray set. I haven’t seen them but they sound fabulous.
Neil Marshall wrote and directed THE DESCENT, which everone seemed to really like.
Lucky McKee wrote and directed a little film called MAY, which has itself quite a cult following. Although it did have creepy moments, it didn’t do an awful lot for me personally.
John Skipp wrote A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD back in ‘89. It’s not a terrible movie, but probably the best you can say for it is that it’s better than the installment that followed it, FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE.
A side note about FREDDY’S DEAD: this movie is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t cast the celebrity du jour in your movie. Case in point, this movie has got Roseanne Barr AND Tom Arnold (both of whom seem to have dropped off the face of the planet, much to the chagrin of nobody), Johnny Depp cameoing as himself (and potentially looking like a normal person for the last time in his life) and Alice Cooper as Freddy’s dad. Talk about instantly dating your movie.
Not it gets a little shakier. We get Mike Mendy, who directed a powerful one-two punch of poop, THE CONVENT and THE GRAVEDANCERS, and Dave Parker, who wrote THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD, which comes up in discussions as a contender for the worse movie ever made, to say nothing of video game adaptions, which tend to stink up the place anyway. I’m almost surprised they didn’t get Uwe Boll associated with this flick somehow.
The last three directors, Axelle Carolyn, Ryan Schifrin, and Paul Solet are all relative unknowns who haven’t yet done much of note.
Writing and directing are both obviously hugely important to any film, but I might make the case that they’re even more important in an anthology, because all of these different styles and voices will need to be put together into some sort of coherent piece. It’s been done before, but previous successful anthologies were helmed by guys with a little more street cred. CREEPSHOW was directed by George Romero from a script by Stephen King (who, as great as he is, is not infallible, particularly when it comes to the silver screen). Likewise, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE’s four segments were directed by John Landis, Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller (what a lineup!). Maybe moreso than a typical traditional-narrative film, anthologies rely upon the talent of the filmmakers to be successful. So, as far as TALES OF HALLOWEEN’s chances of being any good, it’ll probably be like flipping a coin. A real coin, that is, not Harvey Dent’s goofy double-sided coin.
A last aside, can we agree that TALES OF HALLOWEEN is a terribly boring name for a movie? It sounds like an R.L. Stine choose-you-own-adventure book. Speaking of Stine, did you know Jack Black is playing him in a Goosebumps movie? Yeah, I try not to think about it either.