It’s that time of year again. A special time where children dress up as their greatest fears and adults dress slutty and get super drunk. That’s right it is Halloween and I have a couple of horror movies to review.
Rookie police officer Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy – “The Walking Dead”) has been assigned the last shift at a closing police station and must wait for a hazmat crew to collect biomedical evidence. Ordered not to leave the station under any circumstance, Jessica comes to learn that it’s more than just an outdated station, its home to the ultimate embodiment of evil and his devoted blood thirsty followers. Jessica is left to fend for herself in the Devil’s playground.
Every week I see a decent amount of trailers for horror movies. For the most part a lot of theme feel like the same movie with the difference being whether it was found footage or not. Needless to say very few truly stand out for me. Then came the trailer for Last Shift. While not wholly original (the indie ghost trend continues) it presented some newer ideas like a Manson style cult and having some actual gore. Luckily my interest paid off here and wasn’t a Purge level disappointment.
Funnily enough what stuck out to me had nothing to do with the violence or the story. What struck me most was how good of a director Anthony DiBlasi is. While I enjoyed his film Dread I found things clicking together a lot better with Last Shift. Paired with cinematographer Austin F. Schmidt the director/writer/editor DiBlasi created a movie that is full of suspense and ratchets up the tension beautifully. Even though it is all in one place (with few co-stars) star Juliana Harkavy fits in perfectly as new recruit Jessica Loren. With a good shift Harkavy took made a fully formed character out of role that mostly asked aloud if anybody was there. It was the perfect balance to her more one-note supporting cast.
Not to say the gore doesn’t hold up. For a low budget film the practical effects are pretty amazing. At any point these ghosts can be dripping blood, organs, brains or all of the above. It all looks gnarly no matter what budget. These spirits are what I’ve always wanted out of something like Insidious or The Conjuring. The biggest problem comes near the end. After some good build up the ending feels anti-climactic. Even worse comes the dreaded twist ending. For a film that generally breaks the tropes of recent haunted house movies to see it rely on this one is a huge let down. Regardless I can’t say this misstep ruins the entire movie. Everything else is a great and totally worked for me. I can only hope a big studio puts their faith in director Anthony DiBlasi. If this is what he brings on the independent scene I can’t imagine what he would do with a proper studio budget.
Trick or treat! Ten different tales of Halloween horror taking place in one suburban town are included in this anthology, featuring appearances by Adrienne Barbeau, Booboo Stewart, Joe Dante, John Landis, Ben Woolf, Lisa Marie and more.
Next up is the latest anthology film Tales of Halloween. This collection of horror shorts features 10 somewhat interlocking stories all taking place on one Halloween night. Now I love a good horror anthology and love the subgenre’s rise in popularity. Now will Tales of Halloween be a V/H/S hit or more of a slog like Betamax? To determine this lets look at each story.
Director- Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red)
After some storybook-esque credits we get Sweet Tooth. A take on urban legends it’s a fun, bloody short. In fact the effects in general are pretty great. From the monster’s disproportional face to the guts getting ripped out it looks great. The perfect way to start the film. Rating- B
The Night Billy Raised Hell
Director- Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! A Genetic Opera)
To me this is pure, distilled Darren Lynn Bousman. Reminiscent of The Devil’s Carnival it is a decent mix of comedy, horror and theatricality. The key word in that combo being comedy. Despite its great production design it’s much more of a comedy than horror. While I can see this turning some people off (as his movies tend to do) I think it works perfectly in an anthology short. While not exactly the scariest of the bunch the humor worked for me and is probably the most interesting to look at. Rating- B-
Director- Adam Gierasch (Night of the Demons Remake)
This home invasion short is the first major highlight of the film. Accepting the “trick” option of trick or treat they torture a quartet of drunk adults. While we’ve seen this scenario before the use of non-Hollywood kids adds a certain something that makes it work. With some good effects and a neat twist Trick definite highlight Trick is a delightfully nasty piece of work. Rating- B+
The Weak and the Wicked
Director- Paul Solet (Grace)
Despite being a cool idea The Weak and the Wicked ends up a bit of a disappointment. A western feeling revenge thriller the story feels more like one long chase scene than anything else. A shame because when everything comes to a head we get one great creature effect. Rating- C
Grim Grinning Ghost
Director- Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate)
You know those horror shorts that are adapted a random story off Reddit? That’s exactly what this feels like. In fact it’s pretty much 2 AM: The Smiling Man now that I think about it. That isn’t to say that this is bad. In fact the suspense it built up quite nicely. I just think the combination of some questionable make up and a been-there-done that makes Grim Grinning Ghost hard to get too excited about. Rating- C-
Director- Lucky McKee (May)
Every anthology film has a stinker and for Tales of Halloween this is it. Despite some interesting directing choices the story’s pace and poor storytelling make this a slog to get though. A shame considering McKee is one of the more renowned directors of the film. I’m really starting to think the story of Hansel and Gretel only works if witch hunting is involved. Rating- D
This Means War
Director- John Skipp & Andrew Kasch (Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy)
One of the best parts of Halloween are the house decorations. But what happens when you have two houses trying to one up each other? More of a pure comedy This Means War is a fun take on the nerd vs bully trope. Rating- B+
Friday the 31st
Director- Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider)
Over the years Mike Mendez has become one of the more underrated directors in horror and his short Friday the 31st helps cement that fact. Stepping away from the giant monsters we get a comedic tribute to the slasher genre. What starts as a masked killer chasing a woman dressed as Dorothy turns into a the perfect of mix of gore and slapstick comedy. Rating- A
The Ransom of Rusty Rex
Director- Ryan Schifrin (Abominable)
When two career criminals kidnap a millionaire’s son they are surprised when their ransom demands go unanswered. While the results are funny I couldn’t help but feel it went a bit too long. At a certain point I was more wondering when John Landis would return as the millionaire instead of the plot. Shame too because it has its moments. Rating- C
Director- Neil Marshall (The Descent)
Playing like a 90’s police procedural we follow Detective McNally on the trail of a killer Jack O’Lantern. What I liked most was how well this connected all the stories. Never overly done casual mentions to other stories were handled perfectly. With a Joe Dante cameo and a twist ending Bad Seed was exactly how this anthology should end. Rating- A
In the vast pantheon of horror anthologies I can’t say this is among the best like Creepshow or Tales from the Crpyt. For my tastes the focus on comedy hurt it in the long run. Now as a Halloween movie it’s a success. With a stylish look and a proper amount of humor Tales of Halloween captures the scares, silliness and fun of the holiday itself. Just don’t expect to be too scared.