Halloween season is upon us and that generally means we’ll all be watching a bunch of different horror movies, some of which take place during the holiday and some of which are not involved in October 31 festivities in the slightest. But sometimes we’re lucky enough to get a film that’s all about the best holiday of the year (this is subjective, but also true because, let’s face it, what’s better than a holiday about free candy and bringing the community together to share it?). This happened back in 1978 with the original Halloween film, which spawned so many sequels to come. It happened again in 2007 with the stick-to-your-ribs horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat. And it’s happening yet another with the true treat that is 2015 Toronto After Dark Film Festival selection Tales of Halloween, a horror film that gets extra bonus points for having some great female talent behind it.
While Halloween and Trick ‘r Treat certainly had their fair share of female presence, with the former being co-written by Debra Hill and starring Jamie Lee Curtis (as final girl Laurie Strode!) and the latter featuring some subversive female leads (remember Anna Paquin as a seemingly innocent Red Riding Hood figure?), Tales of Halloween takes it to the next level, simply by existing. The film may mainly feature male writer and directors, but the whole concept comes from Axelle Carolyn. Carolyn, who also happens to be married to Neil Marshall (The Descent), was the one who gathered assorted genre friends (Marshall, Darren Lynn Bousman of Repo! The Genetic Opera, Lucky McKee of May, Andrew Kasch of Never Sleep Again, Paul Solet of Grace, John Skipp of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child, Adam Gierasch of the Night of the Demons remake, Mike Mendez of Big Ass Spider!, Dave Parker of ColdWater, Ryan Schifirin of Abominable) and asked them to create original, Halloween-set segments. She was the one who brought this pumpkin-filled patchwork of themed goodness together. And for that, we need to thank her.
First and foremost, it must be said that Carolyn’s segment in the 10-part anthology (“Grim Grinning Ghost”) might be its scariest, even if that main scare is barely a second or two long. Featuring cameos from genre legends Lin Shaye (most recently of the Insidious trilogy) and Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator and We Are Still Here), the ghost story is simple, yet effective and with a compelling female lead (Alex Essoe, Starry Eyes) to boot. Sure, it feels short in comparison to some of the other pieces, but short can be sweet as candy when the right elements (great script, acting and atmosphere) are in place and in this case, they most certainly are.
Actresses really are given juicy parts to play in this film. You can’t miss the suitably spooky narration from Adrienne Barbeau, who gives a nod to her role in The Fog by playing an unseen radio station host. And then there’s Grace Phipps (the new Fright Night, The Vampire Diaries), who is the only real highlight (but a bright one at that!) in western tale “The Ransom of Rusty Rex,” and Kristina Klebe (Rob Zombie’s Halloween), who kills it (legit) as the detective investigating some particularly pulpy murders in “Bad Seed.” Kudos also go out to Jennifer Wenger, who is aces as the Dorothy-fied opponent to a Jason-like figure in the hilarious and standout”Friday the 31st” (the crowd at the After Dark cheered at this one), and Pollyana McIntosh (The Woman) and her horrifying (like seriously) portrayal of a grieving mother in “Ding Dong.” And I’m not sure which young actresses played the girls of vengeful shocker “Tricks,” but I will say that you won’t forget them after what they get to do on screen.
Although there are certainly some not-so-positive lines about women wearing skimpy costumes here and there (the second story, total romp “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” starts off talking about just that and brings a recurring joke about a hot mom into play), these are overshadowed by the above actresses and the layered roles they are given by their respective writers. We get both villainous and heroic women and girls in Tales of Halloween, and that’s more than you can say for all genre fare these days (even recent feminist attempt The Final Girls focuses on women as sisters in saving, and avoids more sinister undertones). Perhaps Carolyn’s overseeing contributed to this, but the fact is, it’s nice to know that, whether they were prodded to or not, her male counterparts are equally able to bring more realized female roles to the genre and may do more of it in the future.
Tales of Halloween certainly isn’t perfect (don’t expect many POC characters), and might be considered a lighter, sillier version of Trick r’ Treat by fans, but for its girl power and it’s general glee at honouring a great and grim time of the year (the collection of directors featured apparently call themselves The October Society!), it’s definitely a Galloween treat worth devouring guilt-free.
Emily is covering the Toronto After Dark Film Festival from October 15 to 23, 2015 live from Toronto, Canada. Stay tuned for more female-centric reviews throughout the fest.
This piece is part of Galloween, Cinefilles’ month of all-girl horror coverage. Click the image to read more.