TAD review: Tales of Barry Bostwick’s Halloween

Why doesn’t Barry Bostwick have his own TV show? That’s the question I was left with after last night’s Toronto After Dark screening of the anthology Tales of Halloween. In the segment called “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera), Bostwick plays a demonic old man who shows a kid in the neighbourhood that playing tricks can be a real treat. Adding a bear trap to the flaming-bag-of-shit-on-the-doorstep gag was my favourite. But I got the biggest kick out of Bostwick’s hammy performance. It was full of malice and glee and reminded me more than a little of Jim Carrey in The Mask. Clearly Bostwick is having a blast. Which, again, made my wonder why he doesn’t work more. Of course, checking his IMDb page and it’s clear the 70-year-old Megaforce and The Rocky Horror Picture Show star hasn’t slowed down (even when he was battling cancer a few years back). Somehow I missed his supporting turn in Some Guy Who Kills People, which I believe played TAD four years ago, and he’s also appeared on Broadway. Still, it would be great to see him in a TV series, playing a playboyish uncle perhaps.

As for Tales of Halloween, it’s a horror anthology, which means that by its very nature it’s inconsistent. Adrienne Barbeau reprises her radio DJ from John Carpenter’s The Fog to provide the film’s bookending narration, which is a nice way of signalling that you’re in for a gentle EC Comics-inspired ride. What follows are 10 stories that all take place on the same Halloween night, with the final segment, “Bad Seed,” directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent), involving a killer jack-o’-lantern and an overwhelmed police department dealing with all the mayhem from the previous nine segments—stabby trick-or-treaters, machete-wielding maniacs, ghosts, BMX gangs and UFOs.

Imagine young Michael Myers with a major candy crush and that sums up Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth,” which kicks things off in gut-wrenching (literally) fashion. Bostwick raises the bar on “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” and Ryan Schifrin’s “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” provides the biggest laughs when a millionaire father’s (John Landis) son is kidnapped and he doesn’t want him back. Tales’ grimmest tale is delivered courtesy of Lucky McKee. It might have a ridiculously benign title, but don’t be fooled; “Ding Dong” tells a suburban Hansel and Gretel story about domestic violence that is jarring when sandwiched between generally gleeful-if-gory stories. I can’t say that I liked it, but I certainly remember it. In fact, I wish more of the directors had gone darker instead of always reaching for a punchline that often wasn’t funny (and was almost always predictable).

Sure, it’s fun to play spot the horror veteran cameos—in addition to Barbeau and Landis, there’s Joe Dante, Greg McLean, Adam Green, Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, Mick Garris and probably a few others I missed—and the Lalo Schifrin score is solid and darkly whimsical, but it’s not enough to make Tales of Halloween a holiday classic.