Reading the summary of this movie on Wikipedia (intended as a refresher), I’m now ashamed to be reviewing this movie. I’d thought I’d been paying attention, but there were a couple of things I’d missed, mostly about how the stories in this anthology-type film intersect.
Based on the imagery and setting alone, this movie was the perfect pick for Hallowe’en day. Jack-o-lanterns everywhere (I did this makeup today as a botched headless horseman costume idea), tons of people in costume, and almost every horror staple in the book – vampires, witches, werewolves, ghosts/demons, urban legends, er, serial killers…and boobs. Lots of boobs. But the whole movie is so self-aware and so tongue-in-cheek that it’s kind of easy to ignore this (no spoilers, but there’s one brilliant scene involving nudity that couldn’t be done any other way). Said scene even includes a classic Marilyn Manson track.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This movie comprises four loosely-connected stories, all set during Hallowe’en in a busy town in Ohio, famed for its spooky festivities. Each story has its own set of characters and sometimes a bit of a twist, but they’re all directed and written by X2 (i.e. X-Men: The Best One) scribe Michael Dougherty; this is his directorial debut. The great thing that I’m just learning about horror anthology movies is that because the individual segments are so short, they’re mostly plot-driven, (and therefore well-paced), and there’s not too much time for character development or much beyond superficial character-role establishment. This in turn makes it difficult to predict which characters will live or die.
What ties the movie together, other than the bits and pieces that intersect, is a seemingly adorable, child-sized spirit called Sam. He wears a mini burlap sack on his head and shuffles about in a onesie. Yet he wields pumpkin lollipop-shaped daggers, superhuman strength, and a distinct lack of patience for those who do not abide by Hallowe’en traditions (including shunning trick-or-treaters). Sometimes he sits in the background of a scene, others he’s one of the central characters.
I still can’t get over the imagery. I wish Salem was that good. But I’ve noticed that a lot of stuff got dropped from the Haunted Happenings calendar this year (the “Bootiful Pets”/”Furry Friends Fright Fest” pet costume contest is no longer around), or things have got outsourced to other cities like Lynn. Whatever activities are left are things that haven’t changed in years (how many more times do I want to hear the same monologues over and over again at The House of the Seven Gables?). I know the movie was, er, a movie set, but I wish the city could have even decorated better; the movie had more than just wilted hay bales strapped sloppily to lamp posts. Also, I noticed there were no “Christian” street preachers screaming hate speech through megaphones (yep, screaming through megaphones or mics attached to standing speakers. Salem’s phoning in Hallowe’en now. The only thing worth it is people-watching for costumes.
Sorry; I digress. The movie was great – just the right amount of spooky, funny, engaging, gruesome, and terrifying. Most of the violence and gore in this film are very much offset by the blackly comic tone, or the deliberately campy SFX, which I’m a bit of a wuss to admit I need when I see that almost all of the people in danger are vulnerable in some way (especially children – how often do you see that on film?). I hate to use the term “instant classic” but I feel that that term can be occasionally valid, and it is here – I just watched it, and I can see myself watching it again next year, though maybe with the sick parts edited out (like the distant sounds of dismemberment, or pretty much everything in the final, not-as-funny-as-the-others segment). I hear there’s going to be a sequel
. Can’t wait!