Episodic horror has been the genre’s best friend and worst enemy over the years. Shows and collections like Tales From the Crypt, Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents have explored hundreds of fates for its characters, but these segments tend to vary wildly in quality. For its third year of “Huluween,” Hulu’s annual Halloween event, one of the experiences they offer is Bite Size Halloween, a collection of thirty short films packaged together.
The shorts range from two to seven minutes each, standing on their own with no connective tissue other than highlighting the talents of up-and-coming filmmakers. While the worst of these are derivative of trends in contemporary horror — i.e. an insidious brand of misogyny disguised as social commentary — there are a few highlights to be found among the graveyard of mediocre Are You Afraid of the Dark?-esque episodes.
Take Jane, directed by Quinn Else, which employs the façade of a documentary to explore the way a forensic sculptor examines the skull of a Jane Doe, eventually finding herself in its visage. A concept executed exquisitely, its brevity is its best feature.
This clarity of vision is also what’s so pleasurable about Aislinn Clarke and Jack Tarling’s Eye Exam, which turns the tale of an elderly woman getting her regular eye exam into a playful Twilight Zone-styled oddity. It’s something of a love letter to those camp horror classics audiences are so fond of, striking just the right aesthetic charm even down to the costume design of its creatures and the way the camera hones in on her fear.
If old-school charm is what you’re looking for, Angela Tucker’s Landline might be your best bet. Its kitschy VHS tape filter and ‘80s outfits have certainly been employed to better effect elsewhere, but there’s a joy to watching a couple indulge in the goofiness that is a cursed pink telephone.
The past gets an intriguing exploration with Naledi Jackson’s Trouble, about a Black pianist who agrees to a last-minute gig at a plantation wedding. A melancholic glimpse into the horrors of history, this short emphasizes atmosphere and introspection over outright scares or indulging in slavery porn like this year’s miserable Antebellum. It is one of the few stories within the collection that feels like it’s begging for a feature-length expansion, with Dalmar Abuzeid’s performance being outright captivating.
But the strongest of the bunch comes from director Meredith Alloway and writer Allyson Morgan with First Date. Not only is it a smart, sensual, and unsettling treat in its four-minute form, it’s the kind of story designed to be explored as a feature, for its compelling ability to play with magic and repetition. Hari Nef and Kara Young have palpable chemistry, lending promising depth to the gorgeous surface of the narrative revealed about their first date.
Bite-Size Halloween is now streaming on Hulu.