Written and Directed by: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, and Dylan Baker
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Always check your candy."
If there's one night of the year that's most revered among horror circles, it's certainly the 31st of October because that's when much of the world brings horror into the light. It's a night of black cats, broomsticks, ghosts, and covens of witches with all of their hopes: Halloween! Despite its obvious connotations in the horror world, there are remarkably few films that celebrate or revel in this dark night that traditionally blends the worlds of the living and the dead. John Carpenter of course immortalized it as the night HE came home in 1978, and there have been a few more films that occur on and around All Hallow's Eve, but, for the most part, horror's biggest day hasn't shined in the cinematic spotlight very often. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the horror community was enthused upon the announcement of Trick 'r Treat, a new Halloween-themed anthology film from the makers of the first two X-Men films and Superman Returns. However, enthusiasm soon gave way to frustration as the film was subsequently delayed multiple times. Originally slated for theatrical release in October of 2007, Trick 'r Treat has finally made its way to the candy basket of horror fans everywhere.
It's the waning hours of Halloween night--jack o'lantern candles are fading, candy has been given out all around town, and parties are dying down. A young couple is returning home from all the festivities, and the young lady takes it upon herself to take some of the decorations down. This apparently doesn't sit well with an unseen assailant who subsequently butchers her, which leads us to our opening credits. After this, we return to earlier in the night and watch four different tales unfold around town: "Surprise Party," which involves a quartet of beautiful young ladies that end up at one hell of a Halloween party, "The Principal," which features a demented school principal who has a unique way of dealing with pesky trick or treaters, "The Halloween Bus Massacre Revisited," which finds some kids investigating a town legend about a group of school children who perished when their school bus was driven into a quarry, and the finale, "Meet Sam," is the story of a Scrooge-like old man who receives some truly devilish trick or treaters.
After the long wait and having finally seen Trick 'r Treat, it's easy to see why the film generated so much buzz after it was seen by a few different audiences over the past two years. While the reasons for the film's delay have yet to be divulged, I can vouch that it wasn't for a lack of quality. In many cases, films with a troubled release or production history often reveal the reasons for their infamy, but such is not the case here, as Trick 'r Treat is a worthy horror anthology that delivers some inventive tales and visuals that are dripping in atmosphere. Very much in the comic book-esque tradition of Creepshow, Trick 'r Treat is a grab bag of various stories and styles and is the cinematic equivalent of a holiday variety pack of your favorite treats. The stories contain a range of horror staples: demented madmen, werewolves, ghosts, and demonic creatures.
That said, the film's structure is unique for an anthology and is one of the film's more memorable aspects. Instead of being broken up into distinct segments like most anthologies, the film unfolds as a complete, intertwining narrative that movies viewers back and forth between the tales. The narrative is also non-linear and eventually circular, and it's admittedly a bit bewildering at first if you're unfamiliar with it. The structure lends itself to some odd pacing and abrupt tonal shifts because of the different story styles. Characters from each story show up in small parts of the other tales as well, adding to the cohesiveness of the experience. There's really no apparent reason for this structure, but it certainly is interesting and different; of course, simply being different doesn't always result in high quality, but there's something alluring about it here because it gives one the feeling that they're seeing an entire night unfold all around town.
Of course, the film's biggest "star" is Halloween night, as there's no shortage of all the cultural touchtones associated with the holiday: jack o'lanterns, falling leaves, rolling fog, candy, costumes, parties, parades, movies on television, and trick or treaters. Basically, the film creates the image of the ideal Halloween night that's been perpetuated by modern culture. Living in the south east United States, I have rarely experienced such a Halloween night tinged with so many autumnal overtones--it's usually still somewhat warm and the leaves usually retain their colors into November. Thus, I've been forced to live vicariously through film experiences like this one to deliver that idyllic Halloween experience. The film even touches on modern urban legends such as the infamous "razor blade in candy" tale that no doubt ensures that kids and parents everywhere check their candy.
This is not to say that the film only has the Halloween motif going for it, however, as the film is quite well made on all fronts. It's especially impressive from a visual standpoint in that it possesses a very natural look. There's no artificial grime, grain, or unnatural color timing thrown in to make the film look too modern; instead, it's very clean, polished, and professional looking. The lighting adds some stylistic flourishing and lends mood and atmosphere, particularly in the segment involving the children at the quarry. The film's cast also delivers some strong performances--highlights include Brian Cox as the Scrooge-like character in the final segment, Dylan Baker as the demented school principle, and Anna Paquin looking quite fetching as an ironically-costumed Little Red Riding Hood. The film's signature character who shows up in every segment is Sam, a demonic little killer that wears a sack over his pumpkin-shaped head. Sam's appearance certainly lends itself to a Halloween-themed film, and the shots filmed from his masked perspective certainly feel like an homage to Carpenter's holiday classic.
As is the case in most anthologies, some segments are more interesting than others, but none of the stories in Trick 'r Treat even border on becoming trite or tiresome. Once you become adapted to the film's narrative structure, the film unfolds quite nicely and delivers a nice balance of tales. The strongest segment is the one centered around "The Halloween Bus Massacre," as stories centered around macabre town legends are a perfect fit for Halloween night, and this one especially is disturbing as it involves the death of eight special needs children who drowned at the bottom of the quarry. The events of this story also feed directly into the film's satisfying climax which contributes to the overall cohesiveness of the film. The other segments aren't without their own highlights--"The Principle" certainly has some deranged moments and a decided mean streak and "Surprise Party" features some gruesome and unique werewolf transformations.
All told, Trick 'r Treat is a strong collection of tales; as I said in our annual Halloween list, this time of year is associated with scary stories, which makes anthology pictures a logical fit. Thus, a Halloween-themed anthology becomes doubly appropriate, and even more so when it's of high caliber. Whatever the reason is for the film's troubled release history, don't let it deter you, as it certainly deserved a better fate. Warner Premier has at least done the film justice on home video, releasing it on both Blu-ray and DVD. I personally sampled the high-def offering and was pleased to find an extremely well done transfer that handles the film's rich visual palette well. The 5.1 TrueHD soundtrack is also nicely done and delivers a vast soundscape that makes use of all channels. Extras include a commentary with director Michael Dougherty, some additional scenes, a feature on the effects, and a documentary detailing the origins of some Halloween traditions. Appropriately enough, Trick 'r Treat is a film that will likely become a new tradition that will be in Halloween movie-watching rotations for years to come. You'll be hard pressed to find a film that revels in and celebrates the tradition of horror's most hallowed night more so than Trick 'r Treat. As such, it's certainly a film to add to your bag of treats this year. Buy it!
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