Trick ‘r Treat
Film review by: Witney Seibold
About two years ago, I saw a few previews for an upcoming theatrically-released horror film called “Trick ‘r Treat.” It starred Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and Dylan Baker, and took place, naturally, on Halloween. The preview looked magnificent, tapping into my natural love of all things having to do with Halloween, and I was eager to see it.
Time passed, and I kept an eye on the newspapers, scanning for a release date. Two Halloweens passed, and I still did not see any notice of “Trick ‘r Treat.” It seemed to have vanished entirely.
Just this last week, I found myself in San Diego for the 40th annual International Comic Book Convention, a massive four-day orgy of all things genre, comic book and pop culture, replete with celebrity-hosted panels, esoteric exhibitors, stellar comic artists, and late-night film screenings. It was at one of said screenings that I was finally able to see the much-anticipated-but-inexplicably-unhyped “Trick ‘r Treat.” The screening was hosted by the aggressively geeky ogre Harry Knowles of “Ain’t It Cool News” fame (or perhaps infamy). Yes, Mr. Knowles had bothered to bring “Trick ‘r Treat” to the masses of hungry horror buffs at the San Diego ComicCon. I’m not a fan of his hamfisted, gossip-laden writing, but I admire him for championing genre films that would have been overlooked otherwise. It will finally be released on home video in October, but a few genre-themed film festivals will doubtlessly be playing it. Getting ahead of myself a bit, I will recommend you see it.
So, hunkering down with the sterling ladies of The Popcorn Mafia, Grae Drake and Gariana Abeyta (see them at http://www.popcornmafia.com), I drank in “Trick ‘r Treat.” Here is my review:
The style and photography of Mike Dougherty’s “Trick ‘r’ Treat” may suggest
just another slasher flick; the lighting and pacing and acting are not a whit different from any of the slashers to have been released in the last 15 years. The content and execution, however, manage to elevate “Trick ‘r Treat” into something far better than any of said slashers, as it is a wickedly biting anthology-style monster mash which is clearly singing a paean to “Tales from the Crypt.”
There are four interconnected stories, all of which take place in a small town in New England that celebrates Halloween more enthusiastically than any other holiday:
Story number one involves a beautifully scenery-chewing Dylan Baker as an elementary school principal who seems to get a thrill teaching lessons to cynical kids who disrespect Halloween. He likes to carve pumpkins, and has a big hole in his backyard.
Story number two involves a college aged virgin (Paquin) who is being enthusiastically encouraged by her sister and friends (including Lauren Lee Smith, the oft-topless chick from “Pathology”) to have sex with just about any boy she can at an upcoming party. The girls have a secret that I wouldn’t dream of divulging.
Story number three involves a group of kids who, trying to start a Halloween tradition, want to place stolen jack o’ lanterns at the edge of a lake where a busload of special needs children drowned years before. This could be part of an elaborate prank, a strange supernatural ritual, or something far more sinister. Perhaps a combination of those things. Needless to say, this film isn’t afraid of killing young children.
And thank goodness. Time was when horror films were dark and brutal and bloody and fun, and actually had an edge. They used to be so edgy, in fact, that only Grindhouse studios and drive-ins would handle them. Too many recent horror films have gone the PG-13 route, and taken away their own teeth. It’s refreshing to see a filmmaker with the courage to show children getting killed. Now, if he has only included more pubic hair…
Story number four involves the reclusive Mr. Kreeg (Cox, looking like John Carpenter in a fright wig and weirdo makeup), and he shouts at kids to stay off his lawn. He is confronted by a trick-or-treater who will stop at nothing to get his/her treat. The true nature of this trick-or-treater is a beautiful thing. There’s a reason it has a big, round head…
All four of these stories eventually connect, and they’re told out of chronological order, which actually works in the film’s favor; usually such temporal trickery feels like something residing between a gimmick and a jerk-around.
“Trick ‘r Treat” doesn’t bother with backstory or setup, and skips right to the mayhem. When a monster or ghost or killer appears, the audience is expected to take it in stride. If you want your killer stories to have easy conclusions and a modicum of exposition, then “Trick ‘r Treat” is not for you. If you want a quickly consumed creature casserole featuring several killers, child death, a vampire, werewolves, ghosts, and other ancillary monsters, and can accept this as a world where such creatures just naturally show up, then perhaps you’ll be able to get with the film’s Fangoria-inspired groove.
“Trick ‘r Treat” is not the new revolution in horror filmmaking, but it certainly deserves more attention than it’s been getting, and probably should have been given a proper studio release. Be sure to check it our on home video, come October, or see it at a film festival. Spread the word.