Monday, September 28, 2009



TRICK R TREAT is a trip back to the solid horror fare of the 80s. It hits those same old-school horror notes that HATCHET hit a few years ago. Written and directed by Michael Dougherty (Screenplays for X2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS), TRICK R TREAT is delivered with a playful, dark precision. There are four stories running through TRICK R TREAT, but it feels like there are ten. The stories are so well detailed yet open-ended that they leave the viewer wishing for more. The timeline is chopped and reworked so that images from one scene suddenly take on new meaning later on in the film. All of these subplots flow and mesh masterfully within the dark and playful storytelling.

When Henry (Tahmoh Penikett) tells his wife Emma (Leslie Bibb) not to blow out the candle in their jack-o-lantern, he says that “there are rules. You might upset someone.” Well that someone is Sam who looks like a kid with a burlap sack over his hydrocephalic head. Emma blows out the candle, and as Sam approaches Henry and Emma, we see with his burlap vision that he has now taken a creepy interest in this couple.

Sam isn’t the only menace in this sleepy Ohio town. A popular neighbor named Steven (Dylan Baker) is steadily poisoning kids with his candy and quirkily burying them in his backyard. His neighbor, Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), crudely interacts through the fence with Steven but has problems of his own and ignores what is really going on.

Sisters Maria (Rochelle Aytes) and Laurie (Anna Paquin) prepare for a Halloween party in the woods. Laurie is a virgin, and her sister and her sister’s slutty friends seem a little too eager to help her get a date. At about the same time as the sister’s party preparations are taking place, Macy (Britt McKillip), Schrader (Jean-luc Bilodeau) and their group of costumed friends are trick or treating and stealing jack-o-lanterns.

The flavor of Halloween is captured well in TRICK R TREAT. Autumn leaves blow by, and the costumes worn by all are not completely over-the-top-Hollywood but grounded in some sort of easy-going, small-town vibe. Candy is consumed and sprinkled throughout the film; it looks sweet, and it is dangerous. This is a Halloween film where an all-day sucker can potentially kill you.

Think of the EC Comic vibe in 1982’s CREEPSHOW with less Stephen King corniness and more of a cynical twist. TRICK R TREAT is a movie saluting the Comics Code-free horror comics of the 80s. It is built on the land somewhere between EC and HEAVY METAL. The subplots in TRICK R TREAT resonate with the CREEPY and EERIE comics that your parents warned you about. Comic book backdrop and lettering is used throughout the film.

The themes that run through the different storylines feel horror-film-familiar. When Laurie the wallflower can’t secure a date but shows up at the party anyway, a line from “Cry Little Sister” from the LOST BOYS plays, and it fits. As Mr. Kreeg deals more and more violently with sack-headed Sam, he says at one point, “You’ve gotta be f*cking kidding me.” It is no mistake that the same line was uttered in John Carpenter’s THE THING when the alien started to really act up.

The darkest kernel of storytelling has to do with a school bus full of special needs children and how Macy, Schrader, and company attempt to scare the simple Rhonda (Samm Todd) with the history. The passage is pulled together with a pacing that is almost perfect. This group of kids is trick-or-treating, and the houses they visit are getting more and more bizarre as they make their way through the neighborhood. The carny-esque ugliness delivered by the adults around them harkens to some seriously dark imagery straight out of THE SHINING and THE FUNHOUSE. By the time Macy and her crew have stolen their eight jack-o-lanterns and converged on an outdoor service elevator, you know that something is coming. You don’t know what it is, but you do know it is weird, pissed-off, and unmerciful.

TRICK R TREAT delivers the supernatural, the cursed, and a healthy dose of splatter without focusing too long on the destruction created. TRICK R TREAT shies away from a lot of the intimate gore-shots that dominate modern horror and leans more heavily on foley work and the reaction of the people in the vicinity to generate tension. This makes for good storytelling and frees the creatures of the Id to really do their work.

Most interestingly is that Sam, the bubble-headed mascot of this film, isn’t the main baddie here. Halloween is presented as bringing the worst out of certain people, and Sam’s behavior is synonymous with any number of miscreants without strange heads or pumpkin innards. Everyday people demonstrate their levels of horribility, Sam just happens to have some preternatural skills in his toolbox. The Halloween season has had Michael Meyers as its version of Santa since the 70s. Rob Zombie’s merciless de-stabilization of that franchise has really forced the need for a new Halloween movie mascot. Sam is that mascot.

With enough material packed into its lean 89 minutes to demand a second and third viewing, TRICK R TREAT satisfies. It is a shame that this film has been in limbo for two years and is going straight to DVD. This is the kind of old-school horror that should be enjoyed onscreen in a packed movie-house at midnight. It is, however, the DVD to have and fire up every Halloween season.
-Mediasaurus Rex