Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trick 'r Treat

No, this isn't the 1980s movie featuring Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne (playing a televangelist of all things). Trick 'r Treat (2007) is an anthology horror movie in the tradition of Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt from writer/director Michael Dougherty, best known as the screenwriter for the likes of X-Men 2 and Superman Returns. Unlike other anthologies in the genre I can think of, Trick 'r Treat, while presenting several short stories, has them overlap. Characters in one segment appear in others, and the timeline jumps around. In a way, Trick 'r Treat is the Pulp Fiction of the horror genre, both because of its style and because it feels made by and for fans.

The stories of Trick 'r Treat are as follows. A husband and wife return home from a Halloween party, and the wife is not as enthused about the holiday as her husband is. Next, a principal spots a neighborhood kid stealing candy. In the third tale, five kids encounter the legend of the School Bus Massacre. We then follow a virginal young woman on her way to a party as she is stalked by a killer. In the last story, a curmudgeon finds himself under siege in his home by a masked imp.

Trick 'r Treat is built on subverting expectations. It's filled with a lot of unexpected twists and turns, surprises, dramatic ironies, and poetic justice. As in the tradition of many anthologies, these stories are about just desserts, the wicked committing a crime and the supernatural stepping in to right the scales of justice. When bad things happen to bad people, there's a deliciousness because they deserved it.

The movie also is very much about Halloween, what it means in today's society and its origins. We get the usual trick or treating, the parties, the candy, the Jack O'Lanterns, the costumes, and even a shout out to Charlie Brown. The movie goes beyond that, emphasizing the importance of the Halloween rituals and the consequences that come from not obeying them. The traditions which are supposed to protect humanity from the dead and evil spirits have become events of fun and careless cheer. Trick 'r Treat gets its menace by suggesting these threats, though long forgotten, have not vanished. "Tonight is about respecting the dead because this is the one night that the dead and all sorts of other things roam free - and pay us a visit," we're told.

We're first reminded of this when one kid fails to adhere to that timeless advice: always check your candy. And needless to say, when someone shows up at your door in a costume, it's best to give them a treat. The movie has a variety of the creatures and creeps, including ghosts, ghouls, zombies, slashers, and a few surprises I won't reveal, so the movie never gets in a rut rehashing the same type of threat. One consistent link throughout all the stories and whom all the characters have an encounter with is Sam, a masked, child-sized figure who has a few secrets of his own.

Trick 'r Treat is aided by a strong cast clearly having fun. Dylan Baker is the crazed principal, Anna Paquin the young virgin, and Brian Cox the town grump, and they're all great. Even the kids turn in solid, believable performances. The movie strikes a fun balance between terror and humor, and the actors do their part.

The movie also has the joy to bookend with comic panels, a la Creepshow.  Dougherty brings energy and style to his direction, giving us some wonderfully composed and spooky imagery. I especially liked the glowing Jack O'Lanterns in the mist being extinguished in the quarry, and there's a wonderfully creepy werewolf transformation in which they unzip their skin like costumes (that sounds goofy, but trust me, it works). So much of the joy of the movie is how it sets up surprises, and the viewer is still surprised when the payoffs arrive. If you're looking for a Halloween movie, this is as good as you're going to get.

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