REVIEW: Trick ‘r Treat [2008]

“Charlie Brown’s an a**hole”

I’m not sure what it is about this year, but the Halloween season has made me treat horror films with a little more respect than usual. Or perhaps the fare I’ve seen has just been leaps and bounds better than the norm. The latest winner comes from Michael Dougherty, he of X2 writing fame, and his pet project Trick ‘r Treat. Financed by friend Bryan Singer and including a cast of some recognizable faces, the flick had been languishing in cinematic purgatory for years, originally to see the light of day October 2007, only to be pushed back on the festival circuit until 2008 with a DVD release stateside in 2009. I’m not quite sure what went wrong. Maybe the marketing people didn’t know how to promote it because it isn’t necessarily scary, but it also isn’t consistently funny to be advertised as a Zombieland-type romp. However, with the drivel coming out in the form of unnecessary sequels and remakes, an original tale like this should be the thing getting a push. I think genre fans will, and are, having a good time with it, getting their fill of gore, supernaturals, demons, pumpkins, and Halloween lore.

My initial impression of the movie was that it would be segmented into short stories that begin and end apart from one another to create a serial of horror vignettes. Instead, and to great effect, they are all interwoven together to create a sense of time and progression that is played with to make sure we see what happens to each and every character introduced to us. All the major players cross paths with at least one other tale so as to give the audience a glimpse of what is to come or a smile in knowing what is soon to happen to them. There is the young adult couple consisting of a Halloween fanatic and his hater of a wife, the principal of the local middle school with a hint of bloodlust, a group of children looking to use an old myth to scare an “idiot savant” their age, promiscuous college co-eds on the prowl for late night fun, and an old curmudgeon shut-in who’s past may bond him to another plot thread in the end. And it all occurs in a little sleepy town in Ohio on the one night chaos reigns, where young and old alike let loose, party hard, and forget the true meaning of the holiday and how to honor the dead rather than desecrate them.

What really worked for me, besides the comic bent that piqued my interest when the horror aspects got clichéd, was the infusion of so much Halloween lore. It was fascinating to learn some of the rules and meanings behind activities we have been partaking in for years. It’s a brief introduction, albeit one that adds a new layer, bridging the afterlife with reality to allow for the fantastical as well as the plain old sadistic to occur. For every crazy serial killer hiding in the shadows to make jack-o-lanterns from young boy’s heads there is a vampire or werewolf disguised and biding time before the moon comes out. Every story of real life malice resulting in death has a built-in retribution to be unleashed when the stars align. And at the center of it all lays the pumpkin, a time-honored tradition. Leave them lit through the night to ward of ghosts and evil, share them as offerings to the dead so that they may rise from the depths, or even watch as one demon runs wild—composed of pulp and seeds—a pumpkin killer to make sure the night’s rules are followed to the letter.

Just make sure to keep your eyes open throughout so as not to miss any connections between the plot threads or any split-second moments of fun or lurid activities. Blink and you’ll miss the swingers party masked as a masquerade soiree for Chip to lift his eye-patch to catch a glimpse or the random giant Teddy Bear in the woods at the college girls’ party. Dougherty has really filled the entire 82-minute runtime with as much detail to the holiday as possible. Even the scare-tactic used by parents across the country about checking to make sure your candybar is free from razorblades finds it’s own reality on this blood-soaked evening. It’s quite the deceiving body count piling up as time goes by too; people will be waking the next morning to a certain surprise when they discover loved ones missing for good. October 31st is the one day a year that murder could literally be happening in front of your eyes and still you may not see it. What looks like a costumed woman, passed out drunk with fake blood covering her body, could in fact be a recently murdered victim of a sadistic man on the prowl; a monster that’s left her on the street under the guise of over-zealous partying to continue on towards his next prey.

And don’t forget some real good acting on display either. Dylan Baker is pitch-perfect as the harmless school principal 364 days a year that turns blank-faced homicidal maniac on All Hallows Eve; Anna Paquin is great as the innocent virgin trying to live up to her big sister and her friends’ expectations of her; Britt McKillip brings the dry bitchiness she made popular on “Dead Like Me” to wreak havoc on the frightful; and Brian Cox shows once more that all the classical theatre training in the world doesn’t mean you can’t let loose and have fun. He has some lines that hit their mark for laughs and his character really becomes a central figure to the proceedings, eventually giving deeper meaning to why he holes up at home behind his multiple deadbolts on the day where the dead rise. But the most memorable aspect I’ll be taking with me as I close my eyes to sleep is little Sam with his burlap sack head, always seeming to be where evil takes place. I didn’t expect the film to utilize such intricate make-up effects but this little creeper becomes a terrifying mascot for a film that could garner some cult status in years to come, making it’s fun ride a staple for Halloweens of the future.

Trick ‘r Treat 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] ANNA PAQUIN as Laurie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ horror thriller “Trick ‘r Treat,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Joseph Lederer
[2] A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ horror thriller “Trick ‘r Treat,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Joseph Lederer.

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