The roughest part of keeping up with a theme is that sometimes, you have to miss out on the opportune time for somethings. Case in point: last month, I went over horror movies that just failed at many levels. Unfortunately, towards the end of last month, Trick ‘r Treat was finally released on dvd. This is bad because while the movies I reviewed last month fail, Trick ‘r Treat couldn’t be farther from them.
Hit the jump to see why.
Trick ‘r Treat is very much in the tradition of multiple scenario flicks where characters and storylines jump back and forth on a rigid time-line that takes place in the course of one evening. It evokes everything that’s amazing about Halloween, and best of all, it’s a celebration of ghouls and murderous specters not within the confines of actual monsters but human monsters and the evil they’re capable of when left to their devices.
In a small Ohio community, Halloween is a colossal event: neighborhoods are fully bejeweled with vivid decorations, the town square plays host to a raucous party and kids everywhere enjoy the trick-or-treat tradition. The evening also brings out the evil: the local elementary school principal, Steven, that goes about his suspicious deeds in the dark of night; a group of anxious kids test a local legend that tells the horrible tale of a bus driver who drove into a secluded lake with a class of mentally challenged students chained aboard; a virginal girl heads off to the town party looking for romance while her friends work over the local boys in the woods; and Mr. Kreeg, a crusty recluse, is left alone to fend off an attack by a particularly nasty costumed devil named Sam.
The film takes its inspiration from the world of horror comics, making the picture resemble something of a terrific Creepshow sequel (you know, like the one we never received), though director Michael Dougherty lays off gratuitous stylistics that might snap the viewer out of the experience. The tone of the film is surprisingly liquid, moving back and forth between laughs and scares with a remarkable ease, considering this is Dougherty’s first feature film. It’s an evocative depiction of gruesome Halloween horrors, though it never veers into camp or repellent violence. The latter is something of a miracle considering what Principal Steven is up to on this night.
Trick ‘r Treat is more of a modest battering of the senses, which is nice for a change of pace and maintains a respect for the material, best portioned out cautiously. Diverse stories of Halloween traditions and urban legends, Dougherty connects the plots ingeniously, playing with time and suspicion to routinely pull the film inside out, taking it in fresh directions. Mercifully, the cast is willing and able to embark on some sensitive genre endeavors, and I give Dylan Baker, who plays Principal Steven, all the credit in the world for his ability to make his depraved character arc both horrifying and oddly genial. The movie heads into some dark spaces involving child endangerment, but the tone is more mischievous than nauseating due to Dougherty’s commitment to the spooky ambiance of the holiday. With too many feature films consumed with punishment, it’s almost quaint to watch it aim to cheerfully unsettle with a few ghost stories.
I suppose the enigmatic Sam is the unifying element of the terror tales told here. A diminutive fellow dressed up in a filthy costume, wearing a burlap sack over his bulbous head that should never be removed (trust me), Sam is a potent element of Dougherty’s nightmarish imagery that pays off wonderfully. In the final sequence, the goblin creates a welcome Evil Dead vibe of relentless torment and lollipop-wielding threat that closes the film on a wily note of candy sack mayhem.
The only problem with the movie is that Warner Brothers, who smartly produced this in the first place, seems to have given up on it when it comes to distributing. After originally planning to release it in October of 2007, they pulled it from the schedule and cut off all promotions last minute. A year later and we haven’t heard a thing. It was finally released on dvd recently, but that’s not nearly as good of a treatment as what it deserves.
All that I can leave everyone with is a strong suggestion to see this movie as soon as you can. If you ever hear it mentioned again or have the opportunity to see it, don’t miss it. Trick ‘r Treat needs to be seen for the first time in a dark theater, with the least amount of prior knowledge, and as close to Halloween as possible. Only then will you truly be able to get the best Trick ‘r Treat experience and hopefully come to love it as much as I did. Unfortunately, Halloween is over. Luckily, the movie can be enjoyed outside of Halloween. It’s so rare for me to find something like this, but as far as I can recall, Trick ‘r Treat is the only extraordinary horror movie I’ve ever truly loved.