Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Reviews : TRICK 'R TREAT (2007)

“Trick 'r Treat” is the perfect example of an overlooked gem. This film had a real tough time making it out of limbo. Even though it was supposed to be released in 2007, just in time for Halloween, Warner Bros decided to withdraw its release date and reschedule it. Two years later, there was still no word of a new release date. The studio then decided to dump it as a straight-to-DVD release. It's a shame really, because this movie is miles ahead of many horror movies that get open in theaters.

The plot interweaves four separate stories that take place on Halloween night, in a tightly wound narrative similar to “Pulp Fiction”. The protagonists of these stories are the murderous school principal Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker) who enjoys Halloween perhaps a bit too much, five teenagers who visit the site of a tragic accident known as the “School Bus Massacre”, Laurie (Anna Paquin), a 22-year old virgin dressed-up as Little Red Riding Hood who is determined to lose the "virgin" from the character description, and Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), an old man who hates Halloween with a vengeance. Kreeg's story is pretty much a riff on Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" and much like ol' Scrooge, he's about to get a close encounter of the painful kind with the spirit of Halloween. I will not go into more detail about the plot because there's a lot of fun to be had with how the stories end up interlocking and coming full-circle with plenty of twists.

Why am I so enthusiastic about this film ? Well, probably because the horror genre is so occupied by numerous installments in the "torture porn" (“Saw”) and "found-tape" (”Paranormal Activity”) subgenres, that it’s refreshing to find such a charmingly twisted and whimsical entry in the genre. It’s a nostalgic look on the simple origins of fear through urban legends and campfire stories. A return to basics. It’s about the things that used to make you sleep with the light on and the closet door shut. It's about the dark side of our imagination. The film is not particularly scary (although, for some, I might not be a reliable source on this), but builds plenty of suspense and a constant atmosphere of dread. There is some gore, so squeamish types beware, but carnage is not the main focus here. It’s also very reliant on practical FX which I personally thought was a very nice touch, because even though puppets and traditional make-up effects might not be as complex as CGI they do add a rough “it's really there” quality.

The story is pure Halloween love affair. As I understand, Michael Dougherty already made an animated Halloween short in 1996 called “Season’s Greetings”, so the man was just burning to get this one out. All four stories will be a familiar taste to fans of creepy TV show like “Tales from the Crypt”, but thanks to competent writing and lots of atmosphere, Dougherty freshenes up the standard material with style. Some might even identify a slight comic-bookish approach in the narrative. The one thing that I really felt was missing was some witty dialogue, but it’s not a capital offense. It’s still a lot of fun to watch the stories unfold and tie into each other. The chronology of events is pretty jumbled, but character run-ins help keep track of how the events fit in. Also, the short length helps the story flow smoothly without any pacing issues and unnecessary divagations.

Overall “Trick ’r Treat” is more treat than tricks. Everything is in place for an instant Halloween cult classic, and there’s a good chance that it won't be just fans of the genre who will enjoy this.

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