*½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B-
starring Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox
written and directed by Michael Dougherty
by Walter Chaw Less a portmanteau than a Tarantino time-shift/overlap, Trick 'r Treat is a handsomely-mounted bit of fluff that dribbles out like the Cat's Eye redux for which no one was clamouring, with more than a few images borrowed from other Stephen King errata such as Creepshow and Pet Sematary. Michael Dougherty's hyphenate debut, it, a lot like co-writer-on-X2 Dan Harris's own first feature, Imaginary Heroes, has a pedigree and the benefit of the doubt in its corner but washes out as something that needed to marinate longer to reach the full flower of any potential. The buzz surrounding Trick 'r Treat, though, in particular the Internet outrage over the studio's alleged mishandling of it, is peculiarly deafening and--as with most buzz around most projects falsely promised theatrical distribution--in large part hysterical and unjustified.
Trick 'r Treat isn't awful, it's just neither scary nor clever, and it mows over oft-mowed grass, so to speak--enough that it's actually boring by mid-point. There's not much gore and what there is isn't much to write home about; it's a poor shrine to the EC Comics it sometimes emulates because it isn't mordant and its irony is slack-jawed stuff that wouldn't be worth the ink. It's a high-gloss, middlebrow product so basic and safe that it works a great deal like (if not nearly as well as) Jack Clayton's Something Wicked This Way Comes--that is, it's a horror movie aimed, R rating notwithstanding, at children and written with a certain childishness. There doesn't appear to be any kind of real understanding of what these individual stories could possibly be about beyond, as they say, what they're about.
Start with "Sam," a mysterious "form" in a burlap mask haunting hapless suburbanites, including a twisted child-murderer (played by Dylan Baker, essentially reprising his icky pederast performance from Happiness); an allegedly autistic girl (Samm Todd) who's a sitting duck for the cool kids' Carrie-esque prank; a very hot Anna Paquin's virginal Laurie (Strode?), who's baiting herself in a Little Red Riding Hood getup; and finally the neighbourhood grump, Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), who receives a personal visit from Sam in order to be taught the steep price of messing around with Halloween traditions. While Trick 'r Treat is ostensibly out to tackle the problem of this wonderfully pagan holiday, other than suggesting that if you don't give treats and keep your jack-o'-lantern lit you'll get killed by a pumpkinheaded kid, it doesn't really offer much in the way of history. It's not a smart movie, see, and because it doesn't care about establishing character or following a cogent lead, there's nothing at stake.
Consider a moment at a street carnival where a young lovely is apparently killed by a vampire. Once the vampire's true identity is revealed, it's fair to wonder how this person could possibly have gotten to second base with this girl and, furthermore, how he managed to dispatch her with such efficiency. The rest of the storyline plays out in a way that makes a lot of sense given the fairytale insinuations of Laurie's costume, but it's cheapened by the contortions necessary to get there in the first place. (Oh, and this segment was also better when it was called The Howling.) It's potentially gratifying to think of Trick 'r Treat as a misogynistic throwback to the glory days of slick mainstream exploitation in the 1980s--like Funhouse, for instance--except that unlike, say, Charles E. Sellier Jr.'s masterpiece of schlock Silent Night, Deadly Night, the misogyny in Dougherty's film is based primarily on inexplicably poor object choice. You're better served hunting down the new Blu-ray of Creepshow, or Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Trick 'r Treat docks on Blu-ray from Warner in a slip-covered, two-disc Special Edition sporting a handsome, filmlike 2.39:1, 1080p transfer with nary a hint of noise-reduction or digital artifacting. Blacks are pitch and flesh tones warm--dominated by but not tinted orange, the picture's candy palette is beautifully rendered and saturated. Save some analogue-style video noise, the presentation is far better than it needs to be, which is arguably a detriment in that the production cries out for a bit of griminess. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio is, predictably, above-average for dtv fare, though scenes with jump scares appear to be the only ones taking advantage of the discrete soundstage--clarifying in the process the idea that there's a big difference between being scared and being startled.
It's a distinction that Dougherty, storyboard artist Simeon Wilkins, composer Douglas Pipes, and concept artist Breehn Burns themselves seem unclear on in a feature-length yakker that provides little in the way of insight besides. It's not that I was expecting insight, per se, it's just that I had to listen to the damned thing and I'm not happy. The commentators are primarily concerned with trainspotting stupid details ("That's a fake moon!"), and around ten minutes in, someone implores someone else to say something. Uh huh. Dougherty then goes to great lengths to talk about how hard it was to edit the flick and which material was hard-won and so on and so forth. Dougherty pines for a release of Trick 'r Treat, by the by, that allows for the watching of each vignette separate from the others. Mainly, this track clarifies what we already know: that the movie's a horrible mess.
"How Did Many of Our Scary Season Traditions Start?" (28 mins.) features interviews with the principals (including producer Bryan Singer, who really needs to stop piddling around with shit like this and plow ahead with a Superman Returns sequel) and narration by Brian Cox that announces, perhaps unverifiably, that no movie has ever dealt with genuine Halloween legends. Voluminous clips from the flick share time with relatively worthless aggrandizements about how Dougherty was obsessed with the lore of Samhein, minus of course much awareness that the film itself offers little in the way of explication. When it gets into the meat of the holiday, however, via a gaggle of historians telling how Christianity ground up all sorts of Pagan holidays into its easily-masticated, mealy host--well, then it's interesting. SyFy in its gloss, but interesting. "Additional Scenes" (17 mins.) resurrects a handful of negligible snippets that don't do a damned thing and thus wouldn't feel out of place were they not elided. Those seeking or expecting additional sex and violence will be sorely disappointed.
You can watch these elisions as well as "Trick 'r Treat: Season's Greetings" (5 mins.) with Dougherty commentary but, honestly, he doesn't have anything to say. The latter, a short from 1996, was Dougherty's entrée into the big leagues and it's cool in a minimal, unpretentious way. A "School Bus" CGI breakdown is exactly as it sounds and lasts a minute. The second disc is a DVD, by the way, containing a Digital Copy of the film. It's a shame it wasn't better--the graphic design on the packaging and all the attendant marketing is fabulous. Originally published: October 28, 2009.