Warner Bros. was all set to release writer/ director Michael Dougherty hopeful horror film known as Trick 'r Treat (an expansion of concepts he originated in his 1996 animated short Seasons Greetings) to coincide with the holiday it celebrates, that being, of course, Halloween... but they quickly said "screw that noise" and opted for a direct-to-DVD release instead.
Dick Move? Perhaps, but look at the current crop of Bad Horror Movies out there! Could this flash in the brain-pan be much different from the usual mold pit of terrible terror flicks out there that we all skip over in our Netflix listings unless we're sure it has nudity in it? Further... A Halloween-based horror film? Hasn't that been done to DEATH since Carpenter made his name with the original Halloween? One would think, right?
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the DVD racks... Trick 'r Treat began a short but strong festival run in a few select cities around the world and, shockingly, the little abandoned horror flick gained quite a following and almost unanimous critical acclaim.
Shocker? Perhaps... but I'll surf on an ocean of cool whip and sink like a bone if this the acclaim isn't well-deserved, man! See, Michael Dougherty is no upstart faux-visionary, but the writer of both Superman Returns and X2 and he brings along the director of those two flicks, Bryan Singer as producer of this freak-show fright fest!
And that doesn't even touch on the cast-o-nine-tails either.
As for whether or not all Halloween Stories have been told in the movies already... rest assured that's not the case here. While the whole Slasher/ Serial Killer vibe is one red slice of this movie, Trick 'r Treat doesn't follow anything quite like those Michael Myers flicks and Dougherty carves much more form this Samhain Spectacle than just one aspect of Horror.
In fact, so much of what Halloween is all about (or, shall we say, has become) rears its ugly mask in one place or other. We've got our Urban Legends, Zombies, Jack-o-Lanterns, Ghosts, Werewolves, Vampires, Parties... the whole nine yards... and part of the forlorn fun of this freaked-out feature is figuring out what might be an act, a prank, a prop or a costume and what might... maybe... just maybe... be the real thing!
All along the way, the class-act cast is trying to figure out quite a bit of it themselves. See, you've got Dylan Baker as Principal Steven Wilkins, a single dad and small town educator with a few skeletons in the closet (for example); Sexy Anna Paquin as Laurie, a college-aged virgin who, along with her sexy sister Danielle (Lauren Lee Smith) along with their equally sexy friends Maria (Rochelle Aytes) and Janet (Moneca Delain) are visiting the town as a part of their own Halloween tradition of partying and seeking out dates for the darkest night of the year; Leslie Bibb and Tamoh Penikett as Emma and Henry, a young, virile married couple with clashing ideas of this holiday and its traditions; Britt McKillip as Macy, a stuck up Junior High kid who brings along "friends" Sara (Isabelle Deluce), Chip (Alberto Ghisi), Schrader (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) and Rhonda (Samm Todd) to pay tribute to (and perhaps, even, experience) one of the town's darkest legends... and then, of course, there's dirty, stinky, drunk-ass old Mister Kreeg (Brian Cox) who seems to love Halloween almost as much as most people really enjoy hemorrhoids.
Quite a cast? Yeah, and quite a story to boot... or should I say "Stories"? If the above hints don't tell you that this isn't quite a singular tale here. While not exactly the "anthology" that many have called it, Trick 'r Treat is a collection of intertwined yarns that fit together excellently under Dougherty's storytelling prowess. The final result feels like one very cool, very scary, very gory movie and not a collection of varied ideas that Mikey the Director had rolling around in his ol' pumpkin! And if they don't feel quite unified enough for you, watch for your "host", of sorts, Sam (Quinn Lord), a creepy little stitch-punk looking kid who watches (and occasionally participates in) the Halloween Proceedings from behind a creepy burlap mask. This kid, alone, is worth the time to watch this creepy flick and if you can't get enough of him, might I recommend you check out that original Animated Short Seasons Greetings where Sam first... came to life!
Generally and genuinely, it's quite a fright to see Stem to Burn... however, Trick 'r Treat isn't quite perfect. Thankfully the very things that one might expect a Halloween Horror flick to rip off, it really does not, however, some of the elements we see are, at least somewhat, familiar, though never quite to the point of theft. There are also a few chinks in the overall admirable armor of this movie's continuity, made all the more noticeable because the majority of the movie is so consistent. However, for the most part most of what Dougherty shows us is what he intended through and through, so many (and even most) criticisms are merely a matter of taste.
In almost all cases, however, Trick 'r Treat is a treat because of its bag of tricks. Most every time Dougherty seems to tiptoe over the international been-there-done-that line to grant us a repeat of things we've seen in other tales, he either twists it around like Regan Macneil's head, keeping the audience guessing or he reclaims the cliché as his own, legitimately citing tradition and the Halloween Spirit.
And this one, folks, has tons of that. Trick 'r Treat is a hell of a good time and worth annual viewings along with the Halloween Horror Classics... and it's worth at least Three and One Half Stars out of Five! Bloody, atmospheric, scary as hell and twisting all of your expectations into a burlap braid... and then setting it on fire! Yeah, a funny thing happened on the way to Trick 'r Treat, but you might not know whether to laugh or cry!
Happy Halloween Everybody... check your candy and don't bite anybody... unless appropriate. See you in the next reel... Evening, Sam!!!
Are you scared yet?
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