Somehow, for the last couple of years, I’ve managed to avoid all the positive talk of Trick ‘r Treat. I’m not even sure why. Up until the moment I pressed play last night, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I’d heard that Anna Paquin and Brian Cox were in it and I’d heard that just about everyone on the planet that had seen it at a festival screening were in love with it. Yet I still didn’t pay attention. What a fool I had been.
Trick ‘r Treat really struck a chord with me. It’s probably glaringly obvious that I have a pre-adolescent hang up on Halloween and I have a ton of fond memories of horror movies and comics watched and read, often simultaneously thanks to the power of high-fructose corn syrup, after returning from a successful raid on the local neighborhoods. After I’d ditched the sweaty, rubber monster mask and wiped off the fake blood, I’d get down to business. My average Halloween night was nothing short of epic. I have all these great memories of the season and amid all the bloodshed, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat managed to evoke all of them. Anthologies are hard to pull off and Dougherty manages to do it with flying colors, but this is an anthology of a different color. It all adds up to one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.
Trick ‘r Treat is broken up into four main stories with a couple of bookends. A grouchy drunk wife who doesn’t like Halloween pays a nasty price for shutting things down before the night is through. The town’s school principle deals with troublesome trick or treaters via murder, but an easy night of body disposal prior to his date is made all the more difficult by his son who wants to carve his jack-o-lantern. Four girls get ready for their halloween party and one hangs back looking for someone to be her date. She finds one and he turns out to be dangerous, but this isn’t going to end up how you think it will. Four kids collect jack-o-lanters to use in a prank on their local autistic girl via the town’s urban legend about murdered students at a gravel pit. The legends turns out to be true and has dire consequences. The neighborhood hermit encounters the most violent trick or treater in the world (Sam, the movie’s poster child). The catch of all this is that rather than play out like four individual stories, it plays out like the Pulp Fiction of horror. Tales intertwine and characters are constantly crossing paths. The device is hardly new but it works so well, why complain?
I’m hard pressed to write this review. A proper review is balanced and for all the good things, you have to mention a few flaws, but I can’t. Trick ‘r Treat is aces from start to finish. I can’t find a bad thing to say about it. Nothing. This is a great movie. It’s fresh and fun like a horror movie is supposed to be. The script by director, Dougherty, who also wrote X-Men 2 and Superman Returns, is one of the tightest I’ve ever seen. Not a second is wasted and every second that accounts for running time is efficient and expertly written. The dialog is natural, for the most part, with the exception of a couple of zingers here and there but the entire movie deftly rolls out and ends too soon. That is not to say that it’s short. I think it ends up at the 100 minute mark.
Dougherty set out to mimic the ghoulish gallows humor and irony of horror comics from Warren and EC and pulled it off like a pro. Each story is an original that seems to be pulled straight from the pages of those publications and the movie reflects its inspiration, Creepshow, complete with an outstanding comic book introduction and credits sequence. Every shot, every frame looks as though Dougherty and his crew studied the successes of Joe Dante and John Landis and constructed a movie that was as fun and morbid as their ancestors. Trick ‘r Treat comes off like a Halloween horror movie from the 80’s without feeling like that’s what it’s trying to be. Director’s and writers these days are way into this idea of proving their horror movie street cred by cramming tongue-in-cheek references to their favorite flicks from times past and their movies end up feeling like all they wanted to do is show off but Dougherty’s movie has none of that. It feels familiar and very comfortable for horror fans.
I don’t know if there was a disconnect in the 90’s as horror went underground and slept for a while and the gap was wide enough to blur the lines, but going into the new millennium, horror got real nasty and wasn’t much fun to watch. The true beauty of Trick ‘r Treat is that it puts that fun back into the genre. Yes, it’s pretty gory, and it seems to revel in that fact when it’s happening, but the mayhem plays out a lot like Gremlins where you can laugh all the way to credits sequence. Each segment of the movie features a cast of ambiguous alignment but even the nastiest of killers are likable and the bag-headed Sam, who is a nasty little slasher, just wants everyone to enjoy themselves on Halloween… or else!
It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn close and qualifies, easily, as one of the best horror movies I’ve seen this year. I’m recommending it to anyone who will listen and I’m recommending it to you right at this moment. It’s a breath of fresh air that the genre so desperately needs and is so much fun from start to finish. Each segment is strong, the cast is great and the way that the story weaves together from four separate stories into one single tapestry is genius. Don’t miss out. Watch this one on Halloween. You’ll have a ball.