Sunday, November 01, 2009

“Wait. There’s another tradition. Always check your candy.”

Okay, so it’s a day late. Let’s not waste any time. Trick ‘r Treat was made in 2007-2008 and was written and directed by one of the writers of Superman Returns and X2. Starring a fairly big named cast and garnering impressive word of mouth at the film festival level, it kept getting teased as a 2007, then 2008 theatrical release. Didn’t happen. 2009 rolled around and there was talk of a February theatrical release. Didn’t happen. Buzz was that the studios were afraid of challenging Saw for October dollars. And people wonder why I hate the Saw movies on principle.

Set in the fictional Warren Valley, Ohio on Halloween night, our movie tells the stories of several different characters who occasionally meet each other, but generally do their own things. One woman who doesn’t like Halloween gets her just deserts for trying to take down decorations before morning. A group of college aged girls that include a virgin come to town looking for some…company. A principle tries to educate a jerkwad kid in the spirit of the season, a group of teens head down to the old quarry to scare a hapless tagalong. A crotchety old man learns the true meaning of trick or treat. Obviously, nothing ends how anybody expected.

Steven Wilkins: Dylan Baker (Dr. Connors from the Spider-Man movies) is a principal and father who loves him some Halloween. So much so that basically he murders a fat, rude kid for knocking over jack-o-lanterns and other grinch-like behavior.

Laurie: Anna Paquin is a virgin accompanying her much more…experienced friends to a Halloween party. She’s looking for that special someone to be her first. Oh, and she dresses up like Little Red Riding Hood. She gets the attention of a mysterious masked man.

Mr. Kreeg: Brian Cox is a crotchety old man and the neighbor of Steven. He’s got no love for the holiday, having no decorations. He’s also got a mysterious past.

Emma: Leslie Bibb (from Iron Man and The Midnight Meat Train) is our movie’s first victim, getting offed in a colorful, slightly ridiculous way that sets the tone for the movie. Then again, she says “I hate Halloween” so obviously you don’t feel bad when she gets what’s coming to her.

Sam: Quinn Lord plays the strange, supernatural Sam, who appears in all the stories and serves as a common thread connecting them. Sam is a freaky little kid with orange PJ’s and a sack over his head. Sam doesn’t speak, but damn is he freaky in a cool way. As a kind of embodiment of the season that shows what happens when you disrespect Halloween and its rules, he’s quite the macabre little badass. (Note, Sam gets his name from Samhain, the old Celtic word for the holiday)

Now, there are a LOT of other characters, but there isn’t much that I can say about them without getting into spoiler territory.

Hmm, strange that all the characters I’ve listed (except Sam) appear in Marvel Comics movies. Interesting pedigree.

This is Michael Dougherty’s directorial debut, and it’s a solid effort. The movie delivers a very satisfying visual style that blends a lot of great shadows with great holiday lighting. Orange dominates, of course. Effects-wise, its mostly done in practical terms, though near the end you get more CGI when necessary. Of note is the way that the movie will often go into panels to transition from scene to scene with “Meanwhile” or “Earlier” written, so its like reading a comic.

Michael Dougherty basically adapted a character that he came up with for an animated short back in the 90s and spun a twisted little movie around him. The story begins standard enough, but as it continues to jump around and around, you start picking up that there’s more at play here than just simple jump cuts and cheap scares. The movie isn’t exactly scary at all, but it is that kind of creepy and playful that’s just such a big part of Halloween and October in general. Structurally and thematically, it owes a lot to infamous old EC Comics like Tales From the Crypt, where you had stories filled with ghastly things layered with a deliciously malicious dark humor, and it shares those series’ penchant for unhappy endings for characters. Then again, the way that everything comes together by the end of the movie, it also feels a little like The Twilight Zone in how all the loose ends are tied up, loose ends you didn’t even know existed until the last shot of the movie.

Original music by Douglas Pipes sets a fine tone for the film.

The more I think about Trick ‘r Treat, the more I really like it. It’s got the throwback elements in it that remind you of the good old Halloween Specials that populated the 80s and early 90s, its got an urban legend style (NOT Urban Legend style) sense of humor to it that isn’t just the “boozedrugstits” of slasher films, and it’s a fantastic way to cap off a month of generally awesome Halloween cinematic goodness. If you’ve got time for a movie on Halloween Night and are considering some of the better known but creatively bland horror fare (I needed one last dig at the Saw series), go out and rent/buy this and watch it with friends.

And that about does it for the Octoverride, and I’m pooped. Probably going to take a break from posting because I need the writing equivalent of getting your stomach pumped after ingesting too much candy, so don’t expect anything for a week or so before returning to a normal schedule. So, uh, Happy Halloween and we’ll probably do this again next year, since there’s been a distinct lack of Wolf Man this time around.

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