Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mostly a Treat

The days of the anthology horror film seem to have gone the way of the musical and the western. A once much beloved genre that takes a gasp of fresh air every couple of years and then sinks to the bottom of the forgotten pop-cultural consciousness. Just because its not popular doesn't mean its not worthwhile. Trick R Treat is raucous fun thats jokey enough for horror fans who will be whooping it up the whole time and scary enough to give you a good case of the heebie-jeebies. Writer/director Mike Dougherty takes a number of hoary old tropes and gives them fun spins. He's very knowing of genre entertainment both horror and non-horror and has lots of fun slick little meta-moments. Battlestar Galactica fans will enjoy watching Tamhoh Penikett trick or treating as a robot (ha HA!), indie film fans will dig Dylan Baker lecherous lording of a small child and True Blood fans will be QUITE surprised at the twist Anna Paquin's character takes in her vignette.*
The film is light and breezy. Dougherty who last muddled through scripting duties on the labourious Superman Returns, has made a sharp film that connects several spooky stories in a fractured chronology that is bound by a bag-headed, jack-o-lantern kiddie named Sam. As soon as one story begins it takes a few fun twists and turns playing with familiar tropes and then dashing our expectations. The tone nimbly bounces from fun to frightening and then back again. Dougherty, reverential of Carpenter's Halloween, perfectly captures the creepy autumnal New England suburbia. But instead of making the housing tracts empty and desolate he crams the frame with activity, thus making it all the more surprising when cries go unnoticed. It stands to reason, why would anyone think someone is ACTUALLY getting killed on Halloween?

Reminiscent of the best Tales from the Crypt episodes or best bits from Creepshow, Trick or Treat gooses its pulp origins with top notch sets, make-up and most importantly performances. Brian Cox plays an addled Halloween hating Scrooge type with a dark secret. He has very little dialogue but speaks volumes with his ominous cackling and mumbly shuffling. Anna Paquin (cast here prior to her starring in True Blood) perfectly captures the blithe ingenue spirit until things go very, very wrong. And creepster character actor deluxe Dylan Baker takes his Happiness character to its logical end-point. Baker is so unfailingly square and clean-cut he can't help but give casual viewers the shivers. With these actors anchoring their various segments the viewer is fairly engaged, only one piece with a bunch of unknown child actors fails to completely deliver, though thankfully Dougherty doesn't shy away from exposing kids to violence (which is probably what prevented the film getting into theaters).
Trick R Treat has no greater truth, its aim is to scare and become part of the venerable cannon of Halloween horror movie favorites. In this it succeeds spectacularly. Horror fans both new and old-hand in the genre would do well to hunt down this film. The holiday of Halloween deserves more than just a Shatner-masked slasher to represent it in cinema, why not nasty little Sam too?

*I'm surprised someone hasn't taken screen grabs from the film and posted them as TB season 3 spoilers and royally mess with some fans heads.

No comments: