Monday, November 16, 2009
TRICK ‘R TREAT
For the record, I love Superman Returns; along with The Dark Knight, it’s one of the most mature superhero films out there (for very different reasons, of course).
There are a myriad of reasons why I love Superman Returns, but the one that has relevance to this review, is the screenplay, written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. It’s a screenplay whose deceptively straight-forward narrative belies its emotional and thematic complexity.
Both Dougherty and Harris had previously worked with director Bryan Singer on X2, which also goes a long way in explaining why X2 was a whole lot better than the first X-Men film.
Now, the script that got Dougherty and Harris the X2 gig? Well, that happens to be the script for the film we’re taking a look at now: Trick ‘r Treat.
Finally getting a DVD release after two years of sitting on a shelf, this is one hell of a great horror movie that tips a Halloween hat to the memorable horror anthologies of yesteryear.
It’s Halloween in the little town of Warren Valley, Ohio, the night when the barriers between the living and the dead are at their thinnest, a night when we meet a number of individuals, whose stories weave in and out of (and at certain points, wind back on) each other, individuals who are about to find out that Halloween is more than just about costumes and candy…
Now what sets Trick ‘r Treat apart from those horror anthologies that came before, is the fact that the script is structured in such a way as to combine all four tales into a single narrative.
Whereas in the past, we’d have a framing sequence, and the separate tales of terror (Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Asylum, et al), with Trick ‘r Treat, we have a film that has the kind of narrative structure you’d find in a Go, or a Pulp Fiction.
It’s a structure that helps inform the film with an added layer, where what seem to be throw-away lines and incidental little bits, turn out to have weight and bearing on all that we will eventually come to see over the course of the running time.
Another important distinction of Trick ‘r Treat is that this is the sort of horror film that’s fun. And that’s the sort of fun that doesn’t step foot into the horror-comedy arena, but basically still stays on the horror side of the fence, but laces itself with moments of black comedy and a sense that things don’t have to be all serious and sober.
What writer/director Dougherty calls “fun horror movies,” the ones that have a lot of replay value, as opposed to, say, what the French are contributing to the genre. I mean, I love some of those too, but you don’t see me rushing to give Inside a second viewing…
As a first-time director, Dougherty not only captures the essence and spirit of Halloween (spotlighting its dark, pagan origins in the process), he also understands this type of film perfectly.
And he’s got some formidable back-up.
For starters, there’s a rather good cast in this. If I had to cherry pick the best though, that would have to be Dylan Baker (as Principal Steven Wilkins) and Brian Cox (as crotchety Mr. Kreeg), both of whom also shone on the flawed, though certainly ambitious (and sadly truncated) reimagining of the Biblical story of David, Kings.
Here, in Trick ‘r Treat, they happen to be neighbours, and though their tales are ultimately separate from each other, they do occasionally intersect in wryly amusing ways.
Dougherty’s also got Bryan Singer producing, Glen MacPherson behind the camera, and Douglas Pipes on the score (Pipes also composed the score for Gil Kenan’s Monster House, another one of those “fun horror movies”; yes, ostensibly, it’s a CGI kiddie flick, so it skews a bit younger, but it’s a rather dark kiddie flick, if you think about it).
Plus, thanks to his visual background in animation, Dougherty also manages to introduce us to potential horror icon in the making, freaky little Sam (short for Samhain, one would assume, and played by Quinn Lord, who also plays the little peeper who gets to see Anna Paquin in the dressing room, lucky little…).
If it’s one thing that can keep a horror film at the forefront of the genre’s mass consciousness, it’s a visually unique character. Think Pinhead, or Freddy, or Chucky, or the masks of Michael or Jason or Ghostface.
Well, now we’ve got Sam, and hey, we’re all the better for it.
If Christmas can have titles like Doug Liman’s Go and Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers, then Halloween should have some go-to films too. And John Carpenter’s Halloween is long overdue some deserving company.
So, if you’re looking for some fun Halloween viewing, Trick ‘r Treat is most definitely the ticket.
Just be sure not to piss off Sam, you hear?
“I’m just trying to create a horror film that I think hearkens back to the horror films that we all know and love and grew up with. I keep pointing to the early to mid-‘80’s when we had [A] Nightmare on Elm Street and Poltergeist and Creepshow and things like that, that to me are terrifying horror films but also fun and funny. I miss those, a lot.”
-- Michael Dougherty
(Trick ‘r Treat OS courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com; Michael Dougherty image courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com.)