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.)
Saturday, November 7, 2009
PIMP MY UNDERPASS (6)
The Underpass crew (myself included) will be at the M3CON (MangaholixCon) on November 21 & 22, 2009, at the World Trade Center.
So if you want to ask us some questions, or have your copy of Underpass autographed, or want to pick up a copy with the creative team on hand, please, drop by.
Not sure if I’ll be able to make it on both days, but I should be there on the 21st.
Again, as per the press release, Underpass, the “graphic anthology featuring dark fantasy stories from some of today's greatest Pinoy comics creators” is now “… available in major magazine shops.” And bookstores, as far as I know.
Four stories!! Full colour!! P175!!
(Underpass cover by Carl Vergara.)
Friday, November 6, 2009
“The melting Arctic will reveal a frightening truth.”
In the ecological horror film The Thaw, director Mark A. Lewis presents us with a prehistoric parasitic terror that could prove to be the end of all there is. (Or, at the very least, put a very serious dent in civilization as we know it.)
The apocalypse cinema conceit is established right off the bat with the news montage-as-opening credits sequence gambit done in such entries as Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead redux, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and Logan McMillan’s Last of the Living.
The gambit worked in those films, as it does here.
Of course, the reality is, as early as its opening credits sequence, The Thaw is already recalling earlier horror films, and it continues to do so, as the reels unwind…
Set on Banks Island, in the Canadian Arctic, the film brings to mind John Carpenter’s The Thing, the first season X-Files episode, “Ice” (which was, itself, a sort-of, kind-of Thing retread), Carter Smith’s adaptation of The Ruins, and the brilliant eco-horror entry, Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter.
Which is, frankly, rather august company, if not for the fact that The Thaw suffers in comparison.
Having said that though, I must stress that The Thaw is still worth your time. I mean, when you’ve got X-Files alumnus William B. Davis in the aforementioned opening credits, talking about global warming and Armageddon and how it’s all our damned fault, well, that’s something that you need to pay attention to.
I have to say though, that aside from the semi-familiarity of the material, the cast isn’t exactly across-the-board good either.
There’s Val Kilmer in there (as ex-eco-activist David Kruipen) and Smallville’s Aaron Ashmore (whose twin Shawn happens to have been in The Ruins) and Everything’s Gone Green’s Steph Song, who’s saddled with a rather thankless role here.
There’s also Martha MacIsaac (as Kruipen’s mightily pissed-off daughter, Evelyn) and Kyle Schmid (from TV’s Blood Ties).
I shall refrain from pointing out which of the above are the weak links in the film’s cast… (Though I will say that MacIsaac did a great job in Dennis Iliadis’ remake of The Last House on the Left.)
Still, with all its flaws, The Thaw does have a bunch of cringe- and shudder-inducing moments, and, like The Last Winter, can serve as an effective cautionary tale of how we, as a race inclined to apathy, and perpetually unsatisfied with our lot, may very well end up destroying ourselves.
If you’ve been avoiding Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth thus far because “documentary” is still a dirty word to you, then perhaps The Thaw is the answer.
I mean, if a teeny Ice Age parasite can help wake up the masses, I’m sure Al Gore wouldn’t mind…
Parting shot: Reviews of The Last Winter, The Ruins, The Last House on the Left, and Everything’s Gone Green can be found in the Archive.
(The Thaw DVD cover art and images courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com.)