Review: Trick R Treat

photo courtesy of Matt Sell

This review is a little pointless, I’ll admit, since it’s for a movie that is not currently playing nor soon to be released. In fact, according to the writer/director, it has no scheduled release date at all. So in a sense, it doesn’t exist. Which I guess is why I feel compelled to tell you about it.

TRICK R TREAT, is the film. It’s written and directed by Michael Dougherty, a protege of Bryan Singer (who produced the film), and as the title should imply, it is about Halloween. The film was shot years ago with a planned Oct 2007 release date. They even made posters and merchandise. Then, as will happen in this town, the movie was unceremoniously shelved.

The reasons behind this shelving sent the Internet a’buzz with speculation – did the movie suck? Was it a conspiracy; Warner Bros mad at Singer over SUPERMAN RETURNS? Well, a horror movie sucking has never stopped anyone from releasing it and making a buttload of money, so that theory always seemed suspect to me, but either way, I can tell you right now – the movie does not suck. In fact, it’s pretty great.

One thing I love about living in LA is that if a movie is only going to show for one night (possibly ever), it’ll be somewhere in greater Los Angeles. And so it was with TRICK R TREAT last Friday when it opened up this year’s Screamfest. Sure, it will also be showing in NY before the end of the month, but a fat lot of good that would’ve done me.

TRICK R TREAT is a loving and successful throwback to a time when horror movies where fun, not just gory. I like to call this charming, simpler time the “mid-to-late-80’s.” And I say “successful” meaning that it’s not an annoying wink-winky homage like CABIN FEVER. Frankly, calling TRICK R TREAT an homage slightly denigrates it as a legit horror movie, like calling Amy Winehouse simply an homage to 60’s soul. TRICK R TREAT isn’t an instant masterpiece – a HALLOWEEN or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, where it’ll change the way horror movies are made – but it’s still the real deal.

TRICK R TREAT is what the “Tales From the Crypt” movies should have been. I say this because TRICK R TREAT is in fact an anthology film, consisting of four different stories, which interlink passingly, like PULP FICTION, while still managing to each tell very different horror stories. What I liked most about the structure of the film was that the stories weren’t presented one after another, CREEPSHOW-style, but where interwoven.

According to Dougherty (in a post-screening Q&A), this was actually a decision made during editing, the segments originally intended to play out self-contained. I don’t know whose idea the restructuring was, but I think it elevates the film from what might have just been a fun lark to a fuller experience. Even when they’re given a connective thread, like in FOUR ROOMS, segmented anthology movies rarely work on the same level as a straightforward narrative.

I barely know where to begin explaining the story, since there are so many – one might say this is the AMERICAN GRAFFITTI of horror movies; all the stories take place in the same suburban hamlet, all unfolding roughly at the same time. Plus I don’t want to give anything away, as merely summarizing the setups will likely paint the movie in a boring light (it’s the twists and turns that make the movie interesting).

That said, for me the movie has two obvious highlights: One is Dylan Baker, a school principal whose hatred of Halloween makes him do some, well, interesting things. The other is Sam, a creepy sacked-headed little boy (who reminds me a bit of an evil version of the avatar from Little Big Planet), who might be considered the movie’s mascot. The character is never explained, but seems to be the malevolent spirit of Halloween, punishing those who refuse to the celebrate the holiday correctly – “There are rules…” one character says to his wife when she wants to take down their decorations early.

One of the more interesting moments in the Q&A was when Dougherty called down Quinn Lord, the actor who played Sam, and it turned out that he was in fact a 9yearold boy – not a little person. Lord also had the best one-liner of the evening. When asked by the moderator what he thought seeing the movie for the first time that night, Lord cutely and innocently replied, “It turned out better than I thought it would.”

Also in the Q&A, Dougherty stated that he thinks the reason WB might be shying away from the film is its comedic tone and the fact that numerous children die in it. Sadly, this seems like a reasonable assumption to me. Despite the fact that audiences usually seem to like them, horror movies with a comedic edge also seem to make studios nervous. And it’s true, a lot of children do die in TRICK R TREAT, but who cares? It’s an R rated horror movie. Kids aren’t going to be seeing it. Are we worried about offending the same audiences that made HOSTEL a hit?

I wish I could say “Go see TRICK R TREAT this weekend!” Alas, I can’t. But keep an eye out for it. Maybe send an email to WB or chat it up on a message board. I don’t know. Chances are it’ll get dumped onto DVD eventually, though maybe not until next Halloween.

But fear not – This movie is too much fun to stay buried forever.