Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Holiday Spirit

Back in the 1980s, John Carpenter and Debra Hill conceived of turning their Halloween movies into a kind of anthology, with each year giving us a new Halloween movie that had nothing to do with the previous one. That idea never took flight. Fans of those movies wanted more Michael Myers, and the one movie they made with the anthology model in mind, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, bombed. I kind of like that movie, myself. As I was watching Trick 'r Treat (2007, directed by Michael Dougherty), all I could think was that this is the kind of movie that Carpenter and Hill must have imagined. It's their proposed series in microcosm.

I can totally get behind the premise of Trick 'r Treat, which posits a spirit of Halloween that exacts a harsh vengeance on those Scrooges who fail to get into the holiday. This is an anthology movie that casts a wink and a nod to the old EC Comics with four stories with a twist of the tale at the end. So far as I can tell, this never got a theatrical run, but it has much better production values and actors than you would expect from a direct to video movie. It's probably just as well. This is a throwback, the kind of movie that in past years was discovered on the shelves of mom and pop video stores and shown at slumber parties. It's a fun movie, and "fun" is a value that' seriously undervalued these days. Most horror movies that make it into theaters these days have almost no acquaintance with fun. It's nice to know that its still around.

The four stories here are as follows: A nebbish of a high school principle moonlights as a serial killer, a group of college students cajole their virginal friend into picking up a guy for their Halloween night revel, a group of trick or treaters play a mean prank on a nerdy girl only to have it backfire in their faces, and a mean old man who sicks his dog on trick or treaters gets his comeuppance at the hands of a demonic child with a burlap mask and candy filled with razorblades. These all play out in classic form, but this movie is unusual for an anthology film in so far as it finds clever ways to interweave its stories without that hoary old chestnut, the framing sequence. It's unusually well-made.

The big stars in the cast are Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, and Brian Cox, and the movie uses all three of them well. Baker, in particular, is note perfect as our nebbish-y serial killer and doting father. His segment may be the most fun, but Anna Paquin's vies for the honor with a shaggy dog ending that dovetails nicely with Baker's segment. Paquin's segment is the most reminiscent of EC; it seems to be directly inspired by one of their more famous stories (one that would spoil this movie were I to name it). The kid segment is probably the most linear, even though it involves a flashback to "the Halloween School Bus Massacre." It's the cruelest segment, too; the just deserts it serves up are a bit harsh for the crime. The last segment features this movie's signature image of the kid with the burlap mask (a surprisingly similar image to the main ghost in The Orphanage, actually, as if that film had been filtered through Tim Burton). This segment plays like a Halloweeny version of A Christmas Carol, with mean old Mr. Kreeg finding the true meaning of Halloween. Of course, its ending isn't as treacly. It's actually pretty droll. This segment has a major flaw, though, and one not shared with the rest of the movie: the design of its spirit of Halloween is superb while it's wearing the burlap mask, but it looks ridiculous once its unmasked. This isn't the first movie undone by dodgy special effects, but it's kind of disappointing because the rest of the movie is so well executed.

This film skips around chronologically and in the best tradition of Dead of Night, ends where it begins, and most of the characters have walk-on roles in the other segments (Baker features prominently in Anna Paquin's segment, Cox features prominently in Baker's, etc.). This could result in narrative mush, but it's done with such aplomb--it denotes it's shifts in time with comic book-style captions, placing its tongue firmly in its cheek--that it comes off as playful rather than pretentious. Hell, that's the tone of the movie. Playful. It's a good natured Halloween prank.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 6

First Time Viewings: 6


The Vicar of VHS said...

I really enjoyed this one. There are so many horror movies that are set on Halloween, but relatively few that actually seem to be ABOUT Halloween, which is a shortcoming I think this one rectifies. (Halloween III is one that points that way too, as you mention.) I need to break this one out again for the season.

Bob Turnbull said...

Not only have you watched 6 movies so far, you've posted about 6! Way to go Doc...

You know, I really wanted to like this film more than I did. As the Vicar said above, I love the idea of the movie being about Halloween as well as the different stories overlapping. But it just didn't work for me - it felt more mean spirited than it needed to be (I know that's an odd thing to say about a horror movie, but that's what I felt) and not as scary as it could have been.

I'm in the minority on this one though...