Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat is a fantastic Halloween movie - arguably one of the best ever made*. But does that mean it stands on its own as a great movie apart from its holiday ties? Let's find out.
First - a little background information. Dougherty, best known as the screenwriter for X-Men 2, directed Trick 'r Treat three years ago, and the film has since undergone a hellacious distribution process. Originally scheduled for a 2007 release and continually pushed back by Warner Bros., the studio finally decided not to give the film a theatrical release and opted instead for a DVD/Blu-ray/On Demand release date of October 6th, 2009. I just finished a theatrical screening of Trick 'r Treat in Los Angeles, and Dougherty was on hand for a question and answer session afterwards.
Trick 'r Treat might be the best Halloween film of all time. Before all of you John Carpenter fans come roaring into the comments section, let me explain. Carpenter's iconic film, as Dougherty said in the Q&A tonight, "could have been set on Valentine's Day." The Halloween setting aided in the fear and horror elements of Halloween, sure - but Trick 'r Treat devotes the entire film to establishing the rules of Halloween and punishing those who break them. In a series of four connected stories, Dougherty and his team have crafted a Halloween tale for the ages, an instant classic that will become an October mainstay for years to come.
Can Trick 'r Treat be called a legitimately great movie? I don't think so. If we're judging it on whether or not it achieved what it set out to accomplish, then it should receive unanimous 10/10 reviews. To look at the movie as anything more than a fun Halloween film isn't quite as appealing. It almost feels like we've heard these stories before, which is a testament to relatable writing: praise-worthy on occasion, but ultimately detrimental in this case. The film's tone and execution were near perfect; unfortunately the plot elements are kind of average if you look at each story individually. I'm not going to recap what happens or ruin it for those who haven't seen it yet, but suffice it to say that this film pales in comparison to this year's Drag Me To Hell in ramping up suspense and holding it until the breaking point.
Don't get me wrong: I really dug this movie. I appreciate its tone, style, and the balls it took writer/director Mike Dougherty to make a movie like this and fight the system to get it released. I saw it in early October with a crowded room full of horror fans, and we all cheered at the right times and had a great time watching it. It was a great movie-going experience. I hope more films like this are made, and I recommend that every horror fan see this movie. I'm just trying to quell some of the ultra-hype that's surrounding it so you don't go in with incredibly high expectations and come out slightly disappointed.
The cast was great (especially Dylan Baker - why doesn't he get more work?), the cinematography perfectly achieved the tone they were shooting for (over-the-top dark comedy), and the score was pretty solid, as well. The editing was awesome, complete with comic book influences in the opening credits and the occasional comic panel on screen to let us know where we are during the course of this crazy Halloween night.
The movie works on multiple levels - for those who haven't seen many horror films, it has enough suspense, jump scares, nudity, and violence to keep you interested. For the horror connoisseurs among you, you'll appreciate the tongue-in-cheek manner in which Dougherty approaches the material and toys with your expectations of certain genre elements.
Support this movie any way you can - it's the only way we're going to see more like it in the years to come. Get the DVD/Blu-ray, invite your friends over, and have a Trick 'r Treat party at your place. Spread the word. I almost guarantee you'll have a great time with it. Just don't quite expect a 10/10.
*If you haven't seen the 1993 animated film The Halloween Tree, it's worth checking out. Ray Bradbury wrote and narrates the movie, Leonard Nimoy voices a main character, and it features some great characters learning the origins and history of Halloween.
- Ben P