With a heavy nod to EC Comics and the 1982 Stephen King-George Romero horror anthology film Creepshow (to the point it even features comic book paneled opening credits), writer-director Michael Dougherty's Trick R Treat pays tribute not only to the Halloween holiday but a myriad of the the traditional tropes and urban legends that envelope it including punk kids knocking down Jack 'o' Lanterns, candy filled with razor blades or glass, even the whole girls dressing as slutty version of famous characters serves as a plot point. Like Drag Me to Hell and Zombieland, Trick proudly attempts to return horror to it's Roger Corman/Drive-in heyday of actually being fun as opposed to the torture porn-Rob Zombie-Platinum Dunes aesthetic that has hijacked the genre in the early to mid portion of the decade, while still maintaining a sharp bite and some nasty edges.
Structured like an anthology film yet featuring characters that intersect throughout all the sections a la a Robert Altman film, the stories include a middle aged man (Happiness' Dylan Baker) who is using the holiday as an opportunity to exorcise his inner demons (his profession in relation to his first victim is a clever punchline), a group of girls who may not be the victims they first appear, four kids who learn that an old ghost story may be true and a curmudgeon (veteran character actor Brian Cox) who is visited by a masked figure (the little guy from the poster), an enforcer of Halloween etiquette, which are bookended by a wraparound concerning excessive decoration. As is the case in most anthology films, quality wavers between the different portions, and sometimes the connecting tissue aspect leads to some forced coinicidences, but if the first two parts don't completely captivate you, please stick with the film, it really pulls into a steady gear with the third tale giving the film momentum that carries through the end.
The film primarily takes place over the course of one night and is shot with a strong orange and brown hue, adding to the Halloween sensibility, as does the widescreen cinematography that recalls the John Carpenter classic Halloween. While it's stylized it's never distracting a la the aforementioned Zombie/Platinum Dunes oeuvre. Nor is it edited in the Cuisinart style of those films, though it does move along quickly and has a relatively short running time, but that never keeps it from adding a specific detail or little joke. The portion of the film that retells the story of a dark moment in the town's past (I won't spoil it by even mentioning any details) is the only scene shot during the day and is also the most powerful, haunting and cinematic sequence of the film, the haziness and the costumes worn in the scene give it a dreamlike quality that is apropos to the question of the validity of the tale.
Of course, no mention of Trick R Treat can go without chiding Warner Brothers for it's handling of the film. Originally intended to be released in October 2007 they continuously pushed it back (even contemplating a February release at one point!), before trying to unload it to another studio, a similar ploy that ended up costing them a bunch of money and prestige when they sold the rights to another film, eventual Academy Award winner Slumdog Millionaire. When there were no takers they continued to let the film languish until finally releasing it on DVD earlier this month. I, like many others, cannot fathom what led to that decision. The only two possible reasons I can surmise is that it features some children/young teenagers as victims and that it is so out of the current de rigueur of the genre. For the first point, I know that the death of younger people is a taboo that even the Saw films won't touch but the whole film is so stylized and obviously fashioned in the urban legend milieu that it never disturbs and besides which great urban legends don't feature youngsters getting it (the girl with the ribbon around her neck and the children in the babysitter receiving threatening calls from within her house stories being the first that come to mind)? The second point is the film's greatest strength, sure the gorehounds might have been disappointed by it's lack of viscera but there is an audience that appreciates horror films that are tributes to the genre and actually have a sense of humor. I find it ironic that the only three screenings the film had in Los Angeles that you could actually buy tickets for ended up quickly selling out.
Trick R Treat will, it already has, begin to garner a strong cult following to the point where ten or fifteen years from now people will completely forget that the film was never theatrically released. It's essential holiday fare and belongs next to the original Halloween and the much maligned but beloved by yours truly, Halloween III: Season of the Witch as annual October viewing.