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Trick 'r Treat (2008)

Let's Try the Next House

Much like a good comedy, a good horror movie depends on surprises. And, no, a cat jumping out of a closet with shock music blaring on the soundtrack does not count as a surprise—unless you’re eight years old. This is precisely the problem with Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat.

This movie has developed a cult following in the two years since it was filmed, mostly because Warner Brothers put off and eventually canned the release. With a handful of screenings here and there, Trick ‘r Treat built a heady buzz. Horror fans were especially eager to get a look at the star-stuffed anthology, and now that it’s been released on DVD and Blu Ray, everyone can see for themselves. I checked it out the other night, and am sad to report that the only way to get a kick out of this movie is to significantly lower your expectations.

How sad is that?

The one thing I’ll give Trick ‘r Treat is that it exudes atmosphere. For all its (many) faults, the movie certainly evokes Halloween and—more importantly—the joy and giddy terror associated with trick-or-treating. Unlike slasher or demon movies that take place on Halloween, this movie is about the day itself, which some believe allows ghosts and “other things” to wander our reality for a night; this movie centers on a small Ohio town beset by monsters and monstrous humans.

If you’ve never seen a horror anthology or television series, you may be wowed by the serial killer neighbor story, the Little Red Riding Hood allegory, or the man-trapped-in-a-house-with-a-demonic-kid story. There’s also a tale about a gang of kids looking for a phantom school bus in a rock quarry, which was kind of interesting but ultimately failed to—again, this is really important—surprise me (I’ve seen It, Carrie, and Sometimes They Come Back, after all; I wonder if Stephen King is getting residuals on this thing?).

There’s nothing wrong with putting a new spin on classic horror storylines, but the spin has to be there. Otherwise, the audience might as well pop in Trilogy of Terror or Pet Sematary; or they could just read some Poe or old Tales from the Crypt comics. The point is, when there’s such rich, easily accessible source material laying around, a suspense-less knock-off simply won’t cut it, especially if you’re trying to convince people that your little horror movie is an amazing throwback to Creepshow (and not a tame copy of it). I say, don’t be Creepshow. Be something wholly original and unsafe.

The only boundaries Trick ‘r Treat pushes are those of patience and credulity. The film it most wants to be, I think, is that Oscar-winning coincidence-fest Crash. I mentioned that this film takes place in a small town, but for all the ludicrous connections it makes Dougherty might have well just set it on the same block (preferably Sesame Street). It’s one thing to have the serial killer live next door to the house where the old man is terrorized by the pumpkin-faced demon child, but it’s quite another to have that same middle-aged doofus be a “vampire” who stalks women in the town square—and eventually fall victim to a pack of female werewolves (this is a semi-spoilerish point, unless you’re actually paying attention during the movie—in which case you’ll clearly see Dylan Baker’s distinguished face in the vampire’s half-mask). All of the stories connect, but in the most obvious ways, so as not to leave even the most oxygen-deprived brains in the dark.

I wanted to love Trick ‘r Treat, but it’s too pedestrian to garner anything more than style points. If you can manage the feat that has eluded me all my life—that of “turning off your brain” during a movie—chances are you’ll like this picture; Hell, you’ll probably like a lot of movies, maybe even every movie.

But is that the kind of bar we should set and accept now? Horror movies for everyone? No thanks. I prefer my horror movies to be suspenseful, imaginative and dripping with, you know, horror.

In fairness, there was one genuinely cool moment in Trick ‘r Treat. The line, “Always check your candy” is delivered so perfectly that I laughed and got chills. But in keeping with the lowest-common-denominator spirit of the rest of the movie, the line is followed by a protracted vomit gag that would’ve made Sam Raimi tell Michael Dougherty he’d gone too far.

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