Friday, October 17, 2014

Worth Mentioning - The Night When the Dead Roam Free

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

With the best holiday of the year coming up, Cody and Priscilla celebrate appropriately.


Warner Bros. had no faith in writer/director Michael Dougherty's film Trick 'r Treat. That was made obvious when the studio pulled the movie, which had been perfectly set for an October 2007 theatrical release, from their schedule without setting a new date for it. You shouldn't release a Halloween-themed movie before fall, so if it were to be pushed back, the autumn of 2008 would be the sensible new placement. But October of 2008 came and went, and while there had been festival screenings of Trick 'r Treat, through which it gained great word of mouth, it still wasn't released to the general audience. Two years after it was originally supposed to come out, WB dumped the movie direct-to-video. They never should have doubted it. Once people had a chance to see Trick 'r Treat, it instantly garnered a huge fan base and viewings of it became a seasonal traditional for scores of viewers.

It's such a shame that the movie never got the treatment it deserved. Imagine how huge it would've been if the October 2007 theatrical release had been kept. It'd be a big franchise with at least two sequels out by now.

The film is an anthology, in the tradition of Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, or Creepshow, and the opening sequence involves a young couple, Emma and Henry, returning home from a costume party on Halloween night, slightly inebriated, ready to go to bed and watch some porn. But first, Emma insists that the Halloween decorations in their yard be taken down. Henry has lovingly decorated their property in celebration of the holiday, but bedtime Halloween night is the deadline for Emma's tolerance of this stuff.

Henry warns Emma that blowing out a jack-o-lantern before Halloween is officially over is bad luck, but she ignores him. When she blows out the candle within their carved pumpkin, someone watching from across the street is so shocked that they gasp.

Whoever's watching, we're in their P.O.V., a P.O.V. that crosses the street and walks along the edge of the couple's yard. This is very reminiscent of the opening scene of the most popular Halloween-set movie, John Carpenter's Halloween.

Henry heads inside while Emma begins taking down the decorations.

How nice is Henry? Leaving Emma alone to take all of those Halloween decorations down by herself while he goes upstairs and waits for her to return so they can get kinky. I guess she could've waited to do it in the morning, but a little help wouldn't kill him. Or maybe it would.

The way Emma nags her husband and has no holiday spirit, it appears that this woman has no joy at all within her. She briefly smiles at the sight of some trick-or-treaters, but I'm not buying it. If you hate Halloween like she does, you're terrible.

I don't see how anyone who hates Halloween would have that much stuff out. And it was some very over-the-top decorations, the front yard looked so creepy. There's no way she'd let Henry get that carried away if she really hated it. She was a closeted Halloween lover...if only whoever was watching knew that.

Being alone outside in the dark puts Emma in the position for someone who takes Halloween very seriously to make her pay the price for messing with the decorations before November 1st.

As in any good anthology, the unlikeable person gets their appropriate comeuppance. This short segment was a great way to kick things off.

The opening is perfect and sets up the tone for the rest of the movie.

The movie then segues into the title sequence, during which "Trick 'r Treat" is shown to be the title of a comic book that contains "four tales of terror", just like the film (not counting that opening).

This comic book aspect is a nod to the anthologies that came before, stretching all the way back to the EC Comics that inspired some of the greats.

By the time the title sequence has ended, the clock has been wound back to an earlier time on Halloween night in the town where Henry and Emma live; Warren Valley, Ohio. Despite Emma's concern over what her mother would think of their yard being so done up, Henry's enthusiasm for Halloween is clearly shared by most of the town's residents. The whole business section of town is heavily decorated, with a huge parade of costumed citizens marching through the streets. Warren Valley is a town that does Halloween right.

Unlike most other anthologies, the stories in Trick 'r Treat - "The Principal", "The School Bus Massacre Revisited", "Surprise Party", and "Sam" - are not presented as individual segments, rather they're all intertwined. As characters make their way around town, they bump into characters who star in other segments, and parts of other stories are always occurring when another story is playing out. So, for example, there are cutaways to the set-up for "Surprise Party" during "The Principal", as well as glimpses of scenes we'll see in their proper context when the "Sam" story is shown later.

This makes it harder to judge the individual stories on their own merits, since the other stories effect how they play. There's not much to "The Principal" on its own, but it's enhanced by the other things going on around it.

I love how the stories are all connected. It works with the Halloween theme, allows for some interesting twists here and there, and also makes Trick 'r Treat a pretty unique anthology.

"The Principal" centers on, as you would expect, a school principal, Steven Wilkins, a man with an appreciation for Halloween who also has a very dark secret in his personal life. His career may involve dealing with children every day, but that doesn't mean he's always out for their best interests. He is a single parent to a young son, and his parenting skills are highly questionable.

He is a psychopath who clearly resents being left alone to raise his kid. He obviously wasn't fit for parenthood anyhow, but having to take care of Billy by himself is more than his twisted mind can handle. It's like he's killing kids while wishing he could actually off Billy.

Billy is so needy and annoying, it surprises me that Wilkins didn't just go ahead and kill him right then. Maybe his will to pass on his legacy was grander.

Mr. Wilkins appears to be a serial killer, although one who doesn't seem to enjoy the process very much. Dealing with the aftermath makes him very jittery, sweaty, and paranoid. He should definitely give up this hobby.

It was a nice touch that a Halloween urban legend was worked into the film through this segment - Wilkins offs his latest victim, a boy named Charlie, with the old trick of a poisoned candy bar.

Poor Charlie. He was a meanie, but still... he got it in such an awful, disgusting way. I did enjoy seeing Wilkins struggle with the mess and the nasty aftermath, though.

While a black-cloaked, fanged figure is making a bloody mess of a girl he has seduced at the town's Halloween party -

The girl tries to get help, but the holiday gets in the way of anyone taking her seriously.

- a group of children are venturing out into the countryside for the segment "The School Bus Massacre Revisited".

We have seen these kids gathering jack-o-lanterns, saying they needed them for a scavenger hunt. But when they arrive at a long-abandoned, fog-enshrouded rock quarry on the outskirts of town, we're shown what these jack-o-lanterns are truly for.

So many cool looking pumpkins are shown throughout the movie. Definitely one of my favorite aspects. We don't always see this many decorations in Halloween movies. They went all out in this one, and I love it.

Years earlier, eight "troubled" children were killed when the bus they were riding home from school in crashed into the quarry and sank into the depths, never to be recovered. The bus driver survived the crash, and legend has it that it was no accident. The children's parents, tired and ashamed of their offspring, had hired the driver to kill their kids, and he chained them to their seats before the crash.

Another example in this movie of people not fit to be parents.

On this Halloween night, this group of kids have brought the jack-o-lanterns to place at the edge of the water as an offering to the souls of the dead children... Or so they say. As it turns out, this scenario and the telling of the true tragedy is really just a set-up for an elaborate prank the kids and their ringleader Macy have decided to play on one member of their group; an awkward little girl called an "idiot savant" by some and a "retard" by those less tactful.

But then the tables are turned on the girl's tormentors.

Macy is a bitch. Poor Rhonda... Or is she?

"The School Bus Massacre Revisited" is wonderfully atmospheric, with the story of the bus crash being very dark and unnerving.

It's hard for me to pick a favorite segment/story because they're all linked to one another in some way, but I think "The School Bus Massacre Revisited" is the most somber and climactic one. It's really creepy, with an unexpected twist.

I will admit now - I am not one of Trick 'r Treat's hardcore fans. I've only seen the movie a couple times in the last five years, it just didn't work for me as well as it has for others. During my first viewing, it was in the midst of "Revisited" that the movie began to lose me. None of the stories so far had really pulled me in. They're good, certainly, with nice climactic moments, but none of them really stand out to me as an awesome story.

I love Trick 'r Treat, and have loved it since the first time I watched it. I still can't believe it was DTV. To me, it's the perfect Halloween movie, and it does everything right... it has everything I expect from a good horror movie.

The ending of "The School Bus Massacre Revisited" segues directly into the climax of the "Surprise Party" story. Up to this point, we have been regularly checking in with a group of girls who have been endeavoring to find guys to join them at a party in the woods.

When we first see them, they're renting Halloween costumes for the night. I find it funny that the first time I watched the movie, I had no clue their conversation was so literal. Now it makes me smile every time I rewatch it and one of them says "I had bad Mexican".

Renting costumes seems like a good business to be in... almost $240 to wear them once? Hrm.

As the last of the girls - Laurie, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood - makes her way to the party, she finds that she has been followed out of town by the cloaked vampire seen earlier. The vampire moves in to attack Laurie... but he's no match for the other creatures lurking in the forest.

I usually see twists coming a mile away, but I did not see this one. It was actually my favorite twist, and I loved the parts leading up to it. The "vampire", who's a character we know very well by now, gets a big surprise. His end is so poetic.

"Surprise Party" is a story that I think is made less effective by the stories being mixed together. I feel like the twist at its end would've worked better if it had played out as its own segment and we had seen all of the scenes building up to that twist together. Or maybe I'm just too old fashioned when it comes to anthologies.

That brings us to "Sam", the segment that stars the film's breakout character. Throughout the film, a strange little kid wearing an orange jumper and a burlap mask over a bulbous head has been spotted in every segment. He took candy from "The Principal", he was at the "School Bus" quarry, he watched what happened at the "Surprise Party". And now that kid, Sam, is out to show a grumpy old man named Mr. Kreeg the error of his Halloween-hating ways.

Kreeg has such a funny way to scare kids away from his house, though. His dog Spite has the most awesome costume of them all.

Since Mr. Kreeg doesn't give out treats, Sam decides to play a trick on him... And Sam plays rough.

This story also jumps back in time to an earlier point in the night and shows us what was going on in the periphery of the "Principal" segment, as Mr. Kreeg is Mr. Wilkins' next door neighbor.

"School Bus" and "Surprise Party" lost me at first, but "Sam" pulled me back in. This segment is by far my favorite part of the movie, and it's easy to see why Sam himself has become so popular in the horror community. He's a very cool, unique character.

Sam is a cutie. A scary, dangerous cutie at times, but still a cutie. And he picks his "victims" for clear reasons. He rocks.

As Sam goes after Mr. Kreeg with a razor blade stuck in a chocolate bar and a sharpened lollipop, he is revealed to be no ordinary little boy.

What Sam is, is awesome. With the segment that revolves around this character and shows the truth beneath that burlap mask, Trick 'r Treat finally achieves awesomeness for me.

Kreeg put up a fight. After his encounter with Sam, it seems like he learned his lesson and is going to be a better man from now on... he even starts handing out candy. He has a secret behind his dislike of Halloween and kids, and it seems like he might get away with what he did years ago, which has the viewer puzzled for a little while. But only for a little while.

With an epilogue that returns us to the time of the prologue, all of the storylines get wrapped up and tied together. Everything was connected in some way, and it's been one hell of a Halloween.

I may not be as big of a Trick 'r Treat fan as a lot of my fellow horror fans, but it is an enjoyable movie to watch, and Sam is quite deserving of the minor icon status he has been enjoying since its release.

Sam's really badass.

The movie is very well written and directed. The cast is perfect, and that's something that adds to the movie's greatness; I could easily see Trick 'r Treat not being as effective as it is if it had a different, weaker cast. 

One area where the film really shines is in its atmosphere and cinematography. Dougherty and director of photographer Glen MacPherson made a very stylish looking horror movie that also perfectly captures the look of a Halloween in the midwest. The fallen leaves, the glow of jack-o-lanterns. This has become an annual Halloween go-to for many viewers because it truly is Halloween on film.

It has flawless photography. The movie looks great, and even for someone living in a country that doesn't really celebrate Halloween, it puts me right in the mood for some candy and horror goodness. Trick 'r Treat stinks of Halloween spirit... How can you not be into that?

There's not a lot to most of the stories, but Dougherty does keep the holiday theme running strong throughout.

I think the stories are perfectly fine, well told and very well acted. I also love the pace, the score, makeup and effects . Charlie's decapitated head looks so real. Like I said, it has everything I look for in a horror movie.

While Trick 'r Treat isn't one of my favorite anthologies, it is a commendable and recommendable one. I don't like that it has overshadowed my beloved Trick or Treat (1986) as the film that comes to mind when the title is mentioned, but I really should start watching it more often myself.

Trick 'r Treat is one of my favorite anthologies for sure. I do like Trick or Treat (1986), but it doesn't have that much of a Halloween vibe, like Trick 'r Treat does. The latter is just a better movie overall. I watch it every October and it's always so much fun. The movie is so great, it feels short...I'm always left wanting more. There needs to be a sequel soon. I'd love to know what happened to little Billy...

I would definitely much rather have annual Trick 'r Treats than other franchises that have had yearly sequels in the last decade.

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