Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween Horror Countdown #2: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

You know what I really, really, like?  Anthology horror movies.  These are films that combine several unrelated vignettes into one full length film, giving you a grab bag of different stories to enjoy.   Creepshow, Tales From the Crypt, and Tales From the Dark Side may be the best known titles in this sub-genre, but there are plenty of these films out there. Films like these understand that sometimes scares are best served short and snappy, and they tend to eschew the plodding padding that some other horror features are packed with in lieu of a plot.  When I was putting this list together there was one anthology flick that absolutely had to be on it.  It's the newest film in the countdown and one that may not have made onto a general roll call of my five favorite horror movies, but since we're focusing on Halloween, this one just  has to get the nod.  Coming in at #2 on my Halloween Horror Countdown is Trick 'r Treat.  I should note that the dating on this one is a bit peculiar.  Trick 'r Treat was finished in 2007 but didn't actually see the light of day in any kind of a broad release until it came out on DVD in 2009.

Trick 'r Treat consists of four stories connected by a wraparound, which is pretty standard fare for this sort of movie.  In The Principal, we meet Steve Wilkins, the local school principal who just happens to enjoy poisoning kids on Halloween and burying them in his backyard.  The School Bus Massacre Revisited finds a group of youths pulling a cruel prank on a disabled girl by luring her to the site of long-ago bus crash, only to find themselves confronted by the undead. In Surprise Party, Anna Paquin plays Laurie, a self-conscious young woman trying to find a date to a Halloween party thrown by her sister.  Instead she finds herself stalked by a serial killer, but the film twists this old trope into a satisfying ending.  Finally we have Sam, in which a mysterious masked creature torments an old curmudgeon who refuses to participate in the Halloween festivities.  The shorts run the gamut of horror genres, from serial killers to zombies and beyond.

Interestingly, all of the stories are meant to be taking place concurrently on the same Halloween night.  The shorts are somewhat interwoven, and sharp-eyed viewers will be able to see bits of each tale going on in the backgrounds of others.  That's nothing huge, but it's a fun touch.  Also present in each story is Sam, a diminutive figure in pajamas and a burlap sack mask.  Although he only really takes part in the last story, he's around in all of them, watching the grotesque events with a strange look of approval.  A bizarre Halloween imp, Sam stalks his victims with sharpened lollipops, razor blade-filled candy bars, and hard candy laced with broken glass.  Apparently based on a long-ago animated short by the film's creator Michael Dougherty, Sam's a fun, creepy little character and a great mascot.

Sam notwithstanding, Principal Wilkins, played by Dylan Baker from the Raimi Spider-Man films, is easily my favorite character in the movie if only because of the dry-matter-of fact way he goes about his business.  The "serial killer next door" motif is kind of old hat these days, but Baker pulls it off well.  He's also our introduction to the "rules" of the movie - By telling  one of his victims about the role of Halloween traditions, such as jack-o-lanterns and handing out treats, in "protecting" people, he's actually setting up for some of Sam's murderous scenes.  Principal Wilkins also shows up in a second story, but in a rather different situation.

Trick 'r Treat, like so many horror anthologies before it, gleefully draws inspiration from the horror comics of the 1950s.  This means that they strive (largely successfully) to balance humor and scares, but they're also all based around twist endings that aren't especially hard to see coming.  At no point will any viewer mistake this movie for brain food, but it's not intended to be.  Trick 'r Treat is all about creepy Halloween fun, and at this it does quite well.  As I mentioned earlier, this movie may not have a had a place in a list of the five best horror films in general, but for Halloween it's required viewing. 

Well, it's just a few days before Halloween and there's only one movie left on my Halloween Horror Countdown. While this list has admittedly been in flux during the entire month, there hasn't been a single iteration of it with the same film in the top slot.  Check back on Tuesday for the conclusion of the Halloween Horror Countdown!

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