Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trick R Treat

NetFlix 3.3/5
IMDB 6.9/10
My Rating: 8/10

One wonderful Halloween night, multiple storylines intersect as various characters meet horror by disregarding or disrespecting the spirit of Halloween.

OK, I'm just going to say right off that this is one of my favorite movies, and it may well be my favorite Halloween movie - A feat that would mean upsetting past favorite, Halloween, the top of the heap for the last thirty years.  Trick R Treat is a special treat, though, and it's as much a time machine as it is a film, because it will grab the viewer and take him or her right back to being ten years old and watching classic "fun" horror films on late night TV, preferably after the parents have gone to bed.  I loved doing this as a child in the 70's, and I was helped by my inherent night-owl DNA, because my morning-loving parents would conk out at 10pm and go off to bed, and I could stay up alone in the night to watch whatever new wonder was playing on the late night horror show.  This is the ambiance of Trick R Treat, and the joy of it.  It's a movie that makes you feel like a kid again.

Now, when I say "horror", I should specify - I'm not talking about horror films like modern ones, all gore and splatter and torture, nor the intentionally campy stuff like Scream clones...  I'm talking about fun horror, the sort of movies that Vincent Price would be in, mugging away and rigging skeletons on wires to terrify the unwary.  The sort of movies that could give you a chill up the spine and make you grin at the same time.  It's a style that TrT embraces wholeheartedly and home-runs out of the park.  You won't be wincing from the limb hacking or cringing from the intensity of a shaky-cam zombie attack, but you will be grinning like an idiot and delighting to see what comes next.  The only way to make the experience better would be to see it on midnight movie television with a horror host.  And be ten years old again.

The basic story goes like this:  On Halloween night, a small town is hosting a fabulous downtown costume contest party.  Over the course of the evening, multiple storylines occur - A young couple learn about respecting traditions, a rude kid discovers the error of smashing pumpkins, cruel childhood pranks go very awry, a vampiric serial killer stalks the streets, Red Riding Hood meets the wolf in a most unusual way, and finally a mean old Scrooge learns to accept the true spirit of the season.

I am not normally a big fan of multiple-story movies.  I enjoy the older ones to a point, but the need to cram in several different tales always made them feel rushed and a little cluttered to me, and the "weaving together" elements were often overly predictable.  TrT overcomes these limitations in various ways.  Instead of the usual "Story-Interlude-Story-Interlude-Story" format, the different events happen in parallel time to each other, and are presented in skewed order.  Earlier tales show snippets of the fates of other characters in their backgrounds, characters cross paths in the streets, and events intersect in creative ways, often through the mysterious presence of Sam, the cutest little Halloween monster ever put on film.

In a nutshell, Sam is adorable.  He has little interaction with the story until the end, but exists simply as a presence, a small child-sized creature wandering the night and going door to door with his squeaking sack, appreciating those who honor the holiday and punishing those who don't.  Think of him as Halloween's Santa Claus.  That kills people.  I know Jack Skellington has the role of Halloween spokesperson all sewn up in the minds of pop culture, but I prefer Sam, an altogether more mysterious and dangerous spirit of the season. 

So, is the movie perfect?  Not quite, but close.  It's a little bit short, but it is to its credit that I wanted to spend more time immersed in that world with those characters.  The biggest flaw, in my opinion (and this is a bit of a spoiler, though not plot-related) is that there is a point in the film where Sam's mask comes off.  It was a rare stumble, I think, because no matter what sort of face was behind the mask, it was going to be a disappointment after the childishly creepy, blank, button-eyed stare of the burlap sack.  Still, it's a small bobble in an otherwise ideal movie, and it doesn't stop it from jumping into the top handful of my favorite horror films.  People on IMDB complain that it "wasn't scary" or had too few "Boo" moments or too little gore.  They're missing the point - It's not that kind of movie.  It's the kind of movie that makes you grin like a maniac when you realize what awful thing is about to happen to the loud bullies, or cackle as the cranky old guy learns that it's best to try and greet the world a little more politely on this night of nights. 

This is, in a nutshell, THE Halloween film.  I've seen a lot of Halloween horror movies over the years, and most simply take place on the night and use it as a backdrop.  TrT is about the night - Its spirit, history, and danger.  Enjoy it, love it, buy the DVD, and watch it with some kids as a repeating event for Halloweens to come...  Or better yet, give the kids the DVD and let them stay up late to watch it by themselves, alone.  They'll thank you for it later.

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