Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #279
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: December 9, 2007
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States, Canada
Box office: $5,107,736
Running time: 82 minutes
Director: Michael Dougherty
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty
Producer: Bryan Singer
Special Effects: Bob Comer
Visual Effects: Charlene Eberle, Matthew Gratzner, Bruce Woloshyn
Cinematography: Glen MacPherson
Score: Douglas Pipes
Editing: Robert Ivison
Studio: Legendary Pictures, Bad Hat Harry Productions
Distributor: Warner Premiere
Stars: Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Leslie Bibb, Rochelle Aytes, Quinn Lord, Lauren Lee Smith, Moneca Delain, Tahmoh Penikett, Brett Kelly, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Alberto Ghisi, Samm Todd, Connor Christopher Levins, James Willson, Patrick Gilmore, Troy Everett
Suggested Audio Treat
 Marilyn Manson “Sweet Dreams”
 Douglas Pipes “Main Theme”
All Hallow’s Eve is almost upon us Grueheads. That’s right, it’s time to start carving those pumpkins, dusting off your jack-o-lantern masks and stocking up on candy as the ankle-biters will soon be out in force. Personally I don’t think enough fuss is made of this particular holiday season, there was a day when everyone got their spook on but those times appear to have sadly passed, at least in the United Kingdom. It saddens me to see such a delicious opportunity for impish behavior and tomfoolery pass us by year after year, thus I have decided the best course of action to reignite its fading fortunes. There is no other Halloween movie which rejoices so much in tradition and is deserving of our hard-earned confectionery than Michael Dougherty’s criminally under-hyped Trick ‘r Treat.
Originally slated for theatrical release in October 2007, Warner Bros in their infinite wisdom, decided to pull the plug at the 11th hour, presumably as they figured cinema-goers would rather spend their money on yet another Saw sequel. It ended up in perpetual limbo until, two years later, it finally appeared on DVD as some kind of afterthought. And this considering its cast included Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Leslie Bibb and Anna Paquin. I consider this to have been one of the great cinematic bungles of our time, granted it may not have set the charts alight and may have even sunk without a trace, but at least it would have received the treatment of which it is wholeheartedly and unreservedly deserving. I would go as far as to suggest that it single-handedly restored my faith in both the Halloween season and anthologies. Not since Creepshow has a compendium hit pay dirt with such consistency.
Traditionally when appraising an anthology I do so in segments so as to sort the wheat from the chaff. I will not be doing so on this occasion as there simply isn’t any silage. Instead Dougherty’s film tells five delectable fables, all based on Halloween folklore, and weaves them together seemingly in a cohesive whole. Characters overlap, tales interlock, but one thing remains habitual and that is the quality. There is no weak link to be found and it’s fruitless picking a favorite, as each strikes the perfect balance between fun and fear without exception. It doesn’t try too hard to be clever, there are no revolutionary spins on the old formula, just a fistful of candies which share the same exquisite flavor. Dougherty leaves it to some other dufus to reinvent the wheel and instead puts all his time and energy into making sure it hasn’t got a flat. If it ain’t broke…
The stories each take place at varying time frames within one Halloween night. We have a young woman (Bibb) paying dividends for taking her decorations down before the witching hour; a mild-mannered school principal (Baker) who moonlights as a vicious serial killer; a bunch of bickering kids who head down to the local quarry to investigate the infamous School Bus Massacre; a virginal vixen (Paquin) who is harboring something hairy under her red riding hood; and a cranky old codger (Cox) who finds himself terrorized in his own homestead for slamming the door in the faces of one too many passing trick or treaters. They have a common thread, that being a little boy with a burlap sack over his head, and this is preferred to an overarching storyline or spoon-feeding narration. And they’re a breath of fresh air.
A chief factor in the success of this picture lays on the doorstep of Dougherty. A self-confessed jester at heart, he spent most of the shoot pulling pranks on the cast and crew, like a little boy in a toy store surrounded by wind-up teeth. He knows his facts, has done his research, and knows exactly what beats at the heart of the Halloween festivities. Disinterested in taking a gritty approach, he wisely hones in on the celebration and the joy to be gleaned from telling ghost stories around a campfire whilst toasting marshmallows. Despite his jovial manner, he isn’t afraid to sacrifice a few lambs, in particular those pesky adolescents we crave to watch dismantled. This could be considered a little mean-spirited but what he takes away with one hand, he gifts tenfold with the other.
Glen MacPherson’s stylish cinematography and Douglas Pipes’ rousing musical score are both key ingredients in Dougherty’s bubbling cauldron of chills; and the cast, all of which are uniformly excellent, provide impeccable seasoning to the dish. The final package is so utterly polished that it begs but one simple question; Why? Obtaining widespread distribution can be a frustrating pursuit at the best of times but Trick ‘r Treat is no mere also-ran and even has Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) on production duties so what gives? It’s an indisputable classic of our times and the spiritual successor to George A Romero’s majestic five-fingered feast Creepshow. Maybe the sequel, which is planned for a 2015 release and features a return to the helm for Dougherty, will receive the treatment it duly deserves. One thing’s for damned sure; I’ll be at the front of the queue for the first midnight showing.
Anthologies are a hard act to pull off with conviction and many fail to find the balance between laughs and scares. In addition, its Achilles heel is often sourced in its weaker links, but this isn’t the case with Dougherty’s magnum opus. It was left percolating for over a decade, since his animated short Season’s Greetings lit the jack-o-lantern. Thank Samhain, he kept faith. If my heart ruled my head then I would be tempted to award his frightfest a perfect score but this would be over compensation for the fact that it endured such a torrid time making it to our screens. Instead, I leave you with this – whatever you have planned for All Hallow’s Eve, change it and bag yourself some true Halloween candy.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: It’s tone may not be particularly tenebrous but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fair helping of deliciously rendered grue or a few bare-chested harpies to keep our temperatures rising. We get agonizing broken bones; slashed throats and tendons; blood geysers and, my own personal favorite, mutilated minors for our paltry entry fee. Throw in a gaggle of scantily clad lycanthropes dressed in basques and stockings and you have yourself one hell of a treat.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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