Hallelujah, horror is fun again this year. First Drag Me to Hell. Then Zombieland. Now Trick ’r Treat — a horror anthology alive with the Halloween spirit. Chronologically, it comes last only because of a scuttling to DVD and Blu-ray.
Screenwriter Michael Dougherty (Superman Returns) filmed his feature-length debut in 2006 and saw it slotted, scratched and shelved for two years by Warner Brothers. One comfort: Dougherty can say he was onto the creep sackcloth mask motif waaaaaay before The Orphanage, The Strangers or Timecrimes.
More cheeky than chilling and over in a brisk 82 minutes, Trick ’r Treat is akin to sitting for a spell at a spooky campfire. (Apart from 21 Grams and Amores Perros, it’s also the decade’s best hyperlink movie.)
Just as it would be alongside a warm flame on a cool night, the spooky power of the myths and legends being spun is all in the style of the storyteller. Dougherty’s film delivers the mercilessly nasty goods with fluid grace and demented glee.
After a WB educational newsreel opening, the prologue pays horrific homage to Halloween and lays out the peril of breaking the holiday’s ground rules. Several stories then dovetail together, with weaving timelines.
A Poindexter-ish serial killer (Dylan Baker, excelling at stuffed-shirt bloodlust) embarks on a macabre misadventure in burial. A virginal college girl (Anna Paquin) dressed as Little Red Riding Hood runs afoul of a toothsome, and fanged, suitor.
Several younger kids dare to drudge up bad memories at the site of a tragic death. And a crotchety shut-in (Brian Cox) does battle with a demon that’s hard to kill.
Each segment is infused with a twist as wicked as its wit. Halloween is amusingly painted as a sort of frat-house holiday for inhibitions among the adults, and there hasn’t been a more comically grotesque scene of projectile vomit since Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
The film is also visually assured, with a robust, autumnal color palette courtesy of cinematographer Glen MacPherson. (MacPherson also generates ghoulish vibes from little details such as the slowly curling hair on the back of a hand.)
If Trick ’r Treat drags anywhere, it’s in the final bit — a drawn-out Trilogy of Terror mimic that nevertheless takes on dimensions both dastardly and Dickensian. Think A Christmas Carol, only with ghosts eager to carve, not mend, an old man’s heart. It’s got just enough gravitas, gore and goofiness to become appointment October viewing.