Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

*. This was a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t heard much about it, even though it was quite well received. It didn’t have a theatrical release (though it performed well on the festival circuit) and came out direct-to-video. Since then it’s gained a bit of a following, though I wouldn’t call it (as some have) a cult.
*. As with so many successful genre flicks, it works mainly by giving just the slightest twist to our expectations. So what we have here is an anthology horror flick that doesn’t proceed the usual way with a frame narrative (however slight) and a linear format but instead adopts the Pulp Fiction method of telling a bunch of casually interrelated stories in a way that folds back on itself. There’s nothing wildly innovative or ground-breaking about that, but it does bring the anthology horror into the twenty-first century. More so than the later anthology horror franchises would. The V/H/S and ABCs of Death series would have even shorter films, and use a shaky cam, but are far less of an advance in terms of structure.
*. That said, as with all successful genre flicks it also sticks close to the conventions. Right from the comic-book opening credits that remind us of Creepshow, through all the little in-jokes and nods to the classics. John Carpenter is referenced several times, and indeed I’ve heard that Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox) was supposedly made to look like Carpenter. Meanwhile, the individual stories are all horror staples, again presented with a bit of a twist to keep them fresh. There’s nothing too unexpected (except for the end of the first story, which surprised me), but it’s not just a reworking of old themes either.
*. If this is 2007, why are the young couple watching porn on a VHS tape? Would people their age even know what a VCR was?

*. This was writer-director Michael Dougherty’s baby and he deserves a lot of credit for making a film that looks this good and is this tight (there’s a run time of only 82 minutes). Again, there’s nothing completely new here, but there’s enough to keep you involved. The central role that children play in so many of the stories is one thing. Another is the way the bystander effect comes in to play on several different occasions. A third would be the character of Sam.
*. The imp Sam (short for Samhain, though this is not a name used in the film) is a fun creature. With his big head and footed onesie he looks like a cartoon baby, and indeed he began life as a cartoon in an animated short produced by Dougherty. He also seemed to me to be someone who was very much projected as a franchise figure, though despite rumours of a sequel one hasn’t appeared yet.
*. Again, the character of Sam isn’t something totally new, but he’s new in this context. The final story casts Mr. Kreeg as a Halloween version of Ebenezer Scrooge, someone who has to be brought through supernatural means to come to an understanding of the true meaning of Halloween. In Krampus Dougherty would return to the same theme, but I think it fits better here.
*. If I had any complaints about the plot they would be (1) the scheme to trick the witch girl in the quarry is far too elaborate for what seems to be almost no payoff, and (2) the ending doesn’t make Kreeg’s identity clear enough. That photo he’s burning really doesn’t make the case on its own. And why would he (still) have such a photo anyway? Why burn it now? I think Dougherty needed to come up with something a little clearer to close the circle here.
*. I wouldn’t call Trick ‘r Treat brilliant or funny, but it is clever and has some wit. In 2007 that was enough to make it stand out, and still stand out in a tired and disappointing genre.

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