Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Trick R' Treat

In 1978, there was this little film released called Halloween. It was written and directed by a little known director by the name of John Carpenter, and co-written by his partner/girlfriend Debra Hill. It was, for almost thirty years, the reigning champion of the Halloween season, not only because of it's name, but because it was a damned well done, frighteningly suspenseful and tense film.

It's been unseated.

Trick R' Treat somehow manages to wrap all of what is best about the actual holiday called Halloween. It's an anthology film, every single one of them surrounding something having to do with Halloween. It's fun, it's spooky, creepy, sexy, slightly gruesome and incredibly well made. It's beautifully shot, beautifully written, beautifully acted and perfectly paced. By taking a series of interwoven stories, there's just never a dead spot (huh huh). Trick R' Treat manages to put all the things people who love the holiday, think and feel about it together into one film tying the whole thing together with a palpable sense of glee and real capital "F" quality film making. Trick R' Treat manages to capture the feeling of campfire ghost stories and neighborhood myths and legends every town in the country has. It gets the feeling of being a kid and walking up to the local "haunted" house and daring each other to go in. It's fun, creepy and exhilarating from start to finish.

Michael Dougherty wrote, drew and animated a short called Season Greetings in 1996. Seasons Greetings gave birth to the character Sam. Dougherty's desire to build a feature length film around Sam turned into Trick R' Treat. The animated short Seasons Greetings is included on the DVD. It's a great short film, and I am really happy Dougherty decided to give Sam a chance at jumping to feature length films. I'm not going to tell you too much about Sam, because you should either go buy or rent this film to find out for yourself, you won't be sorry you did. I can tell you Sam is the character in the poster above, and he's awesome.

I'm betting that having Bryan Singer (director of The Usual Suspects, the first 2 X-Men films and Superman Returns) as a producer helped Dougherty to bring in the cast he had. Though Anna Paquin certainly wasn't unknown when Trick R' Treat was made, but she wasn't the star of a run away hit television show by the name of True Blood at the time either. That came later. Brian Cox doesn't show up in many independent horror films, but he's in this one, and as always, he's awesome. Leslie Bibb, who has certainly not been hurting for work makes an appearance as well. Tamoh Penikett had yet to show up on anyone's radar, except possibly Joss Whedon's since he landed a role in Whedon's latest show Dollhouse following his appearance in Trick R' Treat.

Anna Paquin didn't have True Blood yet (it's second season just finished), and Tamoh Penikett didn't have Dollhouse yet (it's just begun it's second season) when Trick R' Treat was filmed and completed. Trick R' Treats original release date was October of 2007. Warner Bros. bought it after the festival screenings brought such great word of mouth and critical acclaim, then gave no explanation for pulling it from the slate of releases at the time. It doesn't take a genius to understand that no studio has wanted to releases a horror film in October for the last five, going on six, years. Saw. The Saw films have been the Halloween juggernaut for six consecutive years, and Warner Bros. didn't want to set this hard to market independent film they'd bought against such a behemoth. I almost understand that. But I've seen the film. I've also seen the Saw films (though the second one was the last one I paid for, I've seen the rest of cable). Trick R' Treat was also building a great buzz and a great word of mouth all the way back in 2007, but those of us who didn't get to go to one of the festivals it was screened at, got the shaft. Warner Brothers would not have had to do much to turn this into a hit theatrical release. Trick R' Treat could have been a big film. It's just fun enough to grab the young audience, just smart enough to grab the critical community and the film snobs, and fast enough not to lose the knuckle dragger who gets bored with anything that doesn't blow up or bleed every three minutes. It could have been the film to topple Saw and sever the hand gripped around Halloween at the movie theaters. Instead, it's getting dumped to DVD two years later.

The thing about Trick R' Treat is that it's a film that is not only well made enough, but also in a spirit which would have made it able to draw everyone who not only wasn't going to see Saw, but who were going to see Saw just because it was the only horror movie available on Halloween. Is it probable that most of the teenagers out there would have been going to see Saw, if for no other reason than to not be the kid at school who didn't see it. But, Trick R' Treat is a good enough film and had a strong enough word of mouth that the next weekend, they'd have been buying tickets to it, and not Saw. The truth is, Saw would probably have had a better opening weekend than Trick R' Treat, but I'd be willing to bet that the next two or three weeks (as long as there wasn't some other huge even film being released and possibly even if there was) would have belonged to Trick R' Treat because of the critical and audience reaction to it. It would have built on it's first weekend, instead of dying after it's first weekend, and Warner Brothers would have had a big hit on their hands, possibly a new franchise and some characters which would have been profitable in merchandising etc. Warner Bros. shit the bed on this one, a huge stinking pile they rolled around in for a while.

The truth is, Saw may have been a lucrative franchise for the last few years, but it's not going to own Halloween any longer. Trick R' Treat is going to be the Halloween film of choice for people around the country for years to come. You're not going to be seeing midnight showings of Saw on Halloween weekend in five years. You will see Trick R' Treat being shown, though, and you're going to see long, long legs on the DVD/Blu Ray sales for this one too. It will be a slow burn for a long time, and it will be the kind of film kids who are starting to get into horror films are going to be picking up to have in their home collections for a long time. Have no doubt, there is going to be a new king of the Halloween film showings and home marathons, and Trick R' Treat is the one. Thirty years from now, people are going to know about Trick R' Treat, and they're still going to love it. They're also going to roll their eyes at Saw.

This is why we all need to stop going to see bad sequels and remakes. Great original creations are getting shafted, and so are we as the general movie going public. We should have been watching Trick R' Treat in theaters around Halloween, all having a blast together. As for those of you who stumble across this and think you're too good for horror films, because they are often low brow and low on intelligence, go see films like Trick R' Treat or, as is the case now, pick it up on DVD. You don't have to be a horror hound to love this film. It's just that good an exercise in film making. If we support films like Trick R' Treat, we'll start getting more films of this quality, instead of clap trap, retread crap.

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