Trick ‘r Treat first published by Little White Lies
With its omnibus approach to storylines, its EC-style brand of twisted morality and its opening credits styled to mimic a comic book’s flicking pages, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat instantly evokes the anthology format (re)popularised in the Eighties by Creepshow (1982), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), TV’s Tales From The Darkside and Tales From The Crypt – all of which in themselves already constituted a kind of horror that was nostalgic, looking back to the cartoon strips and television chillers of the 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed there is something traditional, something classical, in the festively macabre stories that fill Dougherty’s script, peopled as they are with such familiar-seeming bogey-men (and -women) as serial killers, revenant spirits, werewolves, and the masked embodiment of Samhain itself. Even the film’s introduction, a hokey black-and-white public announcement film giving advice on safe conduct during Halloween, returns us to a bygone, albeit not entirely innocent, age – even if the film’s setting is entirely contemporary.
“You should be careful, there are rules,” says one character near the beginning of Trick ‘r Treat, and he is right. One Halloween night, as costumed children go about a small Ohio town collecting bagfuls of candy, any of the townsfolk who fail to respect the ancient laws of Halloween find themselves getting their own darkly delicious deserts, according to a wickedly retributive justice that is as terrifying as it is blackly funny. Like the spirit of Robert Altman risen from the grave, Dougherty interweaves the different strands of his narrative with a healthy disinterest in the norms of chronology, and so introduces just the right amount of jigsaw-like tricksiness to keep his penny-dreadful treat smelling fresh – while the performances from a cast that includes Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Leslie Bibb and Anna Paquin are far above what might be expected from straight-to-DVD fare. It can only be assumed that some gruesomely fitting punishment awaits the studio executives who put endless bland remakes or unnecessary sequels into our cinemas while keeping horror as sophisticated, fun and original as Trick ‘r Treat from the big screen.
© Anton Bitel