Playing the festival circuit for years before it finally got a direct-to-DVD release date, "Trick R Treat" was easily one of the most hotly anticipated horror titles of 2009. It had received rave reviews everywhere it played, and the online memeosphere played it up as one of the greatest horror films of the decade.
Well, it's not one of the greatest horror movies ever made. As anthology horror movies go, it's nowhere near as good as the stuff Amicus cranked out in the '70s. Still, it is pretty damn good, very atmospheric and I suspect it will go down as a holiday Halloween classic that will be playing cable for years to come.
The film does take a unique approach to anthology horror. Instead of just presenting three or four short horror stories, it mixes them up a bit, using characters in each other's stories, sometimes time shifting them, so the film plays a bit like Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." This makes multiple viewings quite reward-able, as you don't notice everything the first time around.
The film is of course set on Halloween, in a small town where the holiday is taken quite seriously by the townsfolk. The film opens with a yuppie couple returning home from the town's Halloween festivities. They make the apparent mistake of blowing out their jack o lantern before midnight and face off with an unseen killer -- setting up a minor theme of the film: People who break Halloween rules are done for.
Individually, the stories are not up to the level of Amicus, and there isn't much point in retelling them here without completely spoiling them. The best of the bunch probably involves a team of young women apparently in town to catch guys. Anna Paquin, of "X-Men" and "True Blood" fame, plays the "virgin" of the bunch who dresses up in a Little Red Riding Hood costume and faces off with yet another killer in the town. Needless to say, the killer gets more than he bargained for.
Another decent story: "The Halloween School Bus Massacre" is about a group of kids who visit a quarry at night where, years ago, a group of retarded kids were murdered by a school bus driver. It's pretty creepy.
Where the tales don't deliver is in their "Tales From the Crypt"-style twist endings, which all fall kind of flat. Tying every story together is the mysterious presence of "Sam," a child with a pumpkin knapsack on his head. The final tale shows us who and what Sam is and -- well -- it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But it's entertaining.
Where the film really succeeds is in its Spielbergian mood. "Trick R Treat" feels like a warped Spielberg film. Sure, it's the kind of movie Spielberg would never make -- quite a few kids die in it. But everything from its suburban setting, to its musical score, and the presence of so many kids in the cast, give it a really unique tone and feel that reminds of the suburban kid films Spielberg cranked out in the '80s, both as producer and director. Also, its "Pulp Fiction"-esque time-shifting narrative that enables us to see characters that we know are doomed to die, is another huge plus.
While it's not a perfect film, I believe "Trick R Treat" will go down as something of a cable TV classic because it definitely warrants multiple viewings. It's the best "Halloween" themed film in three decades too. Highly recommended. But don't go in to it expecting the masterpiece that the Internet memeosphere was touting it to be.