Trick 'r Treat weaves together five stories that take place in the small town of Warren Valley, Ohio. In one, a young couple (Leslie Bibb and Tahmoh Penikett) breaks the rule about not blowing out a jack-o-lantern before midnight (Why have I never heard of this, and why am I still alive?) and suffers the consequences.
In another, a high school principal (Dylan Baker) tries to conceal a dark secret buried in his backyard. His crabby old neighbor (Brian Cox) has troubles of his own when he discovers the perils of refusing to give candy to trick-or-treaters.
One such group of trick-or-treaters meanwhile embarks on their own adventure when they explore the local legend of the Halloween School Bus Massacre and find out that on Halloween, the dead don't always stay that way.
Finally, three young ladies looking to party try to get a fourth (Anna Paquin) to stop being such a prude. During her search for Mr. Right, though, she comes across a tall, dark and dangerous stranger.
The End Product
Trick 'r Treat just might be the best horror anthology of all time. It's a smart, funny injection of creativity into the arm of a genre that's gotten too comfortable of late with remakes and sequels.
The individual stories themselves aren't totally original -- involving the typical anthology format of wrongdoers doing evil until a twist delivers their just desserts -- but they're intertwined and told with such zest that everything feels fresh. The intermingling of plots in particular breathes new life into the decreasingly relevant anthology format, which typically segregates each tale. (Indeed, this film was originally conceived as a standard anthology with John Carpenter, George Romero, Tobe Hooper and Stan Winston directing separate segments.)
Seeing how well the stories in Trick 'r Treat mix, you may never want to see a standard anthology again. Jumping back and forth between stories (not to mention back and forth in time), there's never a stagnant moment, and the movie flies by in a flash, culminating in a rousing series of climaxes that tie together in an exquisite, surprisingly charming package.
First-time director Michael Dougherty delivers a wonderful debut, which he wrote based on a 1996 animated short he made in film school. He manages the daunting task of crafting a horror movie that appeals to both horror buffs and non-horror buffs alike. Its fondness for whimsy and old-fashioned scares -- like spooky bedtime stories -- are universal in appeal, while the sex and violence quotient is sufficient for the more hardcore modern horror fans.
The cast is unusually strong for a genre film, featuring Academy Award winner Anna Paquin (True Blood), Golden Globe Nominee Brian Cox (Red, the original Hannibal Lecter from Manhunter) and character actor extraordinaire Dylan Baker, whose delicious performance drives the movie's funniest moments.
Trick 'r Treat is the type of film that reminds you why you fell in love with horror movies -- and movies in general, for that matter. It's exhilarating when it has to be, hilarious when it's needed and clever throughout. It's hard to fathom why it's been shelved for so long -- maybe a lack of big-name stars, maybe it's tough to market a multi-plot film -- but a movie this strong generates word of mouth, and it should be given the opportunity to do so.
- Acting: A (Strong all around, particularly Dylan Baker, Brian Cox and all of the children in the film.)
- Direction: A (A wonderfully assured mix of quirky and creepy, capturing the folksy feel of a campfire tale.)
- Script: A (Cleverly woven stories with enough smarts to glide over any possibility of cliché.)
- Gore/Effects: B (Solid, but some of the makeup effects feel a bit on the budget side.)
- Overall: A (One of the highlights of the first decade of 21st century American horror cinema.)
Trick 'r Treat is directed by Michael Dougherty and is rated R for horror violence, some sexuality/nudity and language. DVD release date: October 6, 2009.