The anthology piece: It's something that has tantalized the true-blue horror fan since the earliest days of scary cinema ... and unfortunately it's often among the most disappointing sub-genres of the horror canon. Despite the classic status of titles like Dead of Night, Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, and Creepshow, the horror anthology is often treated like the recycling bin of our beloved genre. If you don't have the skill, the interest, or the attention span to create a complete film, hey, you could always slap three mini-stories into one clumsy lump and call it Nightmares or Deadtime Stories or Tales from the Hood.
In other words, most horror fans out there are always down for a new anthology piece ... if only they weren't so darn crappy all the time! But here comes good news in a double sense. Not only is the long-delayed but supremely enjoyable Trick 'r Treat one of the best horror anthologies since the early '80s ... it's also an instant addition to your late October viewing roster. Like my generation devours A Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation every December; like every hopeless romantic watches When Harry Met Sally near New Year's Eve; like every Jewish person I've ever met watches The Ten Commandments every April; Mike Dougerty's Trick 'r Treat will be yanked off the shelf come late October. Bet on it.
The anthology conceit works exceedingly well here, particularly in the way all the "separate stories" take place in the same town on the same Halloween Night. Without going into too much detail, and therefore spoiling some of the fun, I can tell you that the tales center on A) a group of hard-partying young hotties, B) an unpleasant bully and a mysterious neighbor, C) a mean-spirited hermit with a secret, D) a creepy old legend about a horrible school bus accident, and E) a few juicy surprises, intersections, and plot contortions. Oh, and there's also this awesome little monster who ties all the stories together. He's called Sam, and he represents the Halloween traditions that you might not understand ... but you sure better pay some respect to.
Trick 'r Treat is more or less a love letter to anyone who enjoys the playfully creepy Halloween season. Dougherty (best known for co-writing X-Men and Superman movies) is clearly interested in the spooky old origins of "All Hallows Eve," plus he's also got an obvious affection for many of the more "modern" horror conventions -- and the result is an old-school EC Comics-style creep-fest that will appeal to those who love the old horrors and the new in equal measure.
The high-end production value and surprisingly game big-name cast are what one would expect from a "big studio" horror flick, and its by now well-known that Trick 'r Treat was produced with a theatrical release in mind. (Cast-wise, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, and Dylan Baker are the standouts, but everyone seems to be having a good time with Dougherty's tone, style, and intent.)
For reasons too uninteresting for me to seek out, Trick 'r Treat has now been labeled as a "direct to video" flick, and it's unfortunate that that label still has a negative connotation to it. This nifty little anthology may have lost out on its theatrical release, but at least it can take solace in the fact that A) it's one of the best "DTV" horror films ever released, and B) a theatrical release is a fleeting thing, whereas a massive shelf-life as a Halloween season favorite, well, that's the sort of thing that every flick dreams of.