CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TRICK ‘R TREAT
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: It’s Halloween night. The streets are lined with glowing jack o’ lanterns. The PEANUTS GANG, dressed in Halloween costumes, approach the front door of a spooky old house and ring the doorbell. The door opens.)
PEANUTS GANG (in unison): Trick ‘r treat!
(A pale, bony hand reaches out and deposits candy into the various trick or treat bags.)
GHOST: I got candy!
WITCH: I got gum!
VAMPIRE: I got a cookie!
CHARLIE BROWN (groans): Awww, I got a rock.
(Suddenly, a huge boulder falls from above and crushes CHARLIE BROWN and his friends.)
L.L. SOARES (sticking his head out second story window): No, what you had was a pebble. NOW you have a rock!
MICHAEL ARRUDA (sticks head out window and looks below): You do realize you’ve just crushed one of the most beloved characters in American comics?
LS: He had it coming.
MA: Oh well. I guess it’s not all bad. Some people love crushed peanuts.
Anyway, today we’re reviewing TRICK ‘R TREAT (2008), now available on DVD. Although TRICK ‘R TREAT generated a lot of buzz in 2008, it never got a theatrical release and went straight to DVD. We’ll give our thoughts on why this might have happened.
Actually, I can tell you right now why this happened. Because TRICK ‘R TREAT is not a very good movie. It’s that simple. The better question, I think, is why it generated such buzz in the first place?
LS: I thought it was a mixed bag. But like you, I have no idea why it generated as much buzz as it did within the genre. This movie did not live up to the hype.
MA: The biggest problem I had with TRICK ‘R TREAT is its story, or in this case, its lack of story. There are actually four stories in this movie, so the fact that none of them work makes things even worse.
As you would expect in a movie called TRICK ‘R TREAT, the action takes place on Halloween night. After a pre-credit murder sequence, which I thought was predictable and unimpressive, the story jumps backwards to a time that is “earlier.” The movie does this several times, and at one point, even jumps ahead only to jump back again. It’s all very confusing. While I applaud different approaches to storytelling, I like them better when they have a point to them, and in this movie, I failed to find the point of moving back and forth through time.
LS: It looked like it was TRYING to be like a horror movie version of PULP FICTION (1994), the way it played around with time. I didn’t mind it as much as you did, and I didn’t find it confusing at all, but it also didn’t really add very much to the proceedings here.
MA: TRYING is the operative word here.
But back to the stories. We meet Principal Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker), an unsavory character who promptly poisons a young trick r’ treater before burying him alive, all while his young son talks to him from his bedroom window. Nice guy. This is supposed to be funny, and for a few moments it is, but it’s mostly ruined by muddled storytelling. I mean, who is this guy? Why is he so weird? Why is he doing these things? I don’t know. And, as a result, I didn’t care all that much.
LS: Yeah, nothing in this story is very well developed. What is this guy’s story? He’s a school principal, for chrissakes. How is he able to do such awful things without repercussions. It’s not like he’s particularly smart about hiding what he does. And yeah, there are aspects of this story that are supposed to be funny, like the twist ending. But it doesn’t provide much in the way of laughs. It’s kind of a throwaway story.
MA: This story is interspersed with three others. There’s a group of trick or treaters who had gone to Wilkins’s door “earlier” who we follow to a rock quarry where they tell the story of a group of mentally challenged trick or treaters who were killed on a school bus when a plan by their parents to get “rid” of them went awry, and the bus on which they were riding crashed, killing them all.
Nice story, huh? It’s an ugly idea, that of parents wanting to rid themselves of their mentally challenged children. It turned me off, to be honest.
LS: That brings me to something I’d heard about why the movie never got a theatrical release. Supposedly there was some problem with the way children are victims of the gruesomeness in the movie, and that’s why it didn’t make it to theaters. I have no idea how true this is, but if so, that’s a pretty silly reason for it not to get a chance.
MA: Well, if you’re going to make children victims, there’d better be a good reason for it. This movie doesn’t offer a good reason, so it becomes superficial and in poor taste, and if the movie failed to earn support because of this, then it serves the filmmakers right for not seeing this issue ahead of time. Then again, they also could have gone out and made a more gripping movie. That would have helped.
LS: As for the story about the children who die in the bus accident, I thought it was actually one of the better stories. At least it has spooky kids who come back from the dead. That’s always fun.
(The doorbell rings. LS opens door and a group of kids dressed in Halloween costumes shout out, “Trick or treat!”)
LS: As in, I make you disappear! PRESTO!
(LS reaches up and pulls a string. A trap door opens and trick or treaters fall through and disappear with a loud cry.)
MA: Who was at the door?
LS: Just some trick or treaters. I took care of them. We ran out of candy, anyway.
MA: I wonder why.
(Close-up of LS’s face, smeared with chocolate)
MA: I thought I heard a scream.
LS: Kids always scream when they see me.
MA: I know, but— I just thought, that maybe you were dropping boulders again.
LS: Nothing so sinister.
(There’s another knock at the door. MA opens it this time. The trick or treaters, covered in dirt, jump up and down.)
KIDS: Can you do that again?
LS: Sure. (Pulls string. Kids scream in delight and free fall through open trap door.) (turns to MA) And you thought I was up to no good.
MA: Silly me.
There’s also a group of young women in search of dates, in the film’s weakest segment. This story is particularly boring. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious masked killer on the loose, who may just be a vampire. After killing one young woman, the killer eventually crosses paths with the women seeking dates, and there’s a surprise twist, as the women aren’t who they appear to be.
LS: Yeah, yet another “twist” ending that wasn’t all that unexpected, or satisfying. I didn’t like this particular story at all, despite the presence of Anna Paquin (Sookie Stackhouse from the excellent HBO series TRUE BLOOD), who I like a lot, as one of the girls. I especially found the identity of the “masked killer” to be really annoying. He certainly deserves his “comeuppance” but it still struck me as very lame.
MA: The final story involves an old man Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), the town curmudgeon, who gets to be terrorized by a creepy little trick r’ treater kid in a scarecrow mask who has previously appeared here and there throughout the film.
LS: I thought the story about Mr. Kreeg and the monster dwarf was easily the best segment in the movie. It’s also the most simple, straight-forward story.
MA: I found it boring. Eventually, the story moves backwards and returns to the opening murder sequence, and so this movie ends as it began, with a predictable and unimpressive murder. It’s a complete waste of an idea. If you’re going to do this, give us something new to chomp on, something we didn’t know before, something that changes what we saw the first time. Unless I missed it, that “something” doesn’t exist here.
TRICK ‘R TREAT was a very muddled movie. I thought the stories were all over the place, and as a result, I could never get into this movie.
Each story in the film had problems. While I liked weirdo Principal Steve, and while I enjoyed Dylan Baker’s performance, he’s not given all that much to do, and so we never really get to know who he is or why he does what he does. Still, for pure entertainment value, Steve was my favorite character. He was quirky and funny, but sadly, he was stuck in a story that was dull and as shallow as the grave he digs in his backyard.
LS: I like Dylan Baker, but I didn’t care about his storyline or his character at all. He was kind of aggravating.
MA: I thought the story of the girls looking for dates was horrible. The women were boring and superficial, and their story was even worse. The twist in their story was all right, but it shouldn’t have been how their story ended. It should have come in the middle of their story, and more should have happened afterwards.
LS: Yep, it was pretty lame.
MA: The story of the kids on the bus was just as bad. The biggest problem with this one was the characters who were telling the story, present day kids who were talking up the school bus tragedy as a ghost story, were boring as hell. I didn’t care for any of them.
LS: Yeah, I wasn’t too keen on the kids in “modern day” either. Although I thought it was slightly funny when they got theirs, only because they were so annoying.
MA: The final story wasted a talented actor like Brian Cox. As Mr. Kreeg, Cox got to go around in hermit get-up and act as if he were drunk or something. But the absolute worse part of this story was that it stole from other movies. The scene where the little scarecrow killer slices Kreeg’s foot is right out of PET SEMATARY (1989), and even worse, the scene where a severed hand runs across the floor to re-attach itself to the scarecrow’s body is INCREDIBLY similar to a scene from John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982). Cox’ Mr. Kreeg even utters the same exact reaction line, “You’ve got to be f***ing kidding me!” Did they really think we weren’t going to notice these things?
LS: It must have been a “homage.” (laughs)
I dunno, the last story was my favorite. It definitely seemed derivative of things we’ve seen before, but I like Brian Cox a lot, and the little monster was kind of cool. It also shared a vibe with the classic African Zuni fetish doll segment in another (far superior) anthology film, TRILOGY OF TERROR from 1975. For some reason, the idea of a normal-sized person struggling against an evil dwarf creature never gets old.
MA: I don’t know about that. It was pretty decrepit here. And I like Brian Cox a lot, too, which is why I think I didn’t like this segment all that much. Mr. Kreeg wasn’t much of a part for him.
(The doorbell rings and a kid dressed in a scarecrow mask is standing there)
MA (jumps back): Whoa! (composes himself.) L.L. it’s for you.
LS: Hey, it’s the little scarecrow kid from the movie! Want some candy?
MA: I wouldn’t get too close to him if I were you.
LS: Calm down. He won’t hurt us. Will you little guy?
(LS bends down and puts some candy in the kid’s pillow case. The KID jumps on LS and starts pounding on his head)
LS: AAAARGH! Get this kid off me.
MA: I tried to tell you, but noooo, you wouldn’t listen. He won’t hurt us, you said. Let’s give him some candy, you said.
LS: Will you just get him off me???
MA: Stand still. I can’t grab him if you keep moving around!
(LS finally flings him off and he ends up in the rose bushes outside)
KID: Ouch! These thorns hurt. (Kid takes off his mask to reveal it’s DENNIS THE MENACE!)
DENNIS: Hey, you guys aren’t Mr. Wilson.
MA: You’re just realizing that now? He lives two blocks over.
DENNIS: Ooops, sorry about that (runs away)
LS: Little jerk.
MA: As I said before, the action switches from “earlier” to “later” and then to “earlier” again. I liked the fact that it didn’t play like a traditional anthology horror movie, but the stories were way too weak for this movie to work. It really seemed like a screenplay that left the shop too early. It should have stayed for a couple more rounds of editing and re-editing.
LS: Do you mean like we do with this column? I think this is Round 8.
MA: Writer/director Michael Dougherty also wrote SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) and X-MEN 2 (2003). While I didn’t love these movies, I thought they were okay, and they didn’t have the same story problems as TRICK ‘R TREAT. So, it’s not as if Dougherty can’t tell a good story.
LS: I actually thought SUPERMAN RETURNS was better than most critics gave it credit for. And I think X-MEN 2 might have been the best of the first three X-MEN movies. So I agree that Doughtery has talent. But like you said, this one is kind of muddled, and all four stories are definitely not of equal quality.
MA: I thought the movie looked good, and seeing all the trick or treaters and all the Halloween decorations, I was reminded of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978), and this was a good thing.
LS: Yeah, I will admit, the movie does look good.
MA: But nothing in this movie jumped out and grabbed me. As a result, TRICK ‘R TREAT isn’t even a mixed bag. It’s an empty bag. The only thing keeping this one from being a complete disaster is the fact that it looks good and it’s got some star power.
I give it 1 ½ knives, and I don’t recommend it.
LS: An empty bag? I dunno, there’s an apple at the bottom.
(LS reaches into a pillow case and pulls out an apple, which he eagerly bites into. However, a razor blade inside cuts his teeth)
LS: Ouch! I always fall for that trick!
MA: So, it’s a bad apple instead of an empty bag! Either way, it’s not worth your time.
(LS growls and throws the apple outside into the bushes)
LS: I think I liked it a little more than you did. I didn’t completely hate the story about the kids in the school bus. And I actually enjoyed the Brian Cox segment. So based on that, I’ll give it two knives. But it’s definitely not something to write home about.
(LS sighs) Another movie that did not live up to its reputation.
(The doorbell rings yet again.)
MA: Ten to one it’s that little voodoo guy from TRILOGY OF TERROR. (Opens the door and sees a gigantic furry ape foot in the doorway.)
LS: Is it that little bugger again?
MA: Nope. Someone much bigger.
(CUT to KING KONG walking along the street, carrying MA and LS in giant-sized, transparent trick or treat bags in each hand.)
MA: How do we keep getting ourselves into these predicaments?
LS: It’s just the nature of the business. Anyway, think of the publicity!
(LS & MA start waving to the gathering crowd below.)
LS (yelling):Cinema Knife Fight! Read Cinema Knife Fight! Tell all your friends!
MA (yelling): King Kong loves Cinema Knife Fight!
Well, folks, we’re not sure where we’re going here, but when we get there, we’ll be sure to review another movie.
LS: See you then! Maybe we’ll get a tour of Skull Island!
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
This movie is currently available on DVD.
Michael Arruda gives TRICK ‘R TREAT - 1 and a half knives
L.L. Soares gives TRICK ‘R TREAT – 2 knives