Friday, October 29, 2010


Okay. I’m really, very, very sorry. Last year I did a three part series on all things horror related during the month of Halloween. And I, uh, kinda’ promised I’d do it again this year.

Well, shucks. I lied.

Seriously. S’been a crazy year for me. Haven’t been able to focus nor set aside the time to really bring it, so-to-speak. But I want to contribute something – anything – since a) Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year and b) I truly love all things horror. Yes I do.

I love haunted houses, horror make-up, costumes, comic books, novels and movies. I was an honest to goodness freak as a kid. Last year I waxed on about being obsessed with Chiller Theater. Didn’t even mention my love for Aurora model kits, specifically my affection for Mr. Hyde and the Frankenstein monster with the glow-in-the-dark head option. But since we’re only a few days before the witching day descends, I’d like to offer my thoughts on two similar horror movies that have come out within the past few years.

The subgenre of the omnibus flick (or “Anthology Film” if you will) is a tricky thing to pull off when you’re combining seemingly unconnected short stories within a hopefully successful framing device. Some work better than others. The British outfit Amicus Films pretty much had the market on this during the late 60’s/early 70s. Although they couldn’t quite escape the stigma of being “Hammer-lite,” they provided some interesting product. My favorite was Asylum, probably their most creative take and with a pretty nifty framing device to boot. But they weren’t the first production company to present a series of horror stories as one movie. 1943’s Flesh And Fantasy (dir. Julien Duviver) and 1945’s Dead Of Night (directed by various filmmakers) may not be the earliest, but they definitely put the horror film portmanteau (it means “compendium.” And, yeah, I’m using it ‘cause it sounds fancy) on the map. Between them and Amicus you had Masaki Kobayashi’s beautiful Kwaidan, Roger Corman’s Tales Of Terror and one of my all time favs Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. The Fellini/Malle/Vadim collaboration Spirits of the Dead should fit in there somewhere as well. Let me know if I’m forgetting anything.

Anyhoo…  I’m not gonna’ talk about any of those. THAT was my longwinded introduction to two films I DO want to talk about and these are the films forthwith:

Trick R’ Treat. And Ha Prang (aka Phobia 2).

In the first of what will be two-part series, I shall elucidate on…

TRICK R’ TREAT (2008, Directed by Michael Dougherty)

A little context if you please. Last year I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly homeless due to a violation on my building’s part and the complete irresponsibility and awesome stupidity of my landlord. This had forced me into the position of moving in with my girlfriend who lives in a two-bedroom apartment, with one additional roommate and yet another vagabond like myself who had been invited to stay there temporarily. So here I was, a man close to middle age living in a coed, frat-like existence. And what do you do? You throw parties. Make the best of it. And you gather people ‘round the screen to watch a lot of movies.

One day I had procured Michael Dougherty’s Trick R’ Treat. I had heard a great deal of this, figured I’d like it at least and decided it was indeed worth purchasing even though I had not seen it yet. That night I planned to show a horror double feature to my newly christened roommates. To be honest, I should’ve put on Trick R’ Treat first. Instead, I showed ‘em REC. And nothing, I mean nothing should follow REC. You’d have a lot to live up to as that was one of the best horror films in the last ten years. And that might have proved to be the significant strike against Trick R’ Treat.

But I’m not gonna’ knock Trick R’ Treat. I actually liked it. In the way you might finally become friends with someone that you thought you had a crush on. But once you meet them, the spark isn’t there. It’s not that they’re unattractive. There’s just something about the dynamic where it will always remain platonic. That was my reaction to Trick R’ Treat. I heard a lot about this film. The whole internet buzz thing. And how this could be the next great horror movie. And I was really looking forward to seeing it. I really wanted to “love” it. Because it looked “hot.”

And seeing this after REC probably didn’t help much. Both films are an extension of what we’ve seen before: shaky-cam meets zombie flick and omnibus horror by way of Creepshow. But REC takes it’s seed and grows into a new direction. Whereas Trick R’ Treat… it’s certainly entertaining. And I’d definitely recommend it to someone but I wouldn’t play it a party so I can observe the reactions of my friends. I would consider it light entertainment. It’s very clever in how it interweaves each segment. Very similar to Pulp Fiction or Todd Solondz’s Happiness but without the weight. In fact, the funniest, most clever thing in the film was casting Dylan Baker in a role very similar to his creepy pedophile from Happiness. Albeit, the character from that film if conceived by EC’s Tales From The Crypt.

And Dougherty wears the Creepshow-Tales From the Crypt influence heavily on his sleeve. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The movie ends and closes with an effective credits sequence lifted from the pages of a graphic novel. But I wasn’t blown away by the film. I don’t think Dougherty is without talent but I felt like his direction was too on the nose at times. And I think the real fault lies in the construct of the film itself. The idea is: this is a town where all these crazy, effed-up things happen. Werewolves. Things that come back from the dead. Murderous little imps and serial murderers. In fact, the weird is so prevalent that it left no room for surprise. Anything could happen. Hell, if Godzilla made an appearance and ended the film by stepping on the entire town, I wouldn’t be surprised either. I understand the comfort of paying homage… but to what end? It felt too packed within a not that large geography.

Dougherty does have a wonderful creation in that child-like, spooky, masked whatsit. But his first introduction felt forced and unnecessary. Yes, I get he’s the spirit of Halloween and exists to punish people who don’t respect the traditions. But these “rules” seem arbitrary and made up for the conceit of the film. And that introductory moment featuring Leslie Bibb and her attempts to clean up her Halloween decorations -- it seemed too unwarranted. I would’ve preferred she got some sort of ominous warning. Something that would have really chilled her – and the audience – right down to the bone. And ended with her never making that mistake again. And I think that would make Brian Cox’s comeuppance all the more wicked… because we should be constantly guessing at what this demon kid is really capable of. And what his intent actually is.

The film also feels too short. The segments could have been further fleshed out. It was as if Dougherty was rushing to get to each dénouement. After watching this with the roommates, my girlfriend commented “I liked it. But it seemed like a good, made-for-SyFy Channel movie.” I do think it’s a better movie than that but it does fall short of being classic.

Coming up next: Phobia 2 (Ha Prang)

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