Trick 'r Treat

The long-delayed celebration of all-things Halloween is finally here. Was it really worth the wait?

Trick 'r Treat is a film that's been talked about (at least amongst online horror communities) for the best part of two years now. Originally slated for a Stateside cinema release back in October 2007, Warner Bros. withdrew the film from its schedules and left it languishing in the vaults with no explanation. Numerous theories started circulating, not least one rather ludicrous suggestion that the film was being buried as some sort of punishment to writer-director Michael Dougherty for the relatively poor box office performance of Superman Returns, which Dougherty has co-written.

Whatever the truth, buzz about the film began to build, bouyed by positive response to screenings at various film festivals. All of which led Warner Bros. to eventually give the film a chance this Halloween, albeit as part of its Warner Premiere range of straight-to-DVD releases.

Holiday treats
But does Trick 'r Treat live up to expectations? For the most part, the answer is a resounding yes. While it doesn't trump John Carpenter's seminal 1978 slasher as the ultimate Halloween movie, Dougherty's clever and deliciously mischievous anthology film is a wonderful celebration of every horror fan's favourite holiday.

The film interweaves four storylines, each telling their own tale of spooky misfortune and each providing a playful mix of scares and black comedy. Dylan Baker stars in one as an elementary school teacher who likes to spend Halloween exercising his psychopathic tendencies. Anna Pacquinn takes centre-stage in another as a young woman on her way to a party, hunting for the ideal date to take with her, only to end up being stalked by a mysterious hooded figure. Elsehwere there's a tale of childhood cruelty as an idiot savant is set up for a nasty prank at the place where a busload of mentally-handicapped children were killed 30-years earlier. Finally, Brian Cox stars as a cantankerous old man who has no time for Halloween, but ends up meeting his match in the form of a demonic trick or treater.

Rewarding viewing
While the individual stories are extremely entertaining in their own right, where Dougherty's film excells is in the way its interweaves them together. Cutting from one to another in a way that some have compared with Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (although for my money the structure here is far cleverer and the film rewards further viewings as you start noticing things playing out in the background of one shot that only fully make sense when you come to another story), the film plays around with the chronology of events in a way that continually raises a smile on your face.

Like another film we looked at this week, Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, and despite the odd smattering of gore and nudity, Trick 'r Treat is a film designed to delight rather than disgust its audience. There are jumps and scares, plus a wicked vein of black humour throughout, but ultimately this is a film designed to be enjoyed and to celebrate Halloween. And on those counts, it's succeeds spectacularly.

Good news, bad news
When it comes to this UK release, there's good news and bad news. The bad is that, for whatever reason, Warner Home Video has opted not to release the film on Blu-ray, unlike in the US (although fans of the film can always import the US BD, just like this writer did, safe in the knowledge that it isn't region-locked). The good news is that if you're happy to simply own the DVD, then this R2 disc sports many more extras than the R1 disc.

But, before we get to those, let's have a look at the disc's AV performance. Having had the chance to catch a digital presentation of the movie at FrightFest in London earlier this year and watched the US Blu-ray more recently, I have to say that the disc's anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack do a damned good job of replicating the intended look and sound of the film in a standard definition format. The imagery is warm and detailed, with excellent blacks and contrast levels evident throughout. Likewise, the audio is pleasingly expansive, with pervasive use of the LFE-channel and excellent dialogue reproduction.

Trick or treat?
Now, back to those extras. The sole extra on the R1 DVD is Michael Dougherty's 1996 animated short Season's Greetings, which first introduced his eventual Trick 'r Treat posterboy Sam, along with a brief commentary track for the 'toon by its creator. In addition to this, the R2 DVD also serves up The Lores and Legends of Halloween (a fairly comprehensive 28min documentary looking at the origins of the holiday and taking a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film), 17mins of Additional Scenes (with optional commentary by Dougherty) and a School Bus FX Comparison (a brief 1min look at the use of CG effects in a sequence from the film).

The only thing missing from the disc is the feature-length commentary for the film itself that is present on the US Blu-ray release, which is a bit of a shame, as it's a great track that talks about the shoot itself and points out lots of background gags that might otherwise go unnoticed. But, despite the absence of the chat-track, considering the quality of the film itself and the surprisingly low price-point Warner Home Video is pushing it out for, this portmanteau chiller is definitely more of a treat than a trick.

Warner Home Video, R2 DVD, £13 approx, On sale October 26