Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

trick-r-treatA lot of movies take place on particular holidays but a true ‘Holiday Movie’ really steeps itself in every aspect of the day it’s representing. In general I find that Christmas movies are the best example of this as they are so often packed to the gills with festive imagery and (gag) “heartwarming” sentiment. Well, for those of you looking for a film that honors a darker holiday with the same level of detail and enthusiasm you’d be hard pressed to find one that does it better than Trick ‘r Treat.

The movie consists of four interwoven stories that all occur in the same suburban town on Halloween night: A murderous school principal (Dylan Baker) struggles to hide his victim’s body; A young woman (Anna Paquin) tries to find the perfect guy for her “first time”; A group of kids explore the site of a child massacre and a grouchy old man (Brian Cox) contends with a very unusual trick ‘r treater.

There are certainly different ways to present an anthology film but if you are going to have interconnected stories this is the way to do it. The stories flow into each other seamlessly as opposed to feeling awkwardly forced together like in some anthologies. The characters also cross over into each others’ stories in significant ways rather than just with token appearances.

This fluidity can be largely attributed to the fact that Michael Dougherty wrote and directed the entire film instead of giving each segment to a different director. While I do like the collaborative nature of anthologies made by multiple artists, it can also backfire when the styles are too at odds with each other. In this case, Dougherty’s slick, cohesive production is proof positive that he was up to handling the task solo.

But cohesion aside, without a solid story, a film has no chance of holding your interest. Luckily, Trick ‘r Treat easily delivers in that aspect as well with a storyline that is fun, engaging and surprisingly dark. The film certainly doesn’t shy away from violence or disturbing subject matter and will keep you on your toes with an unpredictable plot where no one is guaranteed to make it out alive. In addition, the film delivers on some solid moments of black comedy (especially from the principal, that wacky child murderer) that add levity without bringing you out of the world of the film.

The entire production also feels incredibly professional with solid acting across the board and a sleek, polished look. In essence, a film that has the production value of a Hollywood movie with an unconventional indie storyline, which is the combination you’re always hoping for but rarely get. When you toss in the fact that the film is packed with wall to wall Halloween imagery, you get a movie that not only properly honors the occasion but deserves to be put on the annual viewing list with other holiday classics.

4-stars-red

Tales of Halloween (2015)

tales-of-halloweenAs someone who loves horror anthology films, I’ve been glad to see that they have become far more commonplace recently. From films like The ABCs of Death and V/H/S (which have both spawned sequels) to stand-alone titles like The Theatre Bizarre, Trick ‘r Treat and others, the past decade has seen a resurgence in such anthologies. But they aren’t just more plentiful, they are in fact better than ever and the short film format allows filmmakers the freedom to take even more creative risks than they would in a feature and can make for some very interesting watching. So, in keeping with this month’s Halloween-themed reviews I figured what better time than now to break out Tales of Halloween and see how it stacks up against the other anthologies.

Any time you have a collection of shorts there is bound to be a variation in quality but the important question is “does the overall experience work?” In the case of Tales of Halloween, there are ten short films all from different directors and there are certainly highs and lows to be found throughout. Some segments like ‘Ding Dong’, which is a contemporary spin of sorts on the Hansel and Gretel mythology, simply fall flat and come off as far too cartoony to be scary or engaging. On the other hand, the segment ‘Trick’ in which a group of adult friends are terrorized by a gang of violent trick ‘r treaters is not only delightfully gruesome but also features the most genuinely shocking twist in the anthology and is without a doubt the darkest entry. Also on a positive note, the segment ‘Friday the 31st‘ really goes for the throat with a gruesome, balls-out entry that features aliens, a deformed killer and a whole lotta wonderful carnage.

Some entries start off one way and finish on an entirely different note. ‘The Night Billy Raised Hell’ about a kid in a devil costume meeting the devil himself feels a bit too silly throughout but then is saved by a solid twist at the end. Conversely the entry ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ about a young woman stalked by a malevolent ghost as she walks at night does an amazing job building tension and dread throughout but is undercut by a weak final reveal. The rest of the segments fall somewhere in the middle but overall are fun, entertaining and bloody enough to keep you watching.

Now, if you are having trouble figuring out the title of the particular short you are watching or even differentiating one from the next, don’t be surprised because aside from the opening title sequence there is absolutely no information given about the name of the segment that’s playing. At first this seemed a bit odd for an anthology but then it became clear that they were doing the film in the same style as Trick ‘r Treat where the separate stories all flow together into one cohesive narrative. However, this film was less successful in that regard and it still feels like isolated stories that occasionally feature cameos from other segments but don’t really flow together as one solid piece. If they had kept them more clearly separated like The ABCs of Death it would have been more successful.

In the end, there are certainly differences between the stories but they all to play at about the same tone. Unlike The Theatre Bizarre which would sometimes delve into territory that was hopelessly dark and dismal (my favorite parts of course) Tales of Halloween stays relatively light-hearted and doesn’t really push the envelope far enough to be genuinely horrifying. That being said, the reoccurring theme of children being abducted that plays throughout many of the stories is itself a very horrifying concept, even if it is mostly played for laughs in this film. Bottom line, this is an entertaining collection that may have some flaws but is certainly a worthwhile way to pass the time as you crack open a few seasonal beers.

3 Stars Red

Halloween 2 (1981) vs Halloween 2 (2009)

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When Rob Zombie remade Halloween, his version was clearly outclassed by the original, but to be fair, he wasn’t that far off the mark and there were certainly things to be appreciated about his adaptation. This time he doubles down and tries his hand at reinterpreting Halloween II because, apparently, he just wasn’t ready to leave Haddonfield yet. So, does this version beat out the original sequel or is he once again outmatched by a classic? Well, let’s discuss.

The plot of the ’81 version is very straight forward and picks up exactly where the original left off, continuing the events of that fateful Halloween night. Michael Myers continues his bloody quest through Haddonfield to find and kill Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and eventually tracks her to the hospital she was taken to. As Dr. Loomis and the police search frantically all over town for him, Michael begins brutally dispatching staff in the sparsely populated hospital as Laurie tries desperately to evade him.

Over the years I had heard a lot of negative criticism of Zombie’s version of the sequel and when I finally sat down to watch it, I was surprised and frankly wondered what everyone’s fucking problem was. It seemed to be a pretty faithful adaptation that followed Michael on his bloody quest to finish off Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) in the hospital. The fact that it was true to the source material but featured top-notch, contemporary gore effects and a great visual style meant it was shaping up to be very stiff competition for the ’81 version. But of course Zombie just couldn’t leave well enough alone and about thirty minutes in…..everything changed.

Alright, spoiler warning here but just as the action in the hospital is really building in intensity, Zombie decides it’s time to pull out the most cliched device in filmmaking……it was all a dream. Yep, the film cuts to Laurie waking up two years later and it turns out she went to the hospital without incident and everything in the Halloween II remake we had watched so far was just her dream. What….the…FUCK! So, now we throw out everything we’ve seen so far to start an entirely different movie, one where Michael’s body is still unaccounted for, Laurie has PTSD but there is no immediate danger.

Currently, Laurie is living with her surviving friend Annie Bracket (Danielle Harris) and her father Sheriff Lee Bracket (Brad Dourif). The bulk of the remaining film that follows seems to be designed as an endurance test for the audience’s patience as we watch Laurie go to therapy, go to work, have emotional breakdowns….eat pizza, you get the idea. This is of course when we aren’t following around Dr. Loomis on his book promotion tour, a subplot so inconsequential to the storyline that it could have been cut out completely without anyone noticing. Zombie has also seen fit to transform his character from selfless vigilante to self-centered asshole who’s outlandish, rude behavior is supposed to supply some sort of comic relief.

Of course, Michael Myers does start to make an appearance here and there, popping up for some kills that are not at all relevant to the plot but at least provide some gory entertainment amidst the dull melodrama of Laurie’s story. “Where has he been the last two years” you ask? Apparently, just homeless, living in the wilderness and inexplicably killing time instead of people while he waits for his giant beard and Rob Zombie hair to grow out. He is also visited by visions of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who eggs him on to kill although this seems like little more than a ham-fisted way for Rob Zombie to get his wife into more of the movie.

While the remake may be bloated with extraneous plot-lines and melodramatic characters, the ’81 version is the antithesis and presents a tightly paced, tense, engaging slasher that is arguably the best of the entire franchise. Considering how well that film still holds up today, there is really no reason to drastically alter the story and the only logical direction to take with a remake is to maintain the central plot and beef up the production value with slick visuals and modern gore effects. While the remake may have still felt unnecessary, it could have been more successful because gorgeous brutality is where Rob Zombie truly excels.

For all the issues with the story in his version I do have to give him credit for creating a film that is visually stunning, with amazing cinematography and vicious, realistic kills. Honestly, for the amount of sweeping changes he made, it’s confounding that he didn’t just make a completely different movie rather than another Halloween remake. Hopefully, in the future he will stick to creating his own beautifully deranged films and leave the classics alone.

 

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Halloween (1978) vs Halloween (2007)

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I remember back when I first heard that Rob Zombie was doing a remake of Halloween and my initial thought was “How the fuck could anyone remake that?! That movie’s perfect!” However, nostalgia has a way of clouding memory so I was curious to watch them back to back with an open mind and see if the original was in fact as perfect as I remembered it being.

Both films follow the same basic plot in which a young Michael Myers murders his older sister and is subsequently locked away in an insane asylum that he escapes from years later. He is relentlessly pursued by Dr. Loomis, his childhood psychologist, who knows that Michael is returning to Haddonfield to find his other sister and kill anyone who gets in his way. Aside from some scenes in the remake that pay homage to the original that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Some changes in the remake were relatively small like the fact that Michael is ten rather than six and that in the remake he also kills his sister’s boyfriend as well as his stepfather. Other changes however are so large that they fundamentally alter who he is as a character as well as his storyline as a whole. The biggest of these would certainly have to be the choice to spend multiple scenes establishing Michael’s home life as well as his progression into darkness and his time working with Dr Loomis in the institution. On one hand I respect that Zombie didn’t want to simply do a shot-for-shot remake and was trying to put his own spin on the mythology. On the other hand there were some significant problems with his approach, primarily centering on his interpretation of Myers as a character.

What makes Michael Myers so chilling in the original is that he is a representation of inherent evil, a seemingly ordinary boy that commits a murder for unknown reasons and then never speaks again. Having him be only six at the time makes it that much creepier as well. Zombie tries to establish him as more of a troubled, angry kid who is bullied (both at school and at home) and starts killing animals on his way to becoming a full fledged murder. We don’t know much about Michael’s childhood in the original but the fact that it seems to be a very ordinary, middle-class upbringing without any indication of abuse or trauma makes his sudden murderous turn and subsequent psychosis far more frightening and mysterious.

Furthermore, if Zombie is trying to sell Michael’s traumatic childhood as the reason for his psychotic behavior (a perfect storm as Loomis puts it) then we should have seen a far worse childhood than we did. Sure, his stepfather’s a dick but more of just an angry bully than anything else and nothing we see indicates he is actually physically or sexually abused. He also isn’t completely neglected since he has a mother that cares deeply for him. Truly there are people with far worse childhoods who don’t become murders and if you are going to approach it from that angle you really need to commit to it, not take a half-measure.

Now, I am no expert on mental health and I haven’t sat down and read the DSM from cover to cover but I do know enough to know that the remake presents a grossly inaccurate portrayal of what a true sociopath is. If he was an actual sociopath, he would be completely devoid of empathy and compassion at all times not just when it was convenient for the plot. In other words, the way he was presented in the original.

Speaking of the original I did happen to notice a few chinks in the armor this time around. It is of course an undisputed classic and a very important, influential horror film but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some areas where there is room for improvement. For instance, in the original Michael jumps into a car and is able to immediately drive it. He was six when he was put away and the throw-away line Loomis gives about someone at the institution probably teaching him doesn’t even come close to justifying his ability to do that or make any sense whatsoever. Neither does the fact that Loomis doesn’t think to report the highly recognizable car that Michael is driving as stolen even though he knows exactly where he is going with it. I would also knock the original for having Michael walking around in broad daylight in his super creepy mask without arousing suspicion but the same thing happens in the remake so I guess that aspect is a wash.

All in all I can’t say that the original is exactly perfect, but it gets the important things right in crafting a creepy, suspenseful slasher that is well acted overall and still holds up nearly four decades later. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to like in Zombie’s adaptation. He is, after all, an amazing showman and his version has enough blood, boobs and slick set-pieces to keep you entertained throughout (even if the scenes between Loomis and Michael as a boy do drag on way too long). So in and of itself the remake is fine for what it is but it’s over-the-top characters and excessive backstory make for a film that is easily outclassed by the haunting menace of the original.

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