Abandoned for almost 2 years by Warner Bros., Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘R Treat makes its debut on DVD after a very limited theatrical run in North America. Perhaps due to a combination of studio politics and some concern by the marketing department on exactly how to handle a film with a child-like killer of sorts, Treat proves to be worth the wait for horror and Halloween fans desiring a refreshing spin on the seasonal event.
Doughtery’s main inspiration comes from eighties horror classics, a bit of Grimm’s morality, and some Tales from the Crypt – the latter ensuring the lead-up to grisly twists are very tense and atmospheric – but while the film could be regarded as an anthology film, Dougherty indulges in a bit of Rashomon, flipping between time-lines to show storylines of characters who are neighbours, friends, or happen to pass each other on the street.
The opening scene is actually the film’s finale, but it serves to introduce the shadowy persona of Sam, a child-like creature dressed in red pajamas and a sad-eyed burlap sack who metes out punishment when someone fails to follow the spirit of Halloween.
Although we eventually get to see what lies under the burlap mask, Sam remains an ambiguous character, and that might be the film’s only flaw; the lack of a defined function or clear explanation keeps him mythological.
What’s important about the interconnected stories – which include a couple who fail to leave their yard décor out all night, a child-killing principal who passes hatred down to his son, a cranky old neighbour whose decades-old secret comes out after a kids’ prank, and a young girl dressed as Little Red Riding Hood who meets a wolf-wannabe – is that they’re conveyed with a perfect blend of humour, horror, and nostalgia, and much like a classic EC comic, the film delivers the shocks and thrills within a compact narrative.
Part of the films’ success also comes from an able cast that includes Dylan Baker as the killer principal, Leslie Bibb (Sex and Death 101) as the lollipopped Halloween Scrooge, Brian Cox as the ogre neighbour, and Anna Paquin as a not-so-nice Little Red Riding Hood. Both Paquin and Cox appeared in X2, and that film’s director Bryan Singer, also produced Treat with X2-co-writer Dan Harris.
Compositions by cinematographer Glen MacPherson (Rambo, The Final Destination) often mimic images from graphic novels, and the film’s editing by Robert Ivison (Stander) is strikingly seamless. Of equal note is Douglas Pipes’ orchestral score, particularly the main thematic material which evokes a cheeky Herrmannesque doom and gloom, and some eerie understated cues.
The DVD edition includes a widescreen and fullscreen version of the film, plus Doughtery’s firls work, Season’s Greetings, an animated short made in 1996, and a film for which the director also contributed original artwork.
Greetings is related to Treat because it mark’s the first appearance of Sam, although in the short the character is a mysterious figure who’s lured into an alley and manages to turn tables on an adult aggressor. Like the feature film, Doughtery keeps the tone very dark; both films contain disturbing concepts of children being brutalized onscreen, and whereas the violence happens off-screen in the short, there’s plenty of kid-trauma in Treat.
The short is accompanied by a director’s audio commentary track, but unfortunately for fans, the rest of the extras one would expect from such a personal film lie on the Blu-ray [BR] edition. Warner Bros. have made a point in authoring a standard DVD that’s a an unmitigated cheat: there’s no reason to house a full screen version of Treat (horror fans have no use for it, particularly when so much effort went into the film’s widescreen compositions), and the short appears twice on the DVD – with its original soundtrack, and with the commentary.
There’s no logic to include data-hogging, two copies of the short with different audio tracks when the standard convention is to present any film with switchable audio tracks, as with optional English and French dub tracks for feature films. This standard DVD edition wastes space on poorly conceived frills to justify the studio’s decision to restrict all other extras to the BR, which sells for a higher sum. Those fans wanting the definitive version of Doughterty’s film will have to upgrade to the BR edition.
Whether the standard DVD release is an attempt by Warner Bros. to author a split-run release – one for the Blockbuster rental market that’s indifferent to extras, and the BR for collectors, much in the way Fox handled Slumdog Millionaire – is unknown, but it makes no sense to apply a bonehead marketing scheme to a niche market, rather then a broad audience hungry for major blockbusters.
Doughtery’s film is extremely fun, but as a DVD release, this is a waste of money, and an insult.
Note: to read an interview with writer/director Michael Dougherty and composer Douglas Pipes, click HERE.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan