Over the course of a decade since its limited theatrical showings and surge of popularity on home video, Trick 'r Treat has developed a reputation for being a quintessential film to watch over Halloween or Samhain, or All Hallow's Eve; take your pick. It's tough to imagine a film capturing the many facets of the holiday's spirit quite so thoroughly, from the spooked-out observations of kids braving the dangers of the night for their candy to the adults pursuing other kinds of, uh, more mature "treats" while donning their own costumes. Closer in purpose to A Christmas Story than the likes of Halloween or Hocus Pocus, Michael Dougherty's freshman feature ties inextricably to the holiday's customs, atmosphere, urban legends and other moving parts, to such a degree that it makes it difficult to imagine watching Trick 'r Treat at other times of the year. As a mood-setter, you're not likely to find one that's more immersive and character-focused while conjuring the season's spirit; however, when looked at as a straight horror anthology outside the season, it's not exactly the most frightening of the pack.
Trick 'r Treat spins campfire tales centered on several loosely connected people throughout a small American town on Halloween, one that's decked out for the holiday season and puts on a parade-slash-party in its main downtown area. For the most part, the stories don't intersect with one another until the plot designs for them to do so, which gives the individual portions their own standalone "short story" properties. In some instances, Trick 'r Treat sticks to practical, real world horror impacted by urban legends; in others, the writing delves into the supernatural world of transforming beasts and creatures risen from the dead for the stage that it's setting. A uniting element comes in the presence of a young child wearing a burlap sack and orange jumpsuit who observes many of the activities going on throughout the evening, and it's no surprise that this kid, named "Sam", has become an iconic character among fans of the film, wielding one very dangerous sucker in his own pursuit of tricks and treats.
From tampered-with candy and the ritual of leaving lights on throughout the night to the possibility of real vampires and ghosts lurking underneath the costumes of both youngsters and adults, Trick 'r Treat clearly gets and adores the dark mixture of danger, merriment, and folklore that hallmarks Halloween. The world Michael Dougherty constructed acts like a crossroads between John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper movies: a small-town meeting place where both reality and the supernatural can coexist for an evening, which is pretty much what makes the holiday such a blast. By tilting it toward an R-rating, Dougherty can also spill a bit of blood and let the natural language of teens and young adults flow freely without catering to that broad "family-friendly" audience, arriving at that mildly macabre, vulgar point that's just taboo enough to ward of youngsters but not so gratuitous that older-leaning families can't enjoy the grossness and crassness involved. The atmosphere in Trick 'r Treat, photographed by Glen MacPherson with the orange blow of jack-o-lanterns in mind, feels the way that Halloween should.
Each of the five segments are structured like spooky stories that'd be told over a flashlight or campfire, too. Part of the enjoyment factor with Trick 'r Treat comes in seeing how the tales spring their surprises upon the audience with what true dangers lie underneath whatever story's being told, a dynamic that has both rewarding and adverse effects on the film's general pacing. The anticipation of arriving at each one's climax generates enough grin-inducing suspense to stay wrapped up in what's going on, yet Dougherty's efforts to conceal details and preserve the "scares" for the very end of the episodic tales -- especially in the segment featuring Dylan Baker as a murderous school principal and single father -- results in moody, comical, somewhat macabre leadups that are mostly devoid of genuine shocks. Dougherty has a great time with lightheartedness, double meanings and fakeouts that make this a morbidly satisfying viewing experience, and clever practical and digital effects keep Trick 'r Treat firmly locked into a horror atmosphere but, up until the endings, they telegraph chills and gross-outs instead of genuine fright.
Does Trick 'r Treat need to be that scary, though? After all, there's strength in Dougherty's characterization of both the town and its inhabitants; living vicariously through them as they experience the eerie idiosyncrasies of the holiday transforms into its own novel experience, one propelled by the almost comic-book caliber vividness of them all. Through his connection with the filmmakers involved with the X-Men franchise, Dougherty roped in some bigger-than-expected names to embody key characters: Anna Paquin brings her familiarly reserved, yet passionate demeanor to her role as a college-aged virgin hunting for "the one" to get it out of her system; Brian Cox wheezes his way through a depressed, Jack Russell-owning drunkard who torments trick-or-treaters. Most of the child actors do a bang-up job of representing the pranksters, tagalongs, and victims of the evening, all of whom get involved in how the film lashes out, almost in karmic fashion, at those who disrespect the intentions and balance of the holiday. Their reactions to the night's surprises fill the void left by the absence of traditional scares.
While the stories may be separate from one another, the execution of the setting and the transitions between the segments result in Trick 'r Treat having the appearance of a cohesive narrative, which adds impact whenever those stories manage to bump into one another during the evening's activities. Dougherty doesn't try to shoehorn links between them all in some attempt at greater importance, leaving them as tangential connections and novelties that only serve to elevate the impact of Halloween itself, all overseen by the ominous yet nondescript Sam as an avatar and keeper, of sorts. Bits-n-pieces of the film could feasibly work outside the confines of the Halloween setting -- notably, the segment featuring the escapades of Anna Paquin's Red Riding Hood-dressed virgin and whom ends up pursuing her -- but so much of Trick 'r Treat relies on inextricable ties to holiday that those who aren't big fans of those specific rituals and customs might not have enough horror substance into which they can sink their teeth. Dougherty lets his ode to Halloween be itself, though, and that's why it's such a treat.
For the longest time, the Warner Bros. release of Trick 'r Treat was one of the fun "prized possessions" in my Blu-ray collection, mostly because of the rare shimmering slipcase that covered the outside and, of course, because the film's a riot. Looks like it's going to be retired for this handsome release from Shout (Scream!) Factory, though: new artwork adorns the outer slipcase, while the inside cover design offers both that new artwork and the nifty Sam-focused design found on the film's promos and comic adaptation.
Video and Audio:
By the time Trick 'r Treat was released on Blu-ray from Warner Bros., many of the wrinkles had been ironed out in the transfer quality control department for those non-tentpole releases, so the crispness and color/shadow balance in the original Blu-ray -- a VC-1, by the way -- isn't too shabby. Shout Factory's transfer goes back to the negative for a new 2K scan, though, and drawing comparisons between the older transfer and this new 2.39:1, 1080p AVC treatment can be quite impressive. The most far-reaching comment to make about this new transfer comes in the fact that it's not nearly as heavy in saturation as the first iteration, toning down the glow of lights and the warmth of skin tones but also allowing more natural tones to peek through, especially pinkish hues. Details have been tightened as well, from the spattering of blood to the sheen of metal and the surfaces of pumpkins, while the overall grain structure has a finer, more fluid presence throughout. Contrast balance and depth are suitable in both releases, but this new transfer sports slightly richer black elements in certain areas and appropriately lighter shadows in nighttime sequences against the rest of the lighting, and the depth created by the contrast balance ends up much more convincing in this visualization, too.
Similarly, both the audio treatments for Trick 'r Treat offer up immersive, clear, satisfying pairings with the transfers, yet it's with some spot-checking that this DTS-HD Master Audio track stands above the Dolby TrueHD performance of the original. What stood out most was an increase in the width of the activity in the front channels: both possess tremendous separation and responsiveness, but this Master Audio track has fuller width from each channel and, as a result, even more credible separation in creation of a surround stage. Higher-end sounds like screams, blade snicks, and the rustling of leaves are crisp and natural throughout, while midrange and lower-end elements like the slamming of bodies against trees and on the ground have ample, tight heft to em. There's some atmospheric responsiveness to the rear channels, but for the most part it's the music -- eerie piano notes and Marilyn Manson riffs alike -- that lords over the back of the surround stage, doing so unobtrusively and with a nice degree of evenness with the effects from the front end. It's a tremendous Master Audio track and a healthy step up from the previous track.
A pretty even split between old and new extras can be found on the Blu-ray, in which everything from the previous release somewhat predictably shows up on Shout's thorough release. An Audio Commentary with Michael Dougherty, Concept Artist Beehn Burns, Storyboard Artist Simeon Wilkins and Composer Douglas Pipes can be played alongside the film, and the combination of these talents makes for a versatile and thorough track, not to mention jovial considering some of their mutual participation in developing the film long before it was made. They discuss shooting in Vancouver and finding a huge part of their cast there, scenes that had to be "fought" over to make the cut, script differences through drafts, lots of fun anecdotal production elements, and how they landed on how to introduce Sam in the film. The original animated "pitch" short, Season's Greetings (3:54, 4x3 HD), can also be played with optional commentary.
The original release wasn't exactly light on extras, either, so it's satisfying to see the return of Trick 'r Treat: The Lore and Legends of Halloween (27:26, 16x9 HD), if for no other reason than to view behind-the-scenes footage, archival interviews with the cast, and to hear that sweet, sweet Brian Cox narration while the piece ties the real lore and legends of Halloween to the film's ambitions. There's also a quick School Bus VFX Comparison (1:13, 16x9 HD) reel, as well as some Additional Scenes (17:14, 16x9 HD) with optional commentary with Michael Dougherty.
Shout Factory wouldn't be themselves without adding something else new to the mix, though, other than the new 2K mastering, so they've stitched together their own superb array of new interviews/featurettes. Complete with sketches and concept art, Michael Dougherty delves deep into the roots of the film's creation -- tied to his birthday -- and his love for Halloween in Tales of Folklore and Fright: Creating Trick 'r Treat (16:05, 16x9 HD). Following up on that, Dougherty delves into the gritty details of shooting in Vancouver with Tales of Mischief and Mayhem: Filming Trick 'r Treat (19:46, 16x9 HD), where he chats about the shooting locations and what was done on stages, using makeup prosthetics and employing a child actor inside Sam's suit, and the smartly-used lo-fi tech involved with a certain vomit sequences in the film. Shifting gears, Sounds of Shock and Superstition (11:10, 16x9 HD) delves into composer Douglas Pipes' integration into the director's sound ambitions and the ways in which he modified themes for specific effects, and Tales of Dread and Despair rounds out the rest of the discussion with the complicated release (and shelving) of the film and how it ties to the buzz and cult status it's garnered since then.
A Storyboard and Conceptual Art Gallery, a Behind the Scenes Gallery, a Comic Book Gallery, the Fear.Net Shorts (9:10), and a Theatrical Trailer (2:27, 16x9 HD) top off the rest of the goodies offered with Shout's loaded release.
Trick 'r Treat, an absolute blast of a Halloween movie with a decade of cult fandom now under its belt, has received an excellent new home-video release from Shout Factory. A shiny new 2K transfer, a scary-good Master Audio track, and a cornucopia of extras both old and new -- including fresh, more personal interviews that chronicle the origins and creation of the film -- should carve out a place on the shelf for this smashing presentation. DVDTalk Collector's Series.