OCTOBER 10, 2008
2008 will probably be forever known as the year that horror got fucked. First Midnight Meat Train was buried by its distributor (that would be Lionsgate), given a blink and you'll miss it release on 100 2nd rate screens throughout the country. Then the Gate decided to do even LESS of a release for Repo (try to find it November 7th! I think you win a prize if you do). And now we have Michael Dougherty's Trick 'R Treat, which Warner Bros doesn't seem to be willing to release at all. And wouldn't you know it - all 3 films sit comfortably in my top 5 horror films of the year (another one is Let The Right One In, which is simply being remade for idiots rather than try to give a wide push to a - gasp! - foreign film).
And yet Shutter opened on nearly 3000 screens.
Like all anthology films, some stories are better than others, but what's great about Treat is how it unfolds. Unlike Creepshow or whatever, we don't get a self-contained story, and then another, and then another... this one unfolds more like Pulp Fiction, where characters from stories A and B drift into stories C and D, and the chronological order is different from the order we see it. It's always fun to see the subtle nods to other stories (Lesley Bibb's character manages to be in every story, if only for a second or two), and it gives the film a sense of involvement that is hardly ever present in an anthology. Admit it; sometimes when you watch Creepshow you skip over Jordy Verrill, right? You can't do that here.
But more importantly, the film does something that horror fans have been asking for for the past 30 years: it lives up to John Carpenter's landmark film in terms of accurately depicting the Halloween holiday. I'm old now, and hardly get as excited about October 31st as I used to (I actually always have to work Halloween night), but this movie filled me with a sense of nostalgia for those magical Halloweens I experienced as a kid. Like when I was 10 or 11 and tried to watch Halloween 5 by myself, or even more mundane times like standing in line for the hayride at Spookyworld. No film, even the Halloween sequels, has delivered so much accurate Halloween atmosphere. It's all in the details too; Brian Cox's character flipping through the channels trying to find something NOT horror related, a dad trying to convince his son to watch Charlie Brown, the guy in his 30s who needs to stick to his childhood traditions... it's all here. The film goes far beyond throwing up a few Jack O'Lanterns and blowing some leaves around in order to "sell" the setting. There isn't a single scene in the film that could be mistaken for any other day of the year.
And Christ it's funny. And the good kind of funny - MEAN SPIRITED FUNNY! Dylan Baker has the film's best line, which I won't spoil, but let's just say that I can't quite recall such a terrible thing to say being played for laughs. And his kid's response to being told to watch The Great Pumpkin is worth the price of admission alone (though maybe not the Craigslist price - a guy was willing to pay 600 bucks to see the film. Yup, there's no audience for the film, Warner! Speed Racer's where the big money's at!). And Cox has a line that was used to similar effect in The Thing (or Hatchet, if you will) but is just as applause-worthy.
One thing the movie won't be known for is excessive gore. There is surprisingly little splatter (not a slight - I actually didn't even realize that until the film was over), but when it's used, it's done for great effect. There's a terrific bit early on where a girl is killed by an attacker under a "ghost" sheet, and some trick or treaters watch as the sheet is suddenly covered in blood (from the inside). And without spoiling much (I don't spoil films that no one can fucking SEE yet), the movie has one of the more original and exciting monster transformations I have seen in ages.
I also dug how Dougherty approached the horror angle. It starts off creepy scary, with a Michael Myers-y guy staring down Ms. Bibb (also in Meat Train, AND Iron Man... this broad's on a roll) being a particularly unnerving highlight. Then it goes into more Creepshow-y, EC Comics style territory for a while, takes a quick detour into Tales from the Crypt style "twist" horror, before returning back to suspense and genuine terror for the final act.
I knew I loved the movie before it was even halfway over, and the great thing about the setup was that I was never sure when it was going to end. But I started getting curious how my friends thought. I was sitting with a bunch of my local "horror" pals, and if there's one thing we can agree on, it's that we can't agree on anything. No matter how much a lot of us love a certain film, there will ALWAYS be 2-3 who hated it. But not so with this - even the most notoriously picky among us loved it. I think that's the benefit to the sort of "all types of horror" approach; maybe you're too jaded to get scared by the first and final acts, but you'll be having too much fun with the middle segments to care. However you prefer your horror film, this film delivers the goods.
After the screening I got to host a Q&A, but it was kind of awkward. They only had one microphone, so my role was pretty much null once everyone was on stage. But I got to get in a good jab at the Halloween remake*, and stand next to the super hot Lauren Lee Smith (the one who spends half of Pathology fucking the shit out of Milo), so I guess it was worth it.
The word on the street right now is that the film will actually go DTV... NEXT Halloween. The fact that it's being given the same treatment as a Seagal or Van Damme film is bad enough, but having to wait a whole more year to see it and share it with friends is just excruciating. And you know, I can almost understand Lionsgate being scared of Repo's chances at the box office - it's a strange film (a musical at that) and it pretty much starts over the top and just goes further. But Trick 'R Treat is pretty goddamn commercial; there is literally nothing in the movie that I could see causing alarm. Sure, there aren't any big stars, but since when does a horror film need big stars to be a hit? Like anyone in Saw II is on the cover of Entertainment Weekly? And I don't see Hostel's Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson on Access Hollywood too often. Christ Warner, you have a giant built in audience, a technically flawless film, and near universal acclaim from those who have seen it... why shelve it? This movie would be a hit even if released in March. You put this out in October, and Jigsaw might finally have reason to panic.
I wanted to say this on the Q&A, but had to settle for telling Dougherty later on in private - for nearly 20 years I have been looking for something besides a random Halloween sequel to join the original film as part of my annual Halloween tradition. I finally have one.
What say you?
*When someone asked what the origin was for Sam, the film's creepy sort of "central" character, Dougherty said that not knowing the origin was scarier. "I don't need to know that he was abused or whatever," Mike said, and I muttered "Or that his mom was a stripper." Teehee, I made a funny.