Trick r’ Treat

You want to see something really scary?

Last weekend, Saw V crept from the shadows and reaped over $30 million dollars from those insatiable gore hounds who turn out year after year for another heaping helping of torture porn. Of course, for the first Halloween in half a decade, that boffo box-office wasn’t enough to allow Saw to slice its competition. Not with the combined purchasing power of a legion of tweens and their scary obsession for Zak Efron and High School Musical 3, a film that bent Saw with its own box-office take of $45 million. Now, that’s terrifying.

While I may not be in HSM’s target demographic (which is girls age 12 – 16, Drag Queens age 26 – 52), I am happy to see it dethrone Saw V however that tired retread still managed to scare up enough box office to guarantee another haunting next Halloween. And that’s exactly what I’m afraid of, as every year we get another Saw, we lose the opportunity for original horror to find its way onto the marquee.

Case in point, Michael Dougherty’s Trick r’ Treat – a film that has been in the can for close to two years now and has yet to see a late Autumn release. Dougherty is a talented scribe who co-wrote X2, the great X-Men sequel and also penned the last Superman flick for director Bryan Singer. He wrote this script, which is in the vein of those horror anthology flicks we loved as kids (i.e. Creepshow), and Singer directed his production company (Bad Hat Harry Films) to finance the piece. The film takes place on Halloween night and presents four original horror stories that weave in and out of each other – employing the Pulp Fiction approach with characters that continue to pop up in the different tales in surprising ways. Dougherty was able to cast his flick with a solid crew of supporting actors including Bryan Cox, Anna Paquin and Dylan Baker and based on the sequences I have seen, has really composed a loving tribute to this dark and delightful holiday.

Take a look at the posters above and the clip I posted below. Here’s a flick with more originality dripping from its one-sheet (and that opening credit sequence) than the entire Saw series combined and yet, its distributor Warner Brothers has shied away from granting it an All Hallow’s release simply because they’re afraid it will be cut by Saw.

I think that’s the wrong tact to take. One of the criticisms often leveled at Hollywood is that they are afraid to take risks. Sure, they’ll pony up cash for a prestige picture (one that may not make a mint but is likely to reap awards, like There Will Be Blood) but when it comes to genre fare, the studios are much less willing to gamble.

The whole reason Saw continues to dominate Halloween is because teenagers love being scared and flock to ‘R’ rated horror. The reason is simple. It’s fun screaming your head off in a crowd of your friends and kids always seek out whatever is considered taboo.

When I was a kid, the slasher flicks were the ones that I would kill to see. Where they have the never-ending assault of Saw, we had the annual return engagement of Jason Vorhees. Sometime after Jason took Manhattan (actually Vancouver but who could really tell with those muddy visuals), I caught wise to the formula. None of those movies were any damned good. They weren’t even enjoyable on a camp level. Friday the 13th – every damned flick in that cursed series – is nigh unwatchable. Actually, they’re worse that that. They’re boring as all Hell!!!

They’re also almost quaint compared to the grimy gristle filmed as entertainment in the Saw and Hostel flicks. I picked up that term ‘torture porn’ a few years back and it’s as succinct a description as these despicable flicks require. These ‘films’ are simply cold machines engineered for one purpose – gross people out – compelling narrative or shred of story-telling be damned. And the reason they make a mint each Halloween? Like me and my mid-80’s pre-pubescent posse, these kids don’t know any better. They want to hit a horror flick in the week leading up to Halloween, so they can scream, squirm and then score a six-pack. It’s like flies to bug lights – fire up the marquee and the kids will flock.

I’d love to fashion a little experiment. First, we would need to go the next year without greenlighting a single new horror flick. Then next Halloween, release Leprechaun Back 2 Tha Hood on 3200 screens. Let that be the only horror movie selection available. I guarantee it makes bank. And then when the leaves fall and the last pumpkin is smashed, it would shuffle off to obscurity just like every other bad horror flick that lingers a little too long past its Born on Date.

The point is, I think that Hollywood has a chance to set their sights higher when it comes to Halloween entertainment. The buzz on Trick r’ Treat has been phenomenal. The flick has enjoyed a number of screenings across the country at various festivals and the praise has been unanimous. This is a genuinely good Halloween horror flick that gooses the imagination and earns its scares through crafty story-telling, clever writing and game performances by a stable of character actors who tear into their spooky little vignettes. Dougherty scripted his directorial debut to pay homage to the holiday and tribute to all those anthology series that used to scare us as kids – paying equal respect to The Twilight Zone, Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt.

I think a fun, original horror-comedy like this film would offer an abundance of treats. For one, the film has the opportunity to pull in a wider audience than any of the torture porn flicks can. I am happy to report that to this day, I have never seen a Saw or Hostel flick and have zero desire to do so. And I love horror movies. And I LOVE being scared!!! But I’m also a sucker for a good story and 90 minutes of finding new ways to expose entrails does not really grease my brain pan.

Also, the inevitable success of this film could kill Saw off completely. Here’s a little tip for Warner Brothers. Each year, Saw stakes out the weekend before Halloween to terrorize us. So next year, release Trick r’ Treat the week prior. Hell, people are in the Halloween spirit the second a football is kicked. We replace the cobs with Candy Corn by Labor Day. If we start hanging mistletoe the day after Thanksgiving, I’m pretty sure we can stomach a horror flick in mid-October. And then you’d have the jump on Halloween and the ability to build word of mouth. After all, the reason that teen demo is so coveted by advertisers and movie studios is that despite the prevalence of DVD, teens actually return for multiple viewings of films in the theater. So, if you catch them the week before Saw, you’re likely to rope them back in the next week and perhaps they’ll bring their friends (and coax their family) to see it as well.

So, I’m begging you Warner Brothers. Release Trick r’ Treat next October. There’s nothing to fear here but fear itself.