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Pre-dating Christianity, the Celtic holiday was celebrated on the one night between autumn and winter when the barrier between the living and the dead was thinnest, and often involved rituals that included human sacrifice.
- Rhonda (Samm Todd), "Trick 'R Treat"
Still playing catchup on those two missed days of Frightful Faves posts, I thought I'd make today's a double-bill: two movies which represent the platonic ideal for a horror anthology: funny, smartly-woven together, with some nasty thrills and chills. I bring you George A. Romero's 1982 omnibus collaboration with Stephen King, "Creepshow" along with 2007's mistreated anthology from "X2" screenwriter, Michael Dougherty, "Trick 'R Treat."
By now, neither of these movies should be considered some kind of hidden gem: "Creepshow" has been in regular rotation for years (and many of you probably have a roach phobia because of it), while the genre film community has championed "Trick 'R Treat" since Warner Brothers unceremoniously dumped it on home video two years after it was completed. But I've seen so many not-great to bad anthologies over the years, that it's always instructive, I think, to revisit these two to look at what makes them work so well.
King and Romero were, in the early 80's (and remain, of course) big deals in the horror scene, with King's big-screen career pretty much on fire in the wake of "Carrie" and "The Shining" along with a miniseries adaptation of "Salems Lot." Romero, meanwhile was only a couple of years out from "Dawn of the Dead," his giant zombie sequel which blew up the concept, added more zombies, and a dash of satire. If you read some of King's longer works like "It," you'll see a writer with an intimate familiarity with decades of horror in film, literature, and most importantly, comics.
"Creepshow" was a salute to the lurid, colorfully violent EC Comics like "Tales From the Crypt" or "The Vault of Horror," both of which spawned their own big screen adaptations a decade before. In those previous adaptations, the filmmakers retained the blackly ironic twists from the source material, but down to the less-than-thrilling wraparound story (in both, the characters were hearing how they died), to the fairly dry execution, neither film could hold a candle to what King and Romero had in store with "Creepshow."
I should be clear that I admire both movies, but they're very serious in a way that makes the execution of their plots feel even more silly. "Creepshow," however, embraced the cheap, exploitative origins of their stories, creating five stories that could have been pulled from any E.C. book from the 40's and 50's. The duo were able to strike a perfect balance between squirm-inducing horror ("They're Creeping Up On You!"), pathos ("The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill"), and brutally sustained tension ("Something to Tide You Over").
Who knew Leslie Nielsen could make such a great villain?
The wraparound story, involving a monstrous dad (Tom Atkins) who bullies his young son into tossing out his horror comic collection worked as a nice way of keeping the stories tied together, with its own gruesome and bleak payoff in the final act.
While "Creepshow's" stories were linked by panel transitions in a comic, Dougherty's film had a more fluid approach, joining its four stories over the course of one Halloween night in the suburbs. But the two films share a similarly diverse approach to their chosen subject with a variety of monsters, killers, and supernatural revenge coming up out of the dark.
Now, from the looks of it, Michael Dougherty set out to create a horror icon in Sam, the bag-headed, supernatural moppet who walks the streets in "Trick 'R Treat." This is the kind of instinct that gave us horror non-starters like "Pumpkinhead" or whatever the bad guy from the Edward Furlong-starring "Brainscan." Thankfully, Sam is really a more organic part of the film, never overused, but linking the opening and closing segments while featuring prominently in the "Sam" segment.
And that's actually an overall virtue of both films: neither allow any of their individual segments to overstay their welcome. There's only so much time you want to spend trapped in a tower with E.G. Marshall in "They're Creeping Up On You" while "The School Bus Massacre Revisited" takes just enough time to push its nasty group of teen pranksters towards their doom.
Both films are, of course, readily available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video. "Creepshow" inspired two sequels with drastically diminishing returns--King was on board for 1987's sequel under "Dawn of the Dead" director of photography Michael Gornick, while "Creepshow III" saw multiple directors and writers tackling the format. Meanwhile, Dougherty has been talking for years about a "Trick 'R Treat" sequel, but nothing has concrete has materialized in the years since it hit DVD and Blu-ray.