Halloween is in danger of being the new Christmas: a once-cool holiday whose easy-to-market foundations have gone from effective to cliché after one too many marketing overloads. The frights are still there, but they’ve become predictable—it’s hard to be too scared by titles full of Roman numerals that promise the same jumps as last year, only this time just a little more insulting. Trick ’R Treat has an advantage, then, by being the rare Halloween feature that’s as interested in the day it exploits as it is in scares. It features monsters, murders, beautiful women, and the unquiet dead, as well as a little man named Sam who takes the rules of All Hallows’ Eve very seriously. Visually, it’s the kind of thing horror fans dream of, full of throbbing oranges and reds. The story, though, disappoints. In its way, Treat is just as shallow as any Yuletide TV special, singing all the same carols and hitting all the same notes.
It’s the final night of October, and anything can happen. A young couple coming home after an evening on the town discovers just how badly the season can go when someone ignores the rules, but others are in for surprises too. Dylan Baker, a high-school principal, dabbles in a little serial killing, and Anna Paquin, a young lady dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, heads off down the forest path to find her “first.” A quartet of kids makes a trip to the nearby rock quarry, site of a past tragedy that may have terrifying consequences in the present. Finally, Brian Cox does his best to Grinch up the festivities, as an old man with a secret, receiving a most unwelcome guest.
Treat’s stories are presented out of order, a choice that adds nothing but some cute comic-book-style captions. The biggest problem here is that none of the individual tales are developed enough, and when combined, the resulting mélange has mass, but no weight. Cox’s segment is the most successful, a familiar but semi-gripping mano-a-mano struggle for survival with an unexpected conclusion, but while nothing in the movie is outright terrible, too much of it is frustratingly lazy. The idea of a Halloween-centric anthology is solid, but the subject deserves stronger material than this reheated mush. Treat was shelved for two years before getting shuffled straight to DVD, and now that it’s finally out, it turns out to be neither a lost classic nor an embarrassment, but just another bit of candy that won’t stick in anyone’s teeth for long.
Key features: A commentary track with director and screenwriter Michael Dougherty, a puff piece on the origins of Halloween, deleted scenes, and the original animated short that inspired the film.