Did Trick 'r Treat deserve to be yanked from theaters?

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

With a lot of movies, having no expectations can be a good thing: Not knowing what something is, or perhaps more importantly how it is, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised, or even thrilled when it turns out to be great. But even when you have heard from reliable sources that something is good, such news can be an obstacle to true enjoyment, because you're now assuming it will entertain, rather than merely allowing it to do so.

Among horror and science fiction fans, Trick 'r Treat has been discussed for more than two years, and in the months leading up to its DVD release, folks have seen it, celebrated it, sung its praises—all of which should be disregarded. Because as with any worthwhile revelation, the suspense and surprise is at least half of the fun, and at the very least, Michael Dougherty's directorial debut is one treat that deserves not to be spoiled before it's opened.

Truth be told, the saga of Trick 'r Treat's release is epic enough to inspire plenty of expectations, with or without the help of friends, colleagues or even casual viewers. Scheduled for release in October 2007, the film was mysteriously pulled from theaters by distributor Warner Brothers and sat on a shelf for two years while the studio decided what to do with a horror movie in which not all the victims are, well, of consenting age. Meanwhile, the film was also apparently green-lighted at the behest of Superman Returns director Bryan Singer, whom the studio presumably wanted to keep appeased for future installments—at least until the would-be franchise reboot underperformed at the box office.

Ironically, however, it seems like none of the reasons for the film's delay in release reflected the actual quality of Trick 'r Treat itself, which is an effective horror anthology and probably one of the best-directed straight-to-video releases of all time (even if it was never intended to be). The film's stars include Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker and Leslie Bibb, but "stardom" in something like this only means as much as the strength of an overall ensemble, and all of them are game participants in the film's deconstruction and reconception of classic Halloween mythmaking. Meanwhile, there are monsters, slashers and all kinds of other creatures, and each separate story ties effortlessly in to the next one, if only because they're strung together by a tonal rather than narrative throughline; calling this a modern-day Hallows' Eve counterpart to movies like Creepshow or a feature anthology of Tales From the Crypt TV episodes wouldn't be inaccurate.

Unfortunately, I was told how great the movie was before I saw it, by more than one fan, and as a result I think I came away a little bit underwhelmed; as much as I like the movies that clearly inspired it, and in fact enjoyed many of its pitch-black twists and turns, because I'd heard it was nothing short of a contemporary classic I thought it was effective and entertaining, but not quite worthy of the effusive praise it received. As such, I can only recommend it sincerely, but without the mandate that this is in some way a must-see movie. Sure, there are some great, gory surprises, sick jokes and disturbing developments, but is this a truly transgressive chronicle of the current state of horror? Does it need to be? I don't know, but it certainly looks great, thanks to Dougherty's sweeping direction, and achieves that simultaneous sense of unease and excitement that's key to almost all successful scary movies.

Admittedly, if I sound vague it's on purpose, but to reiterate in the most unspecific way possible, I do think Dougherty's movie deserved to be released in theaters, and consequently should be seen by anyone who enjoys movies about monsters, scary myths and the macabre. In short, Trick 'r Treat is not unlike a pillowcase full of sweets on Halloween morning: partaken of patiently, the rewards can be long and lasting, but consumed too eagerly, it can overwhelm your natural appetite—and give you a worse feeling than if you'd enjoyed it in moderation.