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Ink & Pixel: Trick 'R Treat

10.27.2016

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at steveseigh@joblo.com so we can discuss it further.

Happy Halloween, everybody! Okay, so technically we still have 4 more moons until the best holiday of the year begins, but I'm the kind of guy who likes to get his cheer on early. Like several other horror film enthusiasts that I know, I've been making a valiant effort to watch as many scary movies throughout the month of October as my schedule will allow. I've already made my way through the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, and have then moved on to other flicks such as: THE THING, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, PUMPKINHEAD, THE SHINING, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, HOUSE, and THE BABADOOK.

For the past five years, I’ve written Ink & Pixel: Special Halloween Edition articles featuring films like MONSTER HOUSE, SILLY SYMPHONIES, DAFFY DUCK’S QUACKBUSTERS, PARANORMAN - as well as several more. This year, I’d like to do something a little different, and bob for a proverbial live-action apple among a pool of many effects-driven and frightening flicks. And so, after fishing around in my collection, I’ve clamped down on the 2007 cult classic, TRICK ‘R TREAT. So do yourself a favor: Find that bag of candy you bought for your annual trick ‘r treaters, open it, and indulge in just a few pieces of chemically-flavored sugary goodness while I crack this movie open and see what’s inside.

TRICK ‘R TREAT is an American-Canadian horror anthology film in which five interconnected tales of terror come together to form one hell of a hauntingly good Halloween story. Directed and written by Michael Dougherty (KRAMPUS), this atmospheric and frenzied feature was produced by Legendary Pictures and Bad Hat Harry Productions with distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures. And because of the anthology-style presentation, TRICK ‘R TREAT boasts a robust cast of actors getting in on the five alarming anecdotes of woe and warning. In no particular order, the film stars actors such as: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Brian Cox, Quinn Lord, Lauren Lee Smith, Moneca Delain, Tahmoh Penikett, Brett Kelly, Leslie Bibb, and Anna Paquin.

As I’d stated earlier, TRICK ‘R TREAT is divided into a series of stories that each share a commonality with one another - the presence of an enigmatic child by the name of Sam. While parading under the guise of child trick ‘r treater (dressed in tattered pajamas and a button-eyed burlap sack over his head), Sam sees to it that the Halloween traditions of old are upheld by those who choose to celebrate the dark and dangerous holiday. Think of him as a pint-sized spectre of the season, if you will. However, don't let his crooked button-eyed gaze or small stature deceive you, Sam is a creature armed with a fist full of razor-sharp pumpkin lollipops and he’s not afraid to share.

For those of you who aren't aware of the 4 Rules of Halloween, I’ll share them with you now. Observing them may very well save your life, lest you be visited by a pumpkin-headed boycarrying a very sharp knife. Ignore them if you dare, though it’s a fool who does not heed the following words with care:

Rule #1 – Wear a Costume. Obey or Beware. You’ve Been Warned.

Rule #2 – Pass Out Treats. No One Likes Pennies or Floss.

Rule #3 – Don’t Ever Blow Out a Jack o’Lantern or He’ll Come for You.

Rule #4 – Check Your Candy. Taking Candy from Strangers Comes with a Risk.

Rather than share the plot details of each story presented in the film, I think we’ll move straight into the heart of our article. I wouldn't want to spoil the scares and surprises waiting for you as Dougherty's interwoven narrative unfolds. Instead, let’s begin with a brief refresher as to the origins of Halloween, and how its traditions have been celebrated for over 2,000 years.

Long ago, in parts of the world such as ancient Britain, Ireland, and Northern Europe, an annual Celtic festival referred to as Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was celebrated as a way of bidding farewell to the end of Summer. In addition to ushering in the cold, harsh months that accompany the chilled Winter winds, Celts recognized their new year by acknowledging and paying tribute to their dead. You see, the Celts believed that as the pale moon would rise on October 31st, so would their devilish dearly departed. Permitted to walk among the living for just one night, it was conceived that the more vengeful spirits were often the cause of mischief - such as incidents involving stolen property, spoiled milk and damaged crops. In essence, Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, was an elaborate way for the Celts (whose lives were entirely dependent on good weather) to ask the powers that be to bless them with good fortune for the duration of the long Winter.

Although CGI effects can often times be the bread-and-butter of this column, it’s always the films that employ the use of practical effects that I enjoy writing about the most. Such is the case with Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT. It’s true that the methods of using green screen technology and digitized effects were vital to the making of this film, but that didn’t stop the crew from using plenty of elaborate costumes and makeup as well. As just one example, there’s an incredible sequence involving werewolves for a portion of the “Surprise Party” story line.

In what is certainly one of the coolest werewolf transformations I’ve witnessed on-screen in the past decade or so, Anna Paquin’s character, Laurie, sheds her skin after carving a split down the center of her spine to reveal the beast lurking within. After her face contorts through the use of subtle CGI, she bares her serrated fangs as the muscle and bone of her werewolf form begin twisting her human form. A few camera tricks later, Laurie’s lycanthrope appearance is revealed. Thankfully, Dougherty and his effects engineers had used a combination of hair, makeup, and a remote controlled animatronic wolf’s head to complete the shot. I say thankfully because I’ve seen a lot of shoddy CGI wolf transformations in recent years, and nothing beats the look of an honest-to-goodness full-moon-freakout that hasn’t been tainted by the use of digital effects.

Of course, no Halloween-centric set would be complete without a frighteningly large amount of Jack-O-Lanterns, illuminating the houses and walkways of a town populated by busy trick ‘r treaters. It was estimated that total of 300 pumpkins were carved and strategically placed for the making of TRICK ‘R TREAT - with each of them displaying their own unique design. Now, we’ve already gone over the rule of always keeping the Jack-O-Lanterns lit, but perhaps now is the best time to inform you as to why.

The story of the Jack-O-Lantern goes back several hundred years, to a time when it was believed that the devil came to claim the notoriously malevolent soul of a blacksmith named Jack. After tricking the devil, and having his soul sent to the heavens above rather than being cast to the fires of hell below, Jack arrived at the devil’s doorstep, once more. Wanting nothing to do with Jack, the devil condemned the unwanted blacksmith to wander in a dark and endless night for all of eternity. Jack's only comfort would be a burning lump of coal that he caught inside of a hollowed out turnip when the devil tossed it to him out of pity.

As it is an Ink & Pixel tradition, we’re going to take a look at the box office returns for TRICK ‘R TREAT - though I must warn you, they are quite chilling. According to my calculations, TRICK ‘R TREAT had only earned an unfathomably criminal amount of $13.5 million during its theatrical run. That said, it’s important to remember that only a handful of theaters dedicated themselves to screening this (now a) cult classic for its popcorn-munching patrons. Regardless of theaters dropping the ball on this frightfully fun flick, TRICK ‘R TREAT received glowingly positive reviews from critics and aggregator sites such as Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central, and of course, our own Arrow in the Head. What’s more is that because the film has, in time, become somewhat of a Halloween viewing tradition for many, a direct sequel is currently in the works.

As I’m sure you can tell, I’m a big fan of Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT. Though I’m typically not a fan of anthology-style presentations, there’s so much about this film that works for me. For one, it’s positively dripping with Halloween cheer. I dig the way a majority of the stories appear as if it were lit by candlelight as opposed to actual Hollywood rigging. There’s also this beautiful red orange glow to the cinematography that, for me, envelopes the entire film in a chilling, Autumn-inspired atmosphere. Also to the film’s credit - beyond the inspirited performances by its creepy cast - TRICK ‘R TREAT gave us something that we haven’t had in a very long time - a horror icon for the ages. A new harbinger of ill Halloween tidings, if you will. 

Obviously, there have been lots of memorable Horror film antagonists since the days of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead, Pennywise, and Michael Meyers. Though in my estimation, none have been as memorable as the silent, pumpkin-headed killer, Sam. With his burlap sack head, lifeless, black button eyes, and signature lollipop “blades”, Sam has a truly iconic look that not only strikes fear into his victims but is also a truly imaginative representation of the Halloween holiday itself. Many Horror villains have come and gone over the years, but Sam appears to be one for the ages.

That’s going to do it for this year’s Halloween-inspired Ink & Pixel. I wish you all a happy holiday, and I urge you all to obey the rules, or this year’s spooky celebration could be your last.

Extra Tidbit: What are your plans for Halloween? Are you going to dress up? I'll be going to a party dressed as Dimension Z's version of Captain America - battle-torn, long hair, and some beard action.

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