Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review #48: Trick R Treat


About 2 years ago I started hearing buzz about a little movie called Trick 'R Treat that was shelved with no definitive release date; rumors soon flew around the horror community when the film was pushed back in 2007. For the next 2 years the carrot dangled in front of us with trailers and sneak peeks at the main character Sam, who appeared to be a little trick-or-treater wearing a burlap pumpkin sack over his head. I caught a few minutes of the film at this year's Fangoria Weekend of Horrors and checked the internet every day following, hoping for word on a release date. Warner Bros & Legendary Pictures heard the call and finally released the film straight to DVD on October 6, 2009, just in time for Halloween, and horror fans across the country got their wish . . .

Let's start by saying that there has not been a horror movie made to truly capture the creepy feeling of Halloween since, well, John Carpenter's Halloween (1978). And even that film took place on this special day but hardly focused on the nature of the holiday itself. There is a certain connection to October 31 that we all share - the crisp breeze in the air, the leaves that begin to change color and fall from the trees, people's homes transformed into houses of horror, neighborhood kids dressed as ghouls, and of course, enough candy to send our family dentist to the Bahamas for a month-long vacation. For horror fanatics like myself, Halloween is more important than Christmas and we needed a film that encompassed all the elements of this time of year . . . in that respect Trick 'R Treat certainly delivers on all fronts.

Growing up I would ride my skateboard to the local comic shop to grab the latest EC reprint of Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and the Haunt of Fear, which originally hit the stands in the 1950's. The presentation of these stories fascinated me, with creepy hosts like the Old Witch cackling one-liners and telling tales of murder & terror in friendly comic format. When HBO launched Tales From The Crypt as a TV Series in 1989, I abandoned my Nintendo and sat religiously in front of the tube for my weekly dose of horror. The voice of John Kassir as the Crypt Keeper and the brilliant intro music of Danny Elfman is forever stained in my brain. Trick 'R Treat plays out like an old Tales From The Crypt comic and is actually an anthology of four Halloween-related scary stories. We're even treated to some comic artwork in the film, and a comic book based on the film will be released this month, along with a slew of awesome movie merchandise. The marketing campaign behind this film is incredible. It is obvious that director Michael Dougherty was heavily influenced by these aforementioned EC classics and pays homage to them in his film, which is sure to please any life-long genre fan yearning for that "old school" horror feel that has been lost in a vicious cycle of big-budget Hollywood remakes and watered-down teeny bopper terror that emerged in the late 90's.

Back to Sam: Trick 'R Treat uses Sam as the bridge between the four intertwined stories, and his sole purpose in the film is to remind the characters the importance of honoring Halloween tradition. I don't want to spoil the film for anyone reading this, but the un-masking of Sam is probably one of the cutest yet most terrifying moments of the film. The stories within the story (The Principal, Surprise Party, The Halloween School Bus Massacre Revisited, and Meet Sam) are gory, campy, humorous, and fun. You have to watch the film more than once to catch all the tie-ins and plot overlaps - it is the kind of film that gets better every time you see it. The obvious strength of the movie is the setting and the plot / character development - the audience feels like they are trick or treating right there in the neighborhood. Capturing the feeling you get as Halloween nears could not have been an easy task, but Dougherty and his crew succeeded with flying orange and black colors.

If Halloween had an anthem, Trick 'R Treat would be the band that played it. The film was a cult classic before it even hit the shelves at Blockbuster, which is quite an achievement for any film in any genre. Horror fans are obsessive and dedicated, and I'm certain they will find satisfaction in this "little film that could." I hate to use the phrase "there's something for everyone" but in Trick 'R Treat this definitely rings true. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Halloween than watching this movie with a bowl of popcorn and a garbage bag full of candy . . . just make sure you check that Snickers bar for a razor blade first . . .

The Halloween School Bus Massacre Revisited

Sam the doll - not quite a Cabbage Patch Kid . . .

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Movie Review #47: Grace


There are very few horror films that accurately capture the love between a mother and her newborn child, let alone focus on that unconditional love as the main source of tension and terror. The role of women in our beloved genre is typically reserved for drawn out chase scenes between her & a killer, or making her the first of the body count after an onslaught of gratuitous nudity and teenage sex. As humans, we are predisposed to sympathize with a woman as the lead role in a film, and making the newborn baby the villain is something no director in Hollywood seems to want to touch. Films like Rosemary's Baby (1968), It's Alive (1974), and to some extent, Basket Case (1982) have toyed with the notion of the infant as the source of evil, but no such film has accomplished the sheer horror evoked by Paul Solet's debut film, Grace.

I sat down to watch the film with extremely high expectations, having heard the buzz from Sundance about two grown men fainting during the screening and being a huge fan of Adam Green (Hatchet, 2006), who produced the film under the umbrella of ArieScope pictures. I had also heard the stories about Paul Solet, who hit the streets and horror conventions to promote his film carrying a dead bloody baby on his chest. I have a great deal of respect for such a grassroots marketing strategy, coming from a music scene on Long Island where we promoted hardcore shows to round up a gang of kids into a VFW Hall somewhere out East where they could bash each other to shreds while listening to brutal anti-establishment music, and knowing this was Solet's approach just made me want to see the film even more. Not to mention the promo poster (above) which left a lot to our sick & twisted imaginations. I knew this would be a film unlike anything I have seen, but to say I was blown away would be an understatement . . .

Our main character, Madeline, played by Jordan Ladd, finally becomes pregnant after several unsuccessful attempts and although the baby dies toward the end of the 9 month period, she decides to carry the baby to term. This is actually a real scientific possibility and the premise on which Solet wrote the script. Her husband dies in a car crash and after a horrible birth scene that takes place in the home of a mid-wife, Madeline brings her dead child Grace into the world, giving her life by feeding her blood. The baby's appetite becomes insatiable and Madeline soon finds herself draining blood from animal meat for nutrition, eventually crossing the ultimate line and killing a doctor who pays her a house call, so she can fill Grace's bottle with fresh blood.

Early in the film, Madeline discovers the need to drain herself to satisfy Grace, and the feedings become increasingly violent. She becomes a shut-in, alienating herself from friends and family and fully dedicating herself to the care of the child. The presence of flies in Grace's bedroom hint at the "undead" nature of the baby and raise suspicion throughout the entire film. Madeline's over-bearing mother-in-law Vivian (played by Gabrielle Rose), whose mission is to repossess Grace for herself, creates further stress on the audience while offering a glimpse into the varying degrees of a mother's love for child, a theme that is constantly emphasized in Solet's script. The raw emotion on screen is very real, and the cast of characters are spot-on.

Most of the film takes place inside Madeline's home, with a similar feeling to one of my personal favorites, the French film Inside (2006), in which a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby. In Grace, Vivian is the threat, and Madline must do whatever it takes to protect her child. Solet offers more than just insight into a mother's undying love for her baby, something no man (or woman without children) can understand -- he asks the question "what happens when a woman goes past that point of love and into madness?" The result is a film so far from reality but yet somehow still very real. Quite a feat indeed . . .

There is no need for a masked killer here. The real terror lies in the viewer's uncertainty about Grace, the obsession of Madeline to keep her seeimgly innocent child alive, the persistence of Vivian to destroy Madeline, and of course the straight up disgusting concept of a baby who lives off human blood. Solet succeeds in making two very basic & essential pieces of human nature, childbirth and motherhood, downright terrifying. This is the strength of Grace, and what makes it, in my opinion, one of the best horror films of the last decade if not one of the best ever made.

Check out Grace over at:

Momma's gonna buy you a mockingbird. If that mockingbird don't sing, Momma's gonna kill someone and feed you their blood . . .