Rev | Varied Celluloid - Page 65

The Sister of Ursula

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 29 - 2010

The Plot: Ursula Beyne and her sister Dagmar are two Austrian women on a trip through Italy to find their mother who abandoned them as children, so that they can give her news of their father’s recent passing. Ursula has really taken the news of her father’s passing to heart and is reeling from the loss. So much that she has even developed slight psychic intuition. The two sisters wind up at an incredibly fancy hotel that is run by a man named Roberto Delleri, who is in the process of his own internal power dispute with his wife. Once there, they take in a showing of Stella Shining who is a beautiful singer within the lounge area of the hotel. Stella is in a relationship of sorts with Filippo Andrei, a young and troubled man who is addicted to heroin. At the same time that we meet these characters, a psychopath tracks down a prostitute and then pays her to have sex with a young man while he hides behind a curtain and watches. After the couple finish and the young woman sends the man on his way (as he had no idea anyone was watching), the psycho murders the young woman with a phallic-like object. This however is only the start of his rampage, who will be next and who could possibly stop this murdering beast?

The Review
As with so many Giallo films (Italian thrillers that were the precursor to the slasher film; the direct translation means “yellow” which is taken from yellow pulp paperbacks that many of these films were based upon) I tend to watch, I walked into The Sisters of Ursula with no previous knowledge whatsoever. There were three things that ultimately sealed the deal for me: cover artwork looked interesting, it is a Giallo and it has been released by Severin Films… what more does one need? Those elements alone were enough to grab my interest, but unfortunately they do not add up to a tremendous piece of work over all. After watching I decided to look into what others had said about the movie, and while I did find some valid criticism I also found a great deal of hyperbole being thrown around. I suppose I should refrain from insulting writers for hyperbole, as I am usually the king of exaggeration, but I actually think there is a really solid thriller somewhere down in the base of The Sister of Ursula. It is just unfortunate that it is never unleashed upon the world.

Directed by Enzo Milioni, a director I had never heard of, and featuring a cast of actors I was not entirely familiar with (not by face and certainly not by name, but some have had parts in far bigger films), this one was definitely going to turn out a unique experience. I had rather low hopes going into it after reading that the cinematography was going to be weak, and I forget where I read that, but as soon as the film opened up I knew that wasn’t going to be the case. Featuring a lot of really beautiful scenery shot in very interesting ways, The Sister of Ursula is far from the dry and visually plain piece of cinema I had been lead to believe it was. The visual presence of the film is quite dominant and impressive at nearly every turn in the 90 minute run-time. Rome always has a lovely look to it in the hands of a capable crew, but the mountain landscapes that are showcased in the opening moments here are almost impossible in their beauty. Although you could make a case and argue that the natural beauty is really more of a factor for this than anything done by the crew, there are a lot of really interesting angles and camera set-ups throughout that prove that the filmmakers knew what they were doing.

As for the content of the movie and not just the process of making things appear beautiful… I’ll just say that sexy Gialli usually are not what I am looking for when I go digging up a Giallo. These movies more often than not seem to serve their purpose as a means of titillation rather than straight-laced entertainment. Unfortunately, that is precisely the case with The Sister of Ursula and despite it having a massive amount of really nice qualities going on within it, for the most part everything gets bogged down in the sexuality. The sex here is exploitative and not usually that attractive, to be honest. Sure, the women look beautiful, but the artistry simply isn’t there to make it work in the context of the movie. So instead we’re left with seemingly endless love scenes that are as graphic as they come and stick out like a sore thumb.

Within minutes of starting the movie we watch as Dagmar undresses until she is completely nude while a very funky porn groove plays over the soundtrack. If you didn’t know what you were in for up until this point, you can pick up on things very quickly! Going back to the sex itself, the actual logistics of the sex are as goofy as any late night cable softcore romp you are going to find with the only real difference being how far these filmmakers are willing to take it. We have a fairly graphic scene of fellatio that goes just maybe half of an inch from showing full on penetration. There is another scene of cunnilingus that takes the softcore label to its very limits. The final scene of graphic sexuality would probably be the masturbation sequence featuring Dagmar rubbing herself down with a golden necklace. Very bizarre and in your face, this movie is bold in its approach to grabbing a audience.

I have went this far into the review and I haven’t even mentioned our killer’s weapon of choice, have I? It is certainly a change of pace for most Giallo films, that is for sure. You see, our killer only goes after very naughty girls who are in the process of having sexual relations or have just finished a session. That in itself isn’t the surprising part mind you, it is just that the killer doesn’t use a straight razor for these special girls. Instead he uses… well, there’s no easy way to put this, but he uses a dildo. Since genital mutilation was apparently all the craze within the Giallo genre (The Killer Has Returned, Torso), the filmmakers didn’t want to lose out on a growing market I am sure! Some of the most unintentionally hilarious moments pop up when we see a silhouette shadow on the wall of our killer and his phallic symbol slowly rising to the occasion. This is where the movie goes into ridiculous territory and actually makes a name for itself. Honestly, how many movies have the nerve to do this straight faced?

The Conclusion
The Sister of Ursula has some good qualities going for it, there is no question. It is a beautiful looking picture, the killer is memorable to say the least and the writing is actually clever (unfortunately there is no English dub though). These aspects don’t really overshadow the pacing issues due to the boring sex scenes or the incredibly convoluted plot that really takes a sharp mind to keep track of. Convoluted plots are the norm within the Giallo, to be sure, but The Sister of Ursula is on a plain all to itself. Generally, I like the movie but I have a lot of reservations. If you’ve ever been curious what Hanzo the Razor might be like if it were set in a Giallo, definitely pick this one up! I give it a three out of five.

Trick or Treat

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 29 - 2010

Written for Varied Celluloid by Prof. Aglaophotis!

The Plot: Eddie is a heavy metal rocker in high school who’s obsession with heavy metal, hair metal and plain ol’ rock n’ roll matches his intelligence, yet fails to protect him from being estranged by his peers. All of the jocks, athletes and their preppie girl friends find every chance to embarrass him in various ways, despite a few sympathies he gets from some of the girls. Regardless, Eddie makes rock his life until his favorite rock musician Sammi Curr dies in a hotel fire over night. Thankfully, Eddie is friends with the town’s rock radio station DJ Nuke who, in memory of Sammi, gives Eddie an unreleased album that Nuke intended on playing up-coming Halloween night. At first, the album does little to ease Eddie’s feeling of loss and having little association with one of the sympathetic preppie girls Leslie, who’s attempts to have him be a part of the crowd backfire from her boyfriend’s pranks.

However, when Eddie fortuitously plays the record backwards, the cryptic voice of Sammi Curr emanates from the record, giving Eddie advice, guiding him into actions of revenge upon his tormentors in chaotic, but helpful premonitions. Unfortunately, as the record is copied on to tape, Sammi’s spirit starts getting malevolent and is eventually released from the record to reveal a plan of devastating proportions, one that Eddie won’t have a part of. Now Eddie is entrusting his only friends and his own wits to destroy every copy of Sammi’s unreleased album, before the innocent suffer from the evil fist of a rocker spirit gone off his rocker!

The Review
Being a child of the eighties, there’s always going to be a place in my heart for various media objects of the era, even the widely clichéd teen angst film with a horror twist (hence Trick or Treat). There were many clichés to spot in the movie, but with the average direction coupled with the chaotic string of various circumstances, Trick or Treat is a decent attempt at an evil rock n’ roll movie. There was a point where I seriously thought it was going to take an Urotsukidoji turn as the teen characters are threatened by an evil spiritual force, almost to the point of death-by-Shop Class.

The cinematography is surprisingly good as we get a lot of wide-open shots of different areas around the school, character’s homes and neighborhoods, pretty good close-ups and not a lot of padding. Plus, the scenes are very well lit and lucid even in the darkest of scenes; there’s a lot of good cold and warm lighting effects in some of the atmospheric scenes. There are a few shots that linger a bit too long, like the sequence where Eddie’s friend Roger gets the tape back from a jock’s car.

The special effects in the movie were actually quite convincing regardless of them being contextually minimalist. There’s barely any gore effects, but other effects such as the back-seat monster and the stereo equipment that becomes possessed (a la Videodrome) are both pretty good. The shop class scene and the scene where Sammi is resurrected mark the moments where some of the best effects are used in the flick. Honestly, as far as atmosphere goes, the movie does get a little creepy at times and it is through simple stuff too. There are quite a few moments of stillness that left me sitting in my seat wide-eyed wondering what’s going to happen next.

While the craft work is pretty good all round, there are a few flops you can notice like when a red boom mike bobs into one shot or how one shot of a girl’s bra pops into the frame on her shoulder after it’s been taken off. The tongue of the aforementioned monster has a visible wire below it, but at first glance it kind of looks like a sliver of drool so it kind of works. The music is appropriate for the film as it mostly consists of some original rock songs that were fitting for the scenes and emoted the appropriate feelings for the scenes as well. Oddly enough there are some more ambient and industrial songs too, but the Master Volume to them are turned down so far, they’re barely audible.

Unfortunately I can’t say too much about the acting as everyone seems really average and mildly bored throughout. Some of the roles were a little bit convincing like the depressed yet vigil Eddie played by Marc Price of Family Ties fame; he wasn’t charismatic, but he was likable. If any character seemed a tad incredulous in Trick or Treat, it had to have been Sammi because he never elucidated on his motives of spiritual chaos. As a rocker, it’s easy to assume that Sammi’s actions were all a different form of rebellion against conformity, though in a far more progressive and reprehensibly chaotic fashion, though we never get such an explanation. He’s just evil.

I briefly stated that there’s a creepy shop class scene, but unfortunately no one dies in that scene. Sadly, the death scenes in the movie are really toned down near the end in a tragically comedic fashion that leaves results similar to death scenes in The H-Man. Barely any one dies until the big High School Halloween jam, but when they do they get zapped by electricity, evaporate and their steaming clothes fall to the floor. If it weren’t for some rather delicious brief nudity in the back-seat of an Oldsmobile, this movie probably would’ve gotten a PG rating. Hell, the most graphic death scene features a kid in a Humpty Dumpty costume exploding!

Which, I should digress a little bit: now that I mention the Halloween party, it was funny noticing just how stupid some of the costumed kids were. Not only were most of them out of costume, but one girl dressed up as a pregnant woman (?) and the other dressed up in a box of Special K! If only Brenda Song showed up during the zapping in a pear costume, maybe then we wouldn’t have to hear repetitive grocery store radio ads about pears around Halloween any more!!

I might as well mention the performances of both Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne in the movie. On the DVD cover, they’re both featured as though they’re starring in it, both of which feature shots of them outside the movie and even without stage make-up. Really, they’re just cameos; unless you’re used to seeing them in everyday clothes, you might not even recognize them. The two of them are pretty good in the movie with Gene playing a wise, but rockin’ DJ and Ozzy as a prudish, rock-hating reverend.

I think what gets to me the most about this movie is that its DVD edition has very little Extras to its menu. However, the back of the DVD edition features three production stills with one of the back-seat monster being assembled, one of Sammi’s make-up being applied and one of the more awkward death scenes shot from another angle. Apparently, this movie has Extras more elusive than that of The Deadly Spawn… Also, I refuse to put up the DVD edition cover: you’ll notice I used the VHS edition partly because I love my VHS player and because the DVD edition is just embarrassing.

The Conclusion
I’m tempted to give this movie a 2 because it feels like what would happen if My Science Project lacked three kids fighting Romans, Mutants and Dinosaurs. With all due respect though, Trick or Treat is a fun, well-shot little Rock n’ Roll horror film, even if the horror is outright tame with little thrills halfway into the film brought by a silly antagonist. It’s an easy movie to scrutinize with its teen angst theme and sense of minimalism, but lame as it is, it’s not offensively lame or painful to sit through, it’s just not very violent. It’s certainly the kind of movie that you can enjoy playing in the background of a Halloween party… it was certainly more attention-grabbing than what the last party I went to was playing Ju-On.


Posted by Josh Samford On October - 28 - 2010

Written for Varied Celluloid by Prof. Aglaophotis!

The Plot: An unmanned boat is on a collision course along the shores of Stanton Island, New York. After the unseen crew of this mysterious boat fail to communicate, the Coast Guard is forced to board the boat and figure out what went wrong. One of the Coast Guardsmen is attacked and killed by a strange, seemingly undead crewman who is shot off deck. As the boat is docked and investigations are made, it is discovered that the boat is owned by a scientist whose only known immediate relative is his daughter, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow). As Anne investigates the boat on her own one night, she is encountered by NY journalist Peter West who is also snooping around the boat for clues. The two team together and decide to find out the multiple enigmas behind the arrival of the dead ship. Once the two obtain a boat led by a vacationing couple, they follow the trail of the scientist and the island he was last seen on… the island of Matoul… an island where, as of late, the dead have been rising and feasting on the living.

The Review
There’s always been a comfortable place in my heart for Italian Horror movies, zombie movies especially. There’s something about the way Italian directors handle the Horror subject that just destroys the general conception of what Horror is and should be in media while using their own cinematographic style. Everything you expect in a enjoyable Horror movie you can often find in most Italian Horror films: great make-up and gore effects, build-up, dark and somber settings, scenes of intense action, a film length that’s never too long but is long enough to feel important, decent if not mildly enjoyable characters, uniquely unsettling use of colors and a greatly creepy soundtrack. Zombie is a Horror movie by late great director Lucio Fulci that is iconic of the Italian zombie movie. It has everything you would expect in a Horror movie about zombies that cause truly unsettling death scenes and injuries, all of which further push the discomfort required for a great Horror experience.

Zombie is very well shot, especially for an Italian unofficial sequel to an American zombie movie. There are a lot of nice settings on the island of Matoul with the dusty ruins of the village and the dark plagued hospital. Much of the action and scenes are visible and very well presented, good lighting, effective close-ups. There’s nothing really artistic or beautiful, but it looks very good, typical of a Fulci film. The final showdown scene in particular is very exciting and particularly well done. If anything, there is a fair amount of film grain to the presentation, even in Wide Screen. The editing is pretty good, although there’s one scene where coroners are examining the dead Coast Guardsman that I think would’ve been more effective had they put it in later in the movie than when it’s first shown. Plus there’s a little continuity error in the beginning where a zombie gets shot in the head and a character line is spoken… it just doesn’t match up with a recap scene shown later.

The performances in the movie are actually nice. Tisa Farrow plays a pretty likable female lead, but I’ve always liked Tisa Farrow in Horror movies; she’s kind of like what we would’ve gotten if Erika Peters starred in more Horror films beyond The Atomic Brain. She’s very soft spoken and wide-eyed in select scenes and adding to her good looks it makes her appear all the more vulnerable. She actually plays a good Daddy’s Girl character which is a substitute archetype to the Final Girl: if you can’t have one somewhat virginal, comparably innocent Final Girl, just have a beautiful young woman who is willing to look for her father (or in some cases brother) against the chances imposed by zombies and monsters. Ian McCulloch and Richard Johnson give off some pretty good performances, too: one as a bold, determined journalist and the other as a haggard scientist. Olga Karlatos pops up in this as a drunkard wife and the requisite Lucio Fulci eye-gouge victim.

Something to look forward to in any good Zombie movie is the gore effects. Lucio Fulci was a man who knew how to use gore effects well. From simple scarring to straight up throat ripping, Zombie never fails when it comes to fulfilling the gore prerequisites of a zombie movie. The eye-gouge scene in particular is very well shot and is truthfully cringing, but it easily could’ve been stopped if she just put her arms up against the door and pushed back! Still, the gore makeup is greatly effective and makes the death scenes all the more uncomfortable as they are gross. There are a few moments where a shot to a zombie’s head is nothing more than a paint ball shot, but for the most part, you’re in for a slaughter.

As expected for any Italian Horror movie, the soundtrack is great. Composed by the fantastic Fabio Frizzi, the score to Zombie is certainly a haunting one with a very somber theme song as well as an oddly soothing song that shows up during the past and present hospital scenes. I especially like the chilling music used for many of the zombie attack scenes; it has a strange ancient Japanese instrument sound to it that further establishes the mystic Horror theme to the story. The movie is very well-paced with very few zombie attacks in the beginning and the first half of the movie consisting of our main characters traveling to the island and slowly being introduced to the zombies whose numbers increase throughout.

I think what makes Zombie stand out among most films of the genre and even most films in general is that it has a certain moment of camp in it that is wholly unique in any film in history. In a single scene, Fulci presents us with a topless scuba diving scene where actress Auretta Gay strips down to a thong and takes underwater pictures. She’s then attacked by a zombie and her escape is later helped by a lingering Tiger Shark. We are then treated to a fantastic underwater scene of the zombie fighting the shark. The entire scene is brilliantly well shot and is so outlandish in concept its amazing to watch. There is one moment where the zombie tears off a chunk of shark belly, but then the shark comes back to retaliate, but it could’ve easily been a second shark attracted by the first shark’s blood.

What I personally find funny is how throughout the movie we never see any of the drumming, chanting natives supposedly responsible for the dead coming back to life. We never do learn what’s causing the dead to eat the living, but that’s the case with a lot of zombie movies. I suppose it gives the movie a bit more of a supernatural feel to it considering how the drumming and chanting could very well be the sounds of an ancient curse being awoken rather than actual tribes people; Fulci really was more into supernatural zombie origins considering the powers and abilities of his zombies in later films. The more I think about it though, I keep imagining what this movie would be like if it were directed by Luigi Batzella or Bruno Mattei. If it were, there would be scenes worth of stock footage of natives tribes folk taken from various documentaries. Although, I think with Bruno, that all ready happened in Hell of the Living Dead

The Conclusion
I want to call this a Low Budget/Gore-Fest Horror movie, but you know what? Both are exaggerated general opinions. As I noted earlier, the movie actually has a lot of different locales suggesting a considerate budget, the acting is good and the gore is played out and presented so well that it’s genuinely grueling. It’s got a good story arch, decent performances, great gore effects, a nice T&A factor, a great soundtrack and a scene where a shark squares off against a zombie underwater. Zombie is one of the best Italian Zombie/Horror movies made.


Posted by Josh Samford On October - 27 - 2010

The Plot: This film may have the shortest plot summary of any movie gracing the pages of Varied Celluloid, so I’ll try and spruce it up as much as I can. A young man and woman, while walking home from their first date, are smashed over the head and abducted by a psychotic surgeon. He chains them up facing one another, sticks a ball gag in their mouth and proceeds to torture and mutilate them. He explains that he gains sexual arousal through the act of watching others fight for their lives and he promises them that if they can help him reach his sexual goal they will both be allowed to leave. The question then becomes will this psycho reach his goal while these two are still alive? Tune in and find out!

The Review
If I am proud of anything that I have done with Varied Celluloid, it is bringing light to some of the darker and obscure “gore films” that are out there. Although I am sure this gives people the idea that I’m probably some goth kid who wears white face paint and dons a pentagram laden black t-shirt at all times, nothing could be further from the truth. I am consistently drawn to the darkest side of the cinematic spectrum out of sheer curiosity. How far can the pendulum truly swing when it comes to cinematic violence? The answer to that questions is: pretty far. When it comes to gore, I am pretty well versed in the field. Well versed enough to know that if mainstream critics are up in arms over any given film, chances are it isn’t that disturbing of content to begin with. It takes a pretty mainstream effort to even make it to the discussion table when it comes to your general movie critics. Grotesque is another slice of Japanese gore that has made a rather infamous name for itself solely for one reason: it was denied classification by the BBFC. When this news broke last year, audiences were generally very split on the issue. From reading the synopsis, you can tell right away that this isn’t a movie that is going to have an incredible amount to offer the viewer in terms of narrative. What I was surprised to see was the lack of a real uproar over this fact. Many of my fellow UK horror fans simply threw their shoulders up and shrugged as if to say “who cares?”. While I won’t argue that Grotesque is a masterful piece of horror or deserving of widespread attention, censorship in all of its forms is something that we as horror fans should always seek to fight. I don’t care how bad a movie may be, every film that doesn’t break a law in being made (legitimate snuff, pedophilia, using un-licensed clips/music) deserves to be seen. So watching Grotesque wasn’t simply an act of boredom by yours truly, it was my own way of fighting the good fight! Well, that’s what I tell myself at least.

Lets not make any bones about this, Grotesque is a Saw clone from jump street. When I saw the first few clips that came out for it, I knew precisely what I was in for. If you have looked at the images above, you probably know precisely what you are in for as well. I can only picture one of two scenarios leading to the creation of this film. Either the director saw the success of the Saw series and thought “Hey! I can make something even MORE extreme than what those little sissy movies are doing! I’ll show them!” or it was more like “Hey! Those Saw movies sure are making money… I think I’ll try and cash in on that!”. Actually, I see the formation of this movie as being a little bit of both situations. From the incredibly polished look of the production, which uses more filters than you can shake a stick at, it really looks to cash in on the look of the “torture porn” movement. The differences between the two styles are drastically different however and this unfortunately prevents Grotesque from ever catching on with a more mainstream audience. For one, there is no story here. The film tries to weave something for us to grasp on to, but it fails under the weight of these massive torture sequences that comprise the entire production. We have two or three sequences where we flash back to our “lovers” as they talk on their first date, but we have no sense of history with these characters nor do they even have a history with one another which makes the devotion that they share all the more difficult to believe in. Ultimately the only real connection that we have with this couple is through their being human and we don’t want to see other human beings tortured in such sadistic ways. That is about it as far as character development tends to go with this one.

Stylistically, I have to say that Grotesque is fairly well made. The filmmaker does his best to emulate the Hollywood look but on a much more restrictive budget and he is actually fairly successful. The filters, despite being overly done and simplistic (the world is painted in blue until our killer is on call, then life seems to take on a light orange hue and the whites become bleached out), they tend to work fairly well. You get the point and they add a touch of style for what is a very straight forward piece of torture cinema. The performances are fairly awkward for the most part. Stiff line deliveries and strange rhythms are dominant throughout, but it is easy to overlook those things when the movie looks as well made as it does. Yet, it simply misses out on that most important of film devices: narrative. For the most part we’re stuck with a little over an hour worth of torture, cliches and puzzling drops in logic. While watching you will cringe when our killer starts up a CD of classical music while he prepares to torture our two leads. Does the irony of such a situation still even work in modern times? To be honest, at this point anyone who listens to classical music alone seems like they’re living up to the stigma of your average serial killer! While mentioning this, I do have to also mention the masturbation sequence that blows my mind. For one, it’s always strange to see a Japanese film that doesn’t add a mosaic tile over the crotch of an actor/actress so I have to assume Grotesque was saved this indignity by having an eye for the foreign market from the very beginning. Secondly, this entire sequence seems rather childish and lacking any real logic to it. I mean honestly, who is going to even be capable of being aroused enough to achieve orgasm when chained to a standing bedpost with a kidnapper claiming that he is going to kill you after he has already stabbed one of you in the stomach with a massive needle. Either our two leads were into some serious S&M fantasies that they never lead onto, or the filmmakers simply didn’t care and wanted to add some more “shocking” content. Including seminal fluids being projected and one of the first “squirting” scenes I think I’ve seen in a horror title!

After all that I have said and ranted on about however, no one comes into Grotesque looking for decent character arches and narrative ideas. You’re in it for the gore, just like everyone else. So how does it live up to expectations? I have to say, that is one area that the film rarely disappoints in. It comes nowhere near to reaching the levels pf psychosis that Psycho: The Snuff Reels or Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh & Blood does, but this one pushes well beyond the limits of what you will ever see in your average Saw movie. As the movie goes along, things simply grow progressively worse. If you have any issues with sexual mutilation, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Nipples are cut, castrations are had and you don’t even want to know what happens to a pair of testicles during this one. I won’t say that these are horrifying images that will haunt me for a life time, but these are definitely some very sick things that go down. There is also a sequence involving a chainsaw that takes some pretty daring risks and manipulates the audience in an interesting way as you never expect thigns to go quite as far as they do. Still, excellent gore does not make a great movie.

The Conclusion
Grotesque essentially lives up to every expectation set up for it. It is a big dumb ripoff of the Saw franchise, only it is done with the ferocity of Japanese underground extreme cinema. I think that for gorehounds, regardless of what I say they are going to check this out, but for the average horror fan you can probably skip out on this one. If you aren’t interested in the visual FX work involved in these gore sequences you may very well walk away bored from this one. I give it a two out of five. With no story, it relies on its gore to carry it through but the problem is there are gorier titles out there to search out.

Trick ‘R Treat

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 26 - 2010

The Plot: Trick ‘R Treat is a anthology film that covers five different stories and takes place over one Halloween night in Warren Valley, Ohio. A young married couple head home after a night of Halloween partying, but soon find out that it is always better to leave their Jack O’ Lanterns burning until the clock strikes midnight. The local school principal shows off his darker side as he treats a young boy to a poisoned treat and he must then dispose of the body without being caught by his neighbors or his own son. At the big Halloween bash in the middle of town a young virginal girl, on the search for a boy to take her to a Halloween party, is slowly stalked by a man who may just be a vampire. A group of kids gather up Jack O’ Lanterns in order to head down to the local rock quarry in order to summon forth the ghosts of several mentally handicapped children who were drowned in the water below the quarry, many Halloweens before. In our final story we follow a crabby old man that hates Halloween who finds out just why the season should be celebrated… because the young pumpkinheaded creature child Sam will come for you if you do not! All five stories are connected through various cameos and editing techniques and all tell the story of one very dark and horrifying night!

The Review
Every once in a while a genre movie comes along and gets everything so incredibly right that it becomes a sort of media darling of sorts. This is certainly the case within the very niche Horror market, where film opinion is often cannibalized between communities. While I’d love to be that one guy who sits back, folds my arms over and shows off his elitist opinion and finds some kind of glaring weaknesses in Trick ‘R Treat that no one else has seen, and then proceeds to harp on them for one thousand words… I just can’t. From a personal vantage point, I just can’t find those weaknesses. I can play devil’s advocate all day and say that I can understand a couple of issues that other viewers may possibly have with the picture, but for my own personal taste I just don’t see this film having any kind of alarming problems. I will play devil’s advocate a little later in this review, but for now I must congratulate director Michael Dougherty for making one of the best and most memorable horror films within recent memory. Comparable to Ti West’s The House of the Devil which was nearly as well loved, Trick ‘R Treat has left a indelible mark on the horror movie community and should help to further influence young filmmakers out there searching to find their own voice. This film does what modern horror should do, it takes its influences from horror cinema of old but looks to do completely new things while retaining that spirit of imagination that actually brought our attention to those films in the first place.

Trick ‘R Treat is an exercise in retro storytelling mixed with today’s contemporary “twist” oriented culture. Although that might sound like a rather odd mix, it really isn’t when you sit down and watch the movie. There have been plenty of films out there recently that have employed big “twists” in their conclusions and the popularity of such devices have left many film fans rather cold. This is no doubt due to the fact that so many bad movies out there have used big twists in order to make up for their rather bland material. Myself, I take the center ground, if a twist is established and set up well then it can and will work. Trick ‘R Treat does not employ any singular twist that changes the direction of its script, but instead focuses on a seemingly endless series of twists throughout that never allow you to actually get your feet cemented on solid ground. Feeling much more like five stories ripped straight from a Twilight Zone script rather than the work of M. Night Shyamalan, Trick ‘R Treat continually keeps you off balance. The opening moments show a couple returning home from a night out on the town, but what is beautiful about the sequence is how Dougherty establishes this sense of unease by continually throwing faux-scares at the audience. He avoids simple jump scares in lieu of musical buildups that make the seemingly most mundane of actions seem spooky. Is that hand hanging in the tree a real human arm or is it simply a prop? What is underneath that sheet covering the mannequin? This opening segment perfectly encapsulates the endless series of bumps, scares and twists that are soon to be delivered.

Even though I hate for this review to turn into endless gushing, I can’t help but point out the difficulties in making a very solid anthology film. Few times do you see anthology films ever rise up to anything more than a good way to waste some time. While I love the Creepshow movies, Tales From the Dark Side and Twilight Zone: The Movie, these titles are not what I would call the very best of the horror genre. They are extremely fun pieces of campy entertainment, but I don’t think any one is what I would call “essential” or something I go back and revisit on a yearly occasion. They are the movies that if you catch them on cable, you’ll probably stop, watch and have a good time. Trick ‘R Treat, in the short time since I first watched it (a year now? a little longer maybe?), has become somewhat of a new classic in my eyes. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling and creepiness that Halloween can bring upon those who celebrate it. It is a movie where seemingly anything can happen and it isn’t afraid to ask you to participate and let your spookiest thoughts run free. If there is one thing that the movie takes from traditional horror classics, it is that. Trick ‘R Treat actually tries to scare you! It isn’t so conceded or post-modern that it refuses to sink down and ask you as an audience to believe in ghouls, ghosts and vampires. The movie instead takes its content very serious and even though there are humorous bits here and there, it isn’t afraid to simply try and be a scary movie.

On a technical scale, you really can’t fault the film. It is beautifully shot, features great actors putting in well received performances and also features a laboriously well crafted script that puts together these five stories throughout one night in such a manner that you and friends will find yourself discussing the linearity of the project for hours. What scene came first in the course of events over this one night, who was tied with whom, what is the reason for any one particular character’s reaction… it is certainly a horror movie with lofty goals and in my opinion it achieves them. I mentioned playing devil’s advocate earlier and I suppose I’ll go into that now. I think if there is anything that could draw someone out of the movie, it would be the number of twists and the very modern post-Tarantino style of editing. Horror purists could potentially find this slightly contemptuous, but I wonder if that wouldn’t be more a problem of their own rather than a problem within the film. For my own cinematic preference, I loved the witty script and the wild ride that it takes us on.

The Conclusion
Upon revisiting the movie, it really dawned on me just how much I love it. Trick ‘R Treat will make it into my Halloween events every year from now on. I can almost guarantee that! Dark, comedic, suspenseful and witty; there are few aspects about the movie I can find to dislike. Although this score might seem a little high, I am giving it my highest score as a five out of five. It’s not that there aren’t better horror movies out there, but Trick ‘R Treat certainly deserves to be mentioned right alongside them. If you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favor and check it out for this Halloween and for every Halloween afterward!




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.