Trick ‘r Treat

For years, horror fans have been anxiously awaiting the release of “Trick ‘R Treat,” the Bryan Singer-produced horror anthology film that promised to be the rightful successor to “Creepshow” and “Tales from the Crypt.” While “Trick” is far from that level, the fact that writer/director Michael Dougherty goes out of his way to not have his film be the kind of slasher film that normally accompanies modern horror movies makes it one of the better entries in this genre in quite a while. Yet, the lack of gore is also what most likely kept the movie on the proverbial vault for two and a half years. How do you sell a mostly bloodless, almost-gothic horror film to the people who made crap like “Saw” and “Hostel” major hits? Show it off at a few select genre-themed film festivals, let the guys who operate genre-themed web sites salivate over being the first to review, and let the more savvy genre fans stew for another year, eager to buy the movie once it’s finally released on video.

But what keeps “Trick” from attaining its lofty “Creepshow” aspirations is the lack of conflict and resolution within the stories. Each story in the Stephen King/George A. Romero classic had some kind of morality wrapped around it. Twisted and depraved, to be certain, but still a reason for the action on screen. Nathan Grantham came back for his cake after his ungrateful kids killed him on Father’s Day. The result of Jordy Verrill’s greed was a different kind of green than he expected. Richard Vickers got his just deserts when he arranges the living deaths of his wife and her lover. And so on. Here, Dougherty finds just enough reasons to connect his otherwise disjointed and untitled storylines: a high school principal (Dylan Baker) enjoys some unique extracurricular activities in his spare time, a college girl (Anna Paquin) looks to lose her virginity with the help of her sisters, four teens look to pull a mean prank on an autistic girl on their block, and a cranky old man (Brian Cox) is harassed by a small phantom apparition in a scarecrow costume.

The one thread that works is the finale featuring Mr. Cox, and it only comes together at the end, thanks to the payoff from a minor subplot in a previous story. But for the most part, these characters exist solely to do things to others or have things done unto them. A character in one story gets his comeuppance not from anyone in his thread but in an entirely different story. Another character kills off two people at the very start of the film, and continues to float around in the background of additional stories, but when they finally get to the story meant for them, it’s never explained why he did what he did to that first couple or why he’s doing what he’s doing to this person now. Cute ways to tie everything together, but it cheapens the overall effect. Horror best works when we know why the action is happening the way it is. The original “Nightmare on Elm Street” remains the best of the series, because we understand why Freddy Krueger is doing what he is doing. Same with the original “Friday the 13th” movie, even if Mrs. Voorhees’s driving force was misplaced. Freddy and Mrs. Voorhees had legitimate motivations, and we saw both the cause and effect of their actions. No such luck here, just a movie in search of something to justify the title.

The cast should have something for everyone, from consummate professionals Baker, Cox and Paquin to total hottie Leslie Bibb, plus that Helo guy from “Battlestar Galactica” and the fat kid from “Bad Santa.” The one true discovery from the cast is young Samm Todd as the savant Rhonda, who does far more with her character than could possibly be expected. Why she hasn’t gotten another job three years after production ended is a mystery.

Dougherty, who also wrote the second “X-Men” movie and “Superman Returns” for Singer, does a passable job as director, but he still has much to learn from his benefactor before he takes on another directing gig. Technical credits are good considering the film’s low-end studio budget.

The “Trick ‘R Treat” DVD, presented in either a modified 1.33:1 or a matted 2.125:1 ratio enhanced for widescreen televisions, looks and sounds adequate, with no noticeable artifacting or defects on the soundtrack. The one bonus feature is “Season’s Greetings,” a three-and-a-half animated short made by Doughtery during his days at New York University, which features the sack-headed character who also shows up in the live-action feature. (The short also includes a director’s commentary, something not done for the feature film. The trailers include the expected pitch for Warner Brothers Blu-Ray discs, along with the soon-on-DVD “Orphan” and a direct-to-video horror film called “The Hills Run Red,” as well as a commercial for the video games “Batman” Arkham Asylum” and “Dirt 2.”

Rating: C