Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review: Trick 'r Treat (2008)

I've written about this movie before. I first saw the trailer for it on the DVD release of Frank Miller's 300 and was immediately blown away. Unfortunately, this film languished on a shelf at Warner Brothers for years.

I had high expectations for this film simply because of the awesome, creepy trailer I saw... so you can understand my frustration with the time it took to get an eventual release on this film.

In addition to my excitement, there was quite a bit of buzz on the internet and the various horror film websites I haunt on a regular basis. It seems everyone was chomping at the bit to see this movie... and the hype was that it was all good.

When considering this, you can understand my anticipation and my dread that this movie would - once released - actually suck. That's the problem with being a jaded horror fan. I can't count the number of times I've been taken in by a slick trailer or poster, been seduced by the hype of a movie that's promised so much... and delivered so little. I was anxious, but excited, when it was announced a few months ago that Trick 'r Treat was finally being released on DVD this month.

So I received my copy yesterday in the mail and, after Mrs. Zombie crawled into her warm bed, I cracked open a Great Lakes Brewey Nosferatu Ale, turned off all of the lights save the plastic jack o'lantern in the front window, and loaded up the DVD player.

I can say, unequivocally, that this movie EXCEEDED my expectations!

This film was worth the wait. It is one of the most stunningly visual films I've ever seen. The standard against which I set movies that try to capture the true 'feel' of Halloween is relatively high and rare to find. I can think of only a few films that capture the incredible visuals and feelings of Halloween that we all long for (or at least us freaks who LIVE for Halloween long for). Of course, there's John Carpenter's classic Halloween; and perhaps Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. But beyond that, there's not much.

And that's what makes this movie so spellbinding and so deliciously Halloween-y. Writer and Director Michael Dougherty is our kind of people, dear reader. He loves Halloween and understands what the holiday is about. And that love and understanding have created an homage to the holiday that is unlike any I've ever seen.

The film revolves around Halloween night in the town of Warren Valley, Ohio. The town is devoted to Halloween and, every year, turns it into a festival and huge party. It reminds me of the chaos of Halloween at Ohio University, which I experienced in my wayward college days. The plot revolves around four stories that occur on that spooky night and a terror that stalks the quiet, leaf-littered streets.

It's hard for me to go too deeply into the plots of each vignette simply because it would spoil much of the surprise. There's the high school principal with a dark secret (played by the always incredible character actor, Dylan Baker), 4 women on the hunt for fun and excitement with their virginal younger sister (played by the hot and lust-inducing Anna Paquin), five kids who look for a haunting good time in their search for a tragic past-Halloween accident/urban myth, and the terror a crotchety old shut-in (played by the incomparable Brian Cox) faces as the horrors of Halloween and his past clash together and find him in his cold, empty house.

All of the stories, as they take place in a town I wished I lived in, are interwoven and the tales cross paths again and again as the timeline moves back and forth through the night's events.

Tying all of the stories together is one of the creepiest characters ever, Sam. Child-sized, the character is chilling and appealing at the same time. Wearing grubby red pajamas and an oddly disturbing flour sack, Sam wanders in and out of the stories like a strange, ghostly vision. The mask is horror perfection, reminiscent of the vintage Halloween art of an earlier age crossed with the viscerally jarring creepiness of David Cronenberg's 'face' from the film adaptation of Clive Barker's Nightbreed... he's quite possibly one of the most iconic horror monsters since Freddy Krueger wandered down Elm Street with super-sized arms.

This movie was so right and so perfect. It was really the little things that made it so great. From the scenes that were perfect representation of the Halloween of our dreams, to the perfect use of jack o'lanterns in critical scenes. This film had something for everyone. From an allegorical little Red Riding Hood tale with a sexy twist, to the dark nature of Halloween pranks. Hell, there was even a different sort of striptease at one point that any horror movie lover could get turned on by... and believe me when I tell you that Dr. Zombie found it sexy as hell!

The scenes were incredible. The stories were deliciously horrifying. The pacing was dead on.

One could not ask for a better horror movie.

The test of a good horror movie, at least for Doctor Zombie, is whether or not he'd buy it and watch it again. In fact, there's a small group of movies that I feel it necessary to watch around Halloween every year. They get me in the mood for the season, and reaffirm everything I love about Samhain - everyone's favorite Pagan holiday. As the weather turns cooler, and the leaves change into bright, fireworks of color before falling like burned paper, and the smells of leaves, and ripe apples, and jack o'lanterns burned too close to their lids by candles fills the windy, dark October nights - I pull out the chosen few movies that epitomize the wicked awesomeness that is All Hallow's Eve. Those movies include, among others, the classic 1941 Wolfman, John Carpenter's Halloween, Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, George A. Romero's holy trinity of Night, Dawn, and Day of the Dead, and now... Trick 'r Treat.

Yes. It's that good.

Oh... and I'm not usually one for mentioning DVD Special Features, at least as far as my reviews go, and this film is really lacking in them. But the one that it does have is absolutely breathtaking in its presentation. Entitled Seasons Greetings, it's the short animated feature that Michael Dougherty did back in 1996. It would become the genesis of this film and shows the beginnings of the creature Sam. It is amazing in that it has ZERO computer animation and was hand-drawn and animated by Dougherty himself.

It is a labor of love and pain and shows that Dougherty has the Halloween and spookiness credentials to make such an incredible movie as Trick 'r Treat. Simply put, the dude is our kind of guy, he gets it, and truly understands what makes a good horror movie.

I cannot stress enough! Go get this movie! Turn off the lights, and watch it before Halloween. Or... watch it on Halloween night. I wouldn't be surprised if a creepy kid with a big head shows up at your door, though. Or, at least, the doorway to your nightmares!

DOCTOR ZOMBIE'S RATING: 6 out of 5 CHOMPED BRAINS (Hey! It's my fucking scale! I can do it however I want!)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Movie Review - Zombieland - 2009

Dear, sweet Pagan gods! You are great gods, and while not necessarily benevolent, have showered us in mana and goodness. Thank you. Thank you for bestowing upon us a mainstream zombie movie of such unequaled awesomeness!

This movie is the sort of zombie movie that I hope for everytime I rent a zombie movie, have one dropped off by Netflix, or catch a late night zombie-fest on SyFy or Chiller.

Namely, a zombie movie that has the right mix of horror, comedy, gore, and sheer badassedness.

Obviously, I LOVED this movie.

Woody Harrelson, who has been guilty of playing the same sort of character again and again, has found - in my opinion - the role he was made for. He has the perfect level of bravado, irreverence, humor, and pathos in this role. His character, Tallahasee, is the zombie killer we all want to be in our own secret zombie apocalypse fantasies (everybody else fantasizes about the Zombie Apocalypse, right? Everybody has their escape plan, right? I've always argued that the hardest part about the zombies rising up from the dead will be actually pretending that I'm not excited about it!) His irascibility knows no bounds, and he treats the zombie apocalypse like his own personal extended self-help session. He gleefully kills zombies with banjos, garden shears, car doors, and anything else he can get his hands on. And yet, offsetting this manic violence, there are moments where he makes you care for the character at an emotional level rarely seen in a horror film.

Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Columbus,is the perfect foil for Tallahasee... and is the perfect partner in what is one of the best zombie movie buddy team-ups since Shaun and Ed from Shaun of the Dead. His neurosis and OCD-based adherance to his "Zombieland Rules" is the perfect counterpoint to Harrelson. Eisenberg also inhabits the role of Columbus in a way that transcends the genre label of a horror movie. He's an incredible actor who manages to make us believe he is the shy, introverted, videogame playing dork his character is. He's a geek savant, and all geeks (myself included) can't help but root for him to get the girl and become the hero.

Emma Stone, who plays the conniving, scamming Wichita -watches over her sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) with a convincing mother-like devotion... and is hot to boot. Both girls did an incredible job and we fall in love with her just as Columbus does. Wichita is smart, sassy, sexy, and the exact girl you'd want to meet up with at the end of the world.

This movie was perfect on so many levels. It hit all the right notes. The gore was superb, the effects were kick ass, and the story was spot on. There's a cameo midway through that bumps this film from a simple, well executed zombie film to a film of almost unimagineable geeky/fan boy coolness. Especially cool are the intro shots showing zombie chasing down and devouring hapless victims.

This movie was great. I love this movie. Fuck The People vs. Larry Flint... Woody Harrelson deserves to get another Academy Award nomination, and subsequently win an Oscar because this is the best role he's ever done.

If you haven't seen this... GO! If you can't get someone to go with you, call Doctor Zombie. I'll fucking go again!