Friday, November 27, 2009

Ninja Stars Come Out At Night

An A-budget, ultra-gory ninja movie seems like an unlikely candidate for a holiday release but yet here we are with Warner Bros.' Ninja Assassin raining a hail of shurikens on Thankgiving weekend audiences. Directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) and written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski, Ninja Assassin can't quite be called a throwback to the ninja movies of the '80s - outside of the casting of ninja movie superstar Sho Kosugi (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and almost any '80s movie with 'ninja' in the title), it isn't aiming for nostalgia - instead this feels more indebted to modern anime and comic books than to the kind of ninja movies that used to have the Cannon Films logo on them. Those with fond memories of growing up on those earlier ninja romps might be put off by Ninja Assassin's dour tone but as ultraviolent entertainment, Ninja Assassin gets the job done.

First-off, following in the gore-soaked footsteps of Rambo and Punisher: War Zone (both 2008), Ninja Assassin proves that the MPAA no longer gives a shit. Seriously, I recently rewatched Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) and to see what the MPAA wouldn't allow in that film (like, a quick shot of a spear being twisted in someone's gut or something) compared to the explicit, full-on dismemberings and decapitations seen here is to marvel at what an R-rating means today. Ninja Assassin would've be unreleasable in its current form twenty - or even ten - years ago (pics from Ninja Assassin would've gotten GoreZone banned from magazine racks just as quickly as anything from Intruder, I'll tell you that!). Now it's a free for all. No complaints here - but I just wonder when the big turnaround happened. Maybe Hannibal (2001) opened the door and Passion of the Christ (2004) kicked it down.

Whatever the case, Ninja Assassin is far from a dry affair. But besides its gratuitous gore, does Ninja Assassin have much else to offer? Well, no - but the gore IS outstanding. Yes, there's a lot of CGI blood, which I guess still rankles some viewers, but I think it works in the context of the stylized world that McTeigue is going for here. As for the action itself, some may be disappointed that so many fight scenes are staged in dark environments but for me, visibility didn't seem like a major issue. I expect McTeigue just believes that ninjas usually work in the shadows and I have to agree on that point. The Cannon Films always had a lot of brightly lit, daytime fight scenes but, really, that seems incongruous to the methods of the ninja. Also, to see ninjas in bright light is to essentially be watching people jumping around in their pajamas. That might've played just fine in the '80s but dammit, audiences are more sophisticated now!

The story of Ninja Assassin is standard issue all the way - a young orphan raised by a ninja clan grows up to rebel against his sadistic mentor - but as a hook to hang fight scenes on, it works. What's more damaging to the film is that the acting is so bland across the board. Rain, as the ninja clan-defying Raizo, looks perfect for his role and he's totally convincing in the fight scenes but as a charismatic presence - forget it. Naomie Harris is nearly as personality-free as an Interpol agent chasing down rumors of ninjas (I remembered her being much better in 28 Days Later). Ditto for Ben Miles as the boss of Harris' character. Kosugi is fine (and still convincing as a bad-ass) but as his role calls for him to be stoic at all times, he can't add much life to the movie.

With so little human interest to hold our attention, how much one enjoys Ninja Assassin will depend entirely on how much of a ninja action geek they are, and how accepting they are of the style McTeigue has brought to his film. Some might've preferred that McTeigue have gone more old-school in his methods but this is one ninja pajama party that I was happy to attend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Four-Get Me Not

Thanksgiving isn't a day for ordinary, run of the mill turkeys - they've got to be exceptional birds and a cinematic turkey that's got impeccable credentials is the never-to-be-released 1994 adaptation of The Fantastic Four. Produced by (Oscar winner!) Roger Corman at the astonishingly low price of (choke!) $1.98 million, this shady enterprise was never was meant by Corman and Constantin Film to be a theatrical release, it was just a bid to retain the studio's film option rights - although that mercenary goal turned out to be news to FF's hardworking cast and crew, and to a legion of comic fans that were kept waiting for Marvel's First Family to make it to the screen.

I was one of those fans and I followed the progress of this movie avidly. I still have an issue of Film Threat magazine, in fact, with a terrific FF cover story that gave plenty of evidence that, while this wouldn't be top of the line filmmaking, it would be showing plenty of fidelity to the comic. The cast, at least, looked like dead ringers to their four-color counterparts and as this was still in the days before comic adaptations were an industry to itself, any live-action adaptation - especially when it came to Marvel properties as the company was a few years off from getting their act together with 1998's Blade - was welcome.

Having said that, The Fantastic Four is justifiably known as being atrocious. But let's give credit where credit is due - on a budget too small to even have done a proper adaptation of The Punisher, never mind the Fantastic Four, director Oley Sassone did a heroic job of squeezing every dime to its limit. The movie may be shamefully underfunded but the Human Torch (Jay Underwood) does flame on (although he only does a full body flame once, at the climax), The Invisible Woman (Rebecca Staab) does disappear (a budget-friendly effect if there ever was one!), Mr. Fantastic (Alex Hyde-White) lives up to his rubbery reputation (his stretching powers requiring the most ingenuity from the FX department), and The Thing (Michael Bailey Smith) looks every inch like the orange rock-encrusted hero from the comics (this suit is seriously great and must've been where most of the budget went). The chemistry between the cast is strong and from their obvious commitment to the material, you wouldn't think that this was never meant to be a 'real' film.

I fondly remember being in the Springfield, MA, video store that I used to work in when we discovered to our joy that the tape of Carnosaur (Corman's knock-off of Jurassic Park, which managed to beat Spielberg's movie to theaters) had the Fantastic Four trailer on it. A small crowd of staff and customers rewatched that trailer at least five times on the spot and while I don't think any of us believed we'd be seeing that film in a theater, a video release had to be coming - after all, we just saw the preview!

But that was never to happen. Instead, the movie has become a permanent fixture on the bootleg circuit. In years to come, long after after every obscure, out-of-print title has made it onto some legitimate format, The Fantastic Four will still be found at vendors tables at conventions. For a few years after it first started appearing at cons, my friends and I kept searching for better quality dubs than what we had already gotten but after a try or two, it was clear that we already had the best version available. The best that can be said about the condition of the copies I've seen is that they're watchable - although in today's Blu-Ray age, I find that it's far harder for me to suffer through bad VHS dubs (of bad movies, at that!) than it used to be.

For The Fantastic Four, though, it's worth risking a headache every once in awhile. A lot of bad movies have the reputation of being so bad they're hilarious but this is one of the few I think really deserves that reputation. Dr. Doom's exaggerated hand gestures alone (when making his ransom demands he spells out the numbers in the air as he says them!) are gold and I know my life as a movie and comic fan wasn't quite complete until I saw Mr. Fantastic use his limitless ability to stretch his body to trip henchmen with his elongated shin.

If some feel that I've spoken too fondly of this movie and that I haven't savaged this legendary failure as much as it deserves, let's just say I decided long ago to adopt this turkey. Because any movie that ends like this deserves to live forever:

To everyone in North America, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Darkroom On DVD?

To tie in with their remake of The Wolf Man, Universal will be releasing their short-lived 1990-1991 series She-Wolf of London next year on DVD (arriving February 2nd on a four-disc set). While I have no grudge against this minor series making it onto disc, this news only serves to remind me of another short-lived series in Universal's care that they haven't seen fit to release to DVD yet - the blink-and-you-missed-it 1981 anthology Darkroom.

Airing on ABC from November 27, 1981 to January 15, 1982, Darkroom didn't even enjoy a full season. Lasting only seven episodes, the series followed the Night Gallery format of containing multiple stories of varying length within an hour-long program. James Coburn made for an adequate master of ceremonies, conducting his on-camera host segments from within a darkroom (natch!). Although it had an abbreviated on-air lifespan and enjoyed no critical acclaim, for young Gen-Xers in their pre-or-early teens who were home during its brief stint on ABC's Friday night schedule, Darkroom has proved to be memorable. Its limited run may have made a successful afterlife in syndication impossible (although the Sci-Fi Channel did air the series a few times during the mid-'90s in day-long marathons) but Darkroom's handful of episodes were enough to earn the show a devoted set of fans.

Most notable among its stories were "Closed Circuit," in which a veteran news anchor (Robert Webber) is in danger of being replaced by his own ageless video image; "The Bogeyman Will Get You," in which a young girl (Helen Hunt) suspects her new boyfriend is a vampire; "The Siege of 31 August," in which a Vietnam vet (Ronny Cox) is tormented by his young son's toy soldiers (a story many fans believe to be an adaptation of the Stephen King short story "Battleground," but isn't); "The Partnership," in which a wily old man and his unseen 'partner' outplay a cocky drifter (David Carradine); and "Catnip," a story of a war between a violent thug and an elderly witch that builds to a punchline that'd make the Cryptkeeper chuckle. The remaining stories were a grab-bag of ok-to-poor tales (including a retelling of "Guillotine," a Cornell Woolrich story that was originally adapted in 1961 for the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series Thriller) but none overstayed their welcome (many stories clocked in at less than ten minutes).

Even though Darkroom can't boast anything on the quality level of the best of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, it's generally on par with Night Gallery and I believe its run deserves to be seen and (hopefully) appreciated by more than just a handful of fans. Besides the aforementioned names, Darkroom was also host to appearances by R.G. Armstrong, Whit Bissell, Claude Atkins, Billy Crystal, Brian Dennehy, Samantha Eggar, June Lockhart, Rue McClanahan, and Esther Rolle - not bad for a mere seven episodes! - and its behind the scenes talent included directors Curtis Harrington (Night Tide, How Awful About Allan), Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II), Paul Lynch (Prom Night), Jeffrey Bloom (Blood Beach, Flowers in the Attic) and writer Robert Bloch (who penned three episodes - "The Bogeyman Will Get You," "A Quiet Funeral" - on which Avengers' writer Brian Clemens also contributed - and "Catnip").

While I realize that with much bigger shows in their catalog vying for their attention, Universal likely doesn't feel the need to invest in a DVD release of Darkroom, I don't believe that the show's modest accomplishments should be left to fade away like an old photograph.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Abandon All Hope

The passing of actor Edward Woodward this week at age 79 naturally prompted me to think of the role I first encountered him in - that of Robert McCall, an ex-member of an unspecified government agency who turned into a virtual one-man army on the streets of New York in the CBS series The Equalizer, which ran for four years from 1985-1989. Woodward was as smooth as they come in the role and, even in his mid-50's at the time, totally convincing as someone who could roll over any opponent.

But besides Woodward himself, what I remember most about The Equalizer is its dramatic opening title sequence. Set to the music of ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland, this 59 second clip painted a picture of New York as an unsurvivable urban hell, a city completely taken over by criminals. With its shots of scared women peering out from behind chain-locked apartment doors or menaced by thugs in the flickering lights of elevators or on subway platforms, the opening of The Equalizer was as much a part of the 'women-in-peril' subgenre as any '80s slasher movie. All it was missing was an appearance by Maniac's Joe Spinell.

With its image as a city having been turned around over the last two decades, there's a whole generation or two that doesn't instantly think of New York as being a scary, dangerous place but that's the reputation it had in the '70s and '80s. When John Carpenter's Escape from New York was released in 1981, it clicked with audiences because at the time it didn't seem like that much of a stretch that the government would give up on the city and turn it into a criminal colony. During its run, The Equalizer's title sequence made it seem as though that day was just around the corner. It can still make you feel vulnerable, where ever you live.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Welcome To The World Of Terror!

You just can't beat the sight of Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man pitching FANGORIA subscriptions (I have to assume that Robert Englund proved to be out of Fango's modest price range!). Looking at this late '80s commercial, I find it funny how relatively young Scrimm looks here. I thought he looked ancient then (no offense to Mr. Scrimm!) but now - well, you'd have to describe him as being downright spry! As Monty Burns might say "who is that young go-getter?" And speaking of the passage of time, when Scrimm opens that coffin, it's like looking at Fango's Golden Age. At the time, I'll admit I got pretty sick of seeing Freddy Krueger on the cover but in hindsight, those were really Fango's salad days.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Don't Have To Be A Mayan To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

My first memories of being scared in a theater were of watching the trailers for Irwin Allen productions like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). I don't know which movies my mother and I had gone to see when those previews played but the sight of crowds of people trapped, overwhelmed and facing certain death by either water or flames terrified me. I even felt unnerved a few years later when we saw Superman: The Movie (1978) and I watched the destruction of Krypton play out on the big screen. To see people running for their lives as the ground below them gave way and they plummeted into an endless chasm, falling helplessly into space, was scarier to me than any creature feature I had seen. A monster or an animal can conceivably be reasoned with - or at least be deceived, or defeated. But Nature is devoid of thoughts or feelings. Nature, to me, is not about sunsets and gentle breezes. It's about hundred foot tall waves, raging fires, and enormous upheavals in the earth.

Producer/writer/director Roland Emmerich knows all about what Nature (and what CGI) is capable of. With only one true disaster movie to his credit - 2004's The Day After Tomorrow (Godzilla and Independence Day had plenty of destruction but they were rooted in sci-fi fantasy with their giant monsters and aliens) - he apparently decided that he had been thinking too small with that film and looked to the Mayan calendar for inspiration for 2012. This is the big enchilada of disaster movies. I believe that the book on this genre should be permanently closed now. I guess someone else will try to carry on at some point - maybe even Emmerich himself - but I can't imagine why. Unless all prints of 2012 are mysteriously lost, there is no more need for any further cinematic depictions of disaster - that is unless someone wants to do a disaster movie in 3-D. Maybe that'll be Emmerich's encore after this. Personally, I think he should just move on because trying to top himself at his own game after 2012 looks like a losing proposition to me.

I had expected that 2012 would've gone more into Mayan mumbo-gumbo but the prophecies or what-have-you of the Mayan calendar are given a brief shout-out or two early on and never mentioned again. Apparently there wasn't much material there to work with - but they did have that magic date to offer and Emmerich doesn't let it go to waste. To Emmerich's credit, the characters in 2012 are more personable than they had to be. Smart casting helps, with John Cusack as a novelist and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a scientist being especially good. And I wouldn't have thought that a movie about the end of the world could be such giddy fun but Emmerich has pulled it off. This is the kind of movie where one character says to another "I feel like something's pulling us apart," as a beat later a gigantic crack appears between them in the floor of the supermarket they're standing in. Corny? Sure, but you don't spend the kind of money that was spent on this movie to leave people depressed. 2012 frequently reaches the level of total slapstick farce and boy, those are some good times. I'd hate to spoil the highlights for anyone, so I won't but all I can say is that I'm still chuckling over some of 2012's best bits.

When I told my wife this movie was two hours and forty minutes long, she couldn't believe it. But while it does seem like a movie that by rights ought to be short and sweet, Emmerich finds a way to make 2012 more than just a global smackdown. This catastrophe isn't something that's just sprung on the world's leaders so plans are in place to ensure the survival of the species, giving 2012 a third act that isn't just about people lying around dying. And of course, in classic disaster movie tradition, there's plenty of soap opera level dramatics with characters either rising or falling to the occasion.

Emmerich himself rises to the occasion with the help of his cast and special effects team. 2012 is a giant hunk of foolishness but it's also the greatest 'disaster porn' film ever made.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Everything Dies, That's A Fact. But Maybe Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back

Every time I watch director Gary Sherman's Dead & Buried (1981), I'm struck all over again by how nasty a piece of work it is. There's a heartlessness to the violence in this movie that I never get used to. Its fantasy elements of voodoo, zombies, and black magic gives the movie's acts of sadism a slight buffer but it ranks high as one of the most hardcore American splatter films of the '80s.

Dead & Buried was written by Ron Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, who were coming off of a big success with Alien (1979), with the posters for Dead & Buried boasting that "the creators of Alien bring a new kind of terror to Earth." Sherman had been MIA since helming the 1972 cult favorite Death Line (aka Raw Meat) but even after almost ten years, Dead & Buried wasn't a rusty re-entry to the director's chair - it's clear that he hadn't missed a step. Sherman went on to direct two more notable exploitation films - 1982's Vice Squad and 1987's Wanted: Dead or Alive - before stumbling with the troubled Poltergeist III (1988) and never quite recovering his momentum.

But Dead & Buried remains a real dark gem. This got in just before the MPAA got tough with horror films in the '80s - I can't imagine that it would've earned such a lenient R-rating even a year later. And while it's storyline is absurd and shouldn't work, it does, thanks to Sherman direction never copping to how preposterous it all is. William G. Dobbs, the small town mortician with the ability to resurrect the dead that Jack Albertson (in his last role) plays here, is a villain right out of a comic book and while his ghoulish deeds seem to have no real purpose, the movie is never less than convincing as pulp horror.

The sick joke of Dead & Buried is that it's a film about the dead desecrating the living. This isn't a zombie film about the dead mindlessly devouring the living for subsistence; it's about the dead not just taking life, but maiming and mutilating life. As directed by Dobbs' will, the undead residents of Potter's Bluff don't just kill their victims, they go the extra mile to make them into unrecognizable corpses - burning them, crushing their skulls with stones, melting their faces with acid (FX genius Stan Winston really outdid himself on this early assignment). In Dead & Buried the dead are like zealots to a cause, coming together as one to destroy and disfigure life anywhere they find it in their tight-knit community. If you want to live in Potter's Bluff, you have to die first. And even if you don't want to live in Potter's Bluff, you still should be prepared to die.

Typically in zombie films, the dead are either pathetically mimicking the living (the zombies still compelled to wander the mall in Dawn of the Dead) or else are completely inhuman (like the thoroughly rotted forms seen in Fulci's Zombie or the Rage-fueled crazies of 28 Days Later) but in Dead & Buried the dead are true works of art - their mangled faces restored post-mortem with painstaking skill by Dobbs, the Michelangelo of the morgue to whom a closed casket was a sin (one of the most striking sequences in the film is a time-lapse depiction of a hitchhiker's crushed face being reassembled). His zombies weren't a parody of life but in his eyes, an improvement. It's no surprise that he learned how to bring back the dead - he loved his work too much to let it stay buried.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Box

When I see a big budget studio film that's bound to appeal only to a very niche audience, it causes me to wonder how it got made in the first place and to admire the kind of special talent it takes to convince a studio to back a project that's almost certain to fail.

Whoever pulled that trick off with The Box must be one skilled freak of nature because nothing about this film says "yeah, let's put $30 million into this!" It's an adaptation of a semi-obscure Richard Matheson short story that doesn't really have any action per se, it's not quite a horror film (it has its share of creepy moments but you couldn't call it outright horror), it's not what Hollywood thinks of sci-fi anymore (no giant robots), and oh yeah - it's a period piece set in the '70s.

So while The Box isn't likely to become a hit, my thanks go out to writer/director Richard Kelly for pushing all the right buttons with me. Sure, this probably could've used some tightening - The Box sags in the middle before snapping back for the climax - but I never felt impatient to get out of the world that Kelly had created. There's something innately comforting about the film's warm '70s vibe coupled with the weird conspiratorial atmosphere closing in around the lives of Arthur and Norma Lewis (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz). It's somehow eerie and homey at the same time and those are two things I like.

Some will undoubtedly find The Box to be a pretty package with nothing in it but it turned out to be just what I was looking for - a big scale Twilight Zone tale filled with moral quandaries, spaced-out sci-fi and '70s shout-outs. Click over to Shock Till You Drop for my full review.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extraterrestrial Activity

I've been in kind of a post-Halloween funk this week. Nothing seems to be catching my attention or inspiring me to do much. It'll pass, of course, but let me tell you - The Fourth Kind didn't do anything to help me. If I wasn't in a funk before, I sure am now. Based on the trailers I was hoping for some enjoyably creepy extraterrestrial hokum. While I don't believe in aliens and flying saucers and all that nonsense, I'm totally willing to play along during the course of a movie for the sake of having a good time. But by the end of The Fourth Kind, though, all that I felt was a sense of depression.

I know that being abducted by aliens isn't supposed to be a picnic but to watch The Fourth Kind is to learn just how bad aliens - or at least believing in aliens - can fuck up your life. Milla Jovovich plays a real-life psychologist in Nome, Alaska who has some pre-existing issues of her own, thanks to her husband's mysterious death. When her patients begin to tell her similar stories about a white owl that visits them at night, she decides that a little hypno-therapy should sort 'em out. Well, that's when people really begin to lose their shit. It's suggested by one character after a particularly tragic episode that maybe hypnotizing these patients isn't such a smooth move but Jovovich's character doesn't want to hear that. Eventually her persistence bites her in the ass. She should've been a Kenny Rogers fan. If she had been, she would've known when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, when to walk away, and for damn sure know when to run.

The Fourth Kind is reportedly based on true events but I'm too lazy to look into verifying that. Sans any fact-checking, I'm going to guess that it's all bullshit. Not just the alien stuff, because that's a given. I just hope the whole movie is an elaborate put-on, including the 'real' footage that plays in tandem with the reenactments. If this is really based on documented cases, this is one depressing movie. Not creepy, just depressing. I don't believe in aliens but I do believe that disturbed people can lose themselves in paranoid fantasies and never find their way back. If you're going to make a movie about alien abductions, don't be ambiguous about whether aliens exist or not. I'm sure they don't exist in real life, but at least have the characters in a movie about aliens not seem so sad and crazy.

Even though it's strongly suggested in The Fourth Kind that aliens were - and still are! - at work in Nome, Alsaka, the evidence is too wishy-washy. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi leaves the decision up to us what we take away from the 'facts' that his movie presents. That may be admirable from a journalistic stand-point but personally, I think some exaggeration of the facts and maybe even some outright fabrication was needed. We're talking about flying saucers here, not an expose of the banking industry. Jovovich and the rest of the cast (especially Will Patton as a sheriff at the end of his wits) are all good but right up until its conclusion, The Fourth Kind doesn't have any real cards to play. It just sputters out, leaving nothing but wrecked lives.

When I was a kid, stories of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and aliens all scared me but also filled me with a sense of wonder. When I saw a movie like The Mysterious Monsters (1976), reportedly based on true testimony, or watched an (ahem!) 'investigative' show like In Search Of (1976-1982), it made me dream about what was out there, undiscovered in the world or the universe. But the only speculation The Fourth Kind encourages is about what kind of anti-depressants its most traumatized characters must be on. Whatever meds they're taking, I hope they're out of this world.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween, Too

I didn't plan on waiting until Halloween to watch writer/director Michael Dougherty's Trick 'R Treat but circumstances, commitments, and sometimes just a lack of energy forced me to keep putting off screening it. By now, most fans are familiar with the long, difficult journey this Halloween-themed anthology has taken on the way to release as well as with the acclaim it received at every film fest it played for the past two years or so. But that was the word from the festival circuit, and sometimes the early hype generated by eager fans and online journalists can be misleading. Since Trick 'R Treat has hit DVD and everyone has had a chance to see it, the gushing accolades have been tempered by some "what's the big deal?" reviews and a couple of "this sucks" reviews as well. But those kind of reviews are useful, too - I like to hear a few contrary opinions rather than just universal praise.

My first attempt to watch Trick 'R Treat didn't go so well. I got through about ten minutes one night last week before exhaustion from a long day set in and what little I saw didn't excite me that much. But some time to myself late last night as Halloween slipped away for another year seemed like the perfect chance to give Trick 'R Treat another shot - and I'm glad I did as while my enthusiasm for the film isn't as unbridled as that of some viewers, I really enjoyed it. For all the criticism towards Warner Bros.' handling of the movie, I can understand some of their reluctance to release it theatrically. Anthologies never do great business - even Trick 'R Treat's avowed model, Creepshow, underperformed when it was released in '82. Then again, selling a movie called Trick 'R Treat during October probably shouldn't present a marketing challenge.

But regardless of whether or not Warners dropped the ball on a big hit, Trick 'R Treat's box office potential will have to forever remain a matter of speculation. It's the film itself that bears discussion and while the four tales that Dougherty tells here are all slight, the device of interweaving them gives them a kick and a charm that they wouldn't have otherwise had. And Trick 'R Treat's technical credits can't be undersold - the production design of Mark Freeborn, art direction Tony Wohlgemuth and cinematography of Glen MacPherson are all indispensable assets. Thanks to their contributions, watching Trick 'R Treat is like having a sumptuously illustrated tale of Halloween unfolding in front of you. And the incomparable Halloween splendor is further embellished by composer Douglas Pipes' evocative score.

Clocking in at 82 minutes, Trick 'R Treat is the perfect length - had Doughetry tried to stretch his film out any longer with additional storylines, or to embellish on any of the four tales at hand, would've likely caused the film to overstay its welcome. Trick 'R Treat isn't a game changer for the genre, nor is it meant to be - it's just everything you love about Halloween in one film and nothing that you hate.

Whatever deficiencies it may have are compensated for with its irresistible holiday spirit. It's harmless, creepy, and fun - just the way Halloween ought to be. With stores shoving Christmas on us before Halloween is even over, anything that helps keeps All Hallows' Eve around a little bit longer - and with such style - is welcome.