I'm not a particular fan of the Horror/Comedy genre but I am an admirer of these two gems from American Director Michael Dougherty. So here are my spoiler free appreciations of Dougherty's two directorial efforts so far
"Trick r Treat" (2007) and Krampus (2015).
This particular blog is dedicated to my teenage son Joshua who if it wasn't for his choice of film on an otherwise normal Thursday afternoon after school I wouldn't have seen Michael's second and most recent film Krampus, and to return the compliment, I obtained a copy of his first film and we spent three hours together laughing, cringing, jumping and hiding behind the cushions scattered around the sofa! Sharing films with my son is a precious past time for me and I've had the very great pleasure of introducing him to some of the master works from Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Alfonso Cuaron and Robert Zemeckis to name just a few. So thank you Joshua for filling in a gap in my cinema knowledge, and to Michael for two crazy, individual and unique films!
"Take down all this crap. It looks like a crime scene!"
Written and directed by first timer Dougherty, I only came across his debut film as being the completest that I am I wanted to watch this after seeing his more recent feature "Krampus" (below). Given my reticence for the comedy/horror genre I was more than pleasantly surprised by Krampus and equally so here with Trick r Treat. On the surface this appears to be a fairly straight forward Halloween film set in the Ohio town of Warren Valley but by the end of it's fairly short running time of just 82 minutes I was riveted, as well as pleasantly surprised by a looping narrative of ostensibly five story strands interspersed with flashbacks and the film's first major reveal, the dastardly Halloween killer! But this isn't the only murderer prowling the suburban Ohio streets this Halloween! Or is it?
From black and white cine stock footage of yesteryear and the do's and don'ts of Halloween we are propelled into the first of many eerily creepy scenes and of a silent killer and their bloody dismembering of two adults preparing for the evening's festivities. Breaking with conventional wisdom we see the killer in the film's earliest frames, but do we? The first of the film's many twists and turns has been introduced, albeit in the most graphic of ways and where Trick r Treat excels early on is the introduction of the killer but continuing with a pervasive threat of more as all narrative strands, be it a highly populated street carnival, gangs of happy celebratory teenage children or numerous narrative flashbacks all brilliantly add to a heightened sense of peril for all concerned. As with all good classic horror tropes, someone is always watching, no-one can be trusted and the least expected characters often the most nefarious. Speaking of which: we have Dylan Baker as High School Principal "Steven Wilkins", Anna Paquin as a 22 year old virgin "Laurie" who continually laments to her friends that "being myself hasn't gotten me very far". Laurie, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood joins her Disney Princess attired friends "Maria" (Rochelle Aytes), "Danielle" (Lauren Lee Smith) and "Janet" (Moneca Delain) in the busy street carnival while "Peeping Tommy" (Quinn Lord) and the ever dependable Brian Cox as "Mr Kreeg" tiptoe around in the suburbs. Any further characterisation would simply delve into spoiler territory as there are so many unexpected twists and turns as well as some genuinely shocking, scary and bloodily violent moments in an entertaining film that has been bestowed "cult" status in the ten years since it's initial release in 2007. My single gripe would be the tangled narrative story lines which at times were too many for it's own good but overall, if you're looking for a genuine and uniquely different 15 Rated Halloween shocker comedy, this may be the one for you.
"Santa is a marketing ploy only to sell Pepsi"
Krampus starts as it means to go on in every possible sense as this is very much a Christmas film (and a very enjoyable one too) but not in the traditional, holly and ivy, Santa coming down the chimney sense! Everything that resonates with a typical Christmas story is here, families, presents around the Christmas tree, tinsel, decorations, snow and childish excitement, however the presents around the tree are far more surprising than usual and the chimney is in full use, just not by Santa! As "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" by Bing Crosby accompanies the opening credits the scene is set for this alternative Christmas film, with Krampus loosely following a three Act structure: of two bickering wings of the same family coming together on 23rd December for a three day Christmas celebration, of a family member disappearing in a portentous, Tim Burtonesque snowstorm and a brilliant third Act that commences with a beautiful stop motion animation sequence that introduces the titular Krampus and ends with the crazy havoc wreaked by his friends! Krampus and his assorted associates of wicked Gingerbread Men, Avenging Angels, Teddy Bears and Evil Clowns may arguably be the film's stars but the family they scarily pursue through a ruined Christmas holiday deserve full exploration and detail.
The film's first Act introduces the majority of the human roles on show here and a family of two distinct factions convening for a joyous family Christmas. Or so they hoped, and an opening to a film that reminds me of so many of my early Family Christmas get togethers. The hosts are "Tom" (Adam Scott) and "Sarah" (Toni Collette) who really excels as the family matriarch already stressed and exhausted prior to the arrival of her Sister and family as she constantly says aloud "It's Christmas. It's Christmas. It's Christmas". All to no avail as her withering looks of exasperation and despair are writ large and often in the direction of her young son "Max" (Emjay Anthony) and older daughter "Beth" (Stefania LaVie Owen). Rounding off the hosts is the film's true heartbeat and grounded soul in the shape of "Omi" (Krista Stadler), Tom's German Mother and familial Grandmother to all with her gentle smile and boundless amounts of love and care. The invading party (or so it seems!) arrives in the shape of Sarah's sister "Linda" (Allison Tolman), her husband "Howard" (David Koechner), their children "Howie Jr" (Maverick Flack), "Jordan" (Queenie Samuel), "Stevie" (Lolo Owen) and not forgetting the straight talking, abrasive, sarcastic humour of "Aunt Dorothy" (Conchata Ferrell). The two sides of the family could not be any more different, with the hosts enjoying a somewhat opulent lifestyle in a large suburban house which is a world away from their family in-laws and it's immediately apparent the next three days leading to Christmas Day are going to stretch the family to breaking point and this is before the intervention of Krampus and his angry army of fuming children's toys! Of the human roles, the four adult female performances particular impress with the aforementioned Toni Collette excelling as she struggles to keep herself and her family together and Krista Stadler truly warms the heart in her grandmother role and both of these outstanding performances have twisted mirror images from the in-law family. Firstly, Conchata Ferrell's caustic witted and acerbic Aunt Dorothy but more so Linda, who through Allison Tolman's performance, her choice of natty Christmas jumpers and via a genuinely funny and sardonically humourous screenplay has many of the film's funniest lines, brilliantly summing up the family's frustration as the house is invaded in the third Act as she exclaims "Give me back my kids, you Fudger!".
So in the true spirit of Christmas, what is the message of this alternative Christmas film? Put simply, do not give up on your family and definitely do not give up on Christmas itself. Or Krampus and his friends will come calling to your house! The middle Act certainly has a Tim Burton feel to the bleak, snow bound surrounds of the suburbs but the film is more in the tone of Joe Dante's 1984 hit film Gremlins and whilst not as good, Krampus is a brilliantly realised grim fairy tale and horror comedy that centres on family, forgiveness, love and tolerance wrapped in a very amusing and moving tale that, if you're looking for a very different kind of Christmas film, could be the one for you and your family. So don your Christmas jumpers, imbue the seasonal spirit of goodwill and remember to keep the fire lit, otherwise you may have a surprise or two coming down your chimney and it won't be a jolly man in a red suit!