Reviews of Trick ‘r Treat, Year One, Not Quite Hollywood and Assassination of a High School President
Trick ‘r Treat
Warner Home Video
Plot: Four short scary stories set over the course of one Halloween night in a small American town.
Opinion: A deliberate throwback to the anthology horror films of yesteryear-movies like Creepshow and Trilogy of Terror–Trick ‘r Treat avoids the gross-out tactics of torture porn for a more creepy-comic vibe. It’s a tricky chord to strike and not all of the film’s four segments are able to carry it off. The most successful narratives involve a freaky prank a group of kids pull on a junior-high outcast and a wild bacchanal deep in the woods that turns out to be a kind of ritual sacrifice. Less compelling is an extended segment that pits an elderly shut-in against a pumpkin-headed demon, which goes on too long for such a flat payoff. But writer/director Michael Dougherty brings a light touch to the proceedings that keeps you engaged-if not always scared-throughout.
Bonus Features: The animated short that inspired the feature film, with commentary from Dougherty.
Verdict: Rent It
Plot: Two ancient hunter-gatherers (Jack Black and Michael Cera) wander the pre-historic landscape encountering all sorts of eccentric characters.
Opinion: It’s hard to believe that Harold Ramis-the man who has written, directed and acted in such generation defining comedies as Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day-could produce such a lame, lazy, laugh-free film as Year One. The Chicago-born comedy icon has certainly produced his fair share of disappointments in the past (think Bedazzled and Multiplicity) but even those movies had sparks of wit and invention. Year One just lies there onscreen, noticeably devoid of any energy or enthusiasm either in front of or behind the camera. Ramis has said that he was inspired by such comedies as Monty Python’s Life of Brian but the movies that I kept thinking of while watching Year One were Mel Brooks’ late-career efforts like Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Those films had the musty feel of an aging comic desperately trying to prove he still knew how to make ’em laugh, but could barely get anyone to crack a smile. Individually, Cera and Black can be very funny actors, but here, they seem to be carefully taking turns delivering their lines instead of mixing it up and riffing off each other in the moment. The supporting cast doesn’t fare any better, as usually reliable scene-stealers like Rudd, Cross and Oliver Platt are somehow unable to generate a single chuckle.
Bonus Features: Ramis, Black and Cera discuss the film on a commentary track and a making-of featurette; viewers can check out what was left on the cutting room floor via an extensive batch of deleted scenes, alternate/extended scenes and a gag reel.
Verdict: Skip It
Not Quite Hollywood
Plot: The three-decade history of Australia’s seedy genre film industry, encapsulated into 103 minutes.
Opinion: Film buffs and horror fans will have a terrific time watching Mark Hartley’s lively documentary about Australia’s grindhouse cinema culture. Divided into three sections, the movie explores the three major categories of exploitation flicks churned out by enterprising producers in the ’70s and ’80s: sex comedies, action thrillers and, of course, horror pictures. Fortunately for Hartley, many of the actors, directors and producers from that era are still alive and kicking and they’ve all agreed to sit in front of his camera for insightful, candid interviews. At times though, I found myself wishing that Hartley would ask his subjects tougher questions. One subject that is rarely broached, for example, is how Australia’s problematic history with race relations factored into the kinds of films produced by the exploitation industry. It also would have been interesting to pay a brief visit to New Zealand to see how a young Peter Jackson was inspired by the Australian genre industry to create his own brand of extreme horror. Despite these missed opportunities, Not Quite Hollywood is a fast, fun introduction to an era of filmmaking that deserves more exposure.
Bonus Features: Almost an hour’s worth of bonus clips and interviews; a conversation between Hartley and grindhouse guru Quentin Tarantino.
Verdict: Buy It
Plot: When a batch of SAT tests are stolen, an intrepid student journalist (Reece Daniel Thompson) tries to get to the bottom of the case, despite distractions from the school’s resident femme fatale (Mischa Barton)
Opinion: Originally slated for a theatrical premiere last year, this oddball high school comedy got stuck in limbo when its original distributor went belly-up. Eventually Sony stepped in and nabbed the rights, opting for a direct-to-DVD release. While that’s probably disappointing for the cast and crew involved in the movie, Assassination is the kind of film that plays better at home than it would in a theater. The small-screen makes it easier to forgive, if not exactly forget, the movie’s tonal inconsistencies, with broad comic performances like Bruce Willis as a foul-mouthed principal sitting uneasily alongside more deadpan humor like the faux-film noir voiceover. While Barton is still a wash as an actress, the supporting cast features some promising young performers who will hopefully be able to use this movie as a launching pad to bigger and better things.
Bonus Features: A commentary track with the director and several deleted and extended scenes.
Verdict: Rent It
Also on DVD:
Frequently ranked as one of the scariest movies of all time, Takashi Miike’s 1999 freak-out Audition is about a widowed businessman’s search for a new wife will disturb even the most hardened horror fan. Re-issued just in time for Halloween in a new 10th anniversary 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (Shout, $25) also available in Blu-ray-this set includes a recently recorded audio commentary with the eccentric Japanese director as well as 75 minutes worth of new on-camera interviews. Just be prepared for a sleepless night after you shut the TV off. If you, like me, start watching Anvil! The Story of Anvil (VH1, $25) not knowing a heck of a lot of about the early-’80s heavy metal scene, chances are you’ll find yourself wondering if this is another Spinal Tap-style mockumentary about a fake hair band. But take a second to Google Anvil and you’ll discover that they actually are the real deal. Even more amazingly, at one point in time they were among the most popular bands in the world and served as an inspiration for numerous metal acts that followed, including Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses. Unfortunately, Anvil’s career peaked early and they were soon eclipsed by their descendents. Director Sacha Gervasi picks up their story in 2005, when Anvil mounts a European tour with an inexperienced road manager and enlists a skilled producer to oversee their comeback record. While you may start out laughing at these now-50 year old rockers, by the end of the movie, you’ll likely find yourself cheering them on. If you grew up in the ’80s, chances are you remember the Canadian horror film, The Gate (Lionsgate, $20) about a kid who discovers a gateway to hell in his backyard. Extraordinary cheesy by today’s standards, The Gate is still a potent nostalgia trip for a certain generation of moviegoers. Finally, the animated feature that started it all gets a lavish DVD release. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney, $40) hits DVD in a two-disc set that includes both a Blu-ray and standard version of the film and dozens of great extras.