The anthology film has enjoyed a resurgence in modern horror cinema, with the likes of ABCs of Death, Holidays and VHS channelling the classic portmanteau through a lens of decisively contemporary traumas and retro throwbacks. However, arguably, many have failed to truly find a consistent sense of tone whether through combining multiple directorial styles or just the inability to create a vision that satisfies as a whole. 3 Dead Trick or Treaters is crafted by Torin Langen, a director whose previous body of work in short films and anthology contribution has seemingly built up inevitably to 3 Dead Trick or Treaters, an anthology film of his complete creation, that strikes a strong balance of tone, if ultimately not quite reaching the heights of expression it aspires to.

A man stumbles upon three graves, each marked by a story scrawled in jagged, crazed writing, leading us directly into the short films that compose the body of this film. The structuring narrative works remarkably well as a framing device to bring the multiple strands together in a way that feels compelling and logical, as well as providing its own moments of horror with the uninvited reader receiving a less than pleasant introduction to the man who has authored these monstrous tales.

What is most impressive about the film is the consistency of tone and direction; you can feel a genuine sense of authorship that flows organically and connects each element as a complete whole. One of the boldest choices made by Langen is to have his entire anthology be presented as a near silent movie. It is a risk that isn’t perfect, but it crucially serves to enhance the stark compositions of images, reinforcing an atmosphere abundant with dread and creeping sense of impending threat that fuels both the framing narrative’s mystery as well as establish the potential for enveloping darkness in each segment. Furthermore, Langen draws on an inherent tension between the innocence of youthful play (masks, candy, trick or treating) with the darkness of human suffering, both inflicted by and upon the characters within the world of the film, almost acting as the perfect expression of the tones at play within the holiday of Halloween itself, and perhaps cutting though the commercialism as a comment on the sinister behind the cynicism, reinforced strongly by the opening segment, Fondue and its caustic version of trick or treat ritual.

Fondue works as a solid opening act to define the style and sense of mystery that Langen seeds throughout the entire work. Langen sets up a jarring discord between static silence and bursts of whip pan camerawork and sharp edits, channelling the spirit of Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright but willing to sit back and let the viewer be immersed in a grimy layer of the unknown, one that quickly devolves as seemingly innocent Halloween tradition, the trick or treat, is subverted into the darkest act of evil, mirroring the playful rituals of dressing up, stalking through the streets and knocking on a stranger’s door…turns into the ritualistic preparations of a predator. It’s an interesting opening salvo, rough around the edges but in its raw edges leaves a serrated mark that sets the grizzly tone for the other pieces of the malevolent mosaic to come.

Unquestionably the strongest segment of the collection, Malleus Maleficarum is a dark and brooding piece that impressively holds both impact in its locus of horror, while confronting deeper social issues that are at the core of American values. The greatest compliment I can pay is the fact that this sequence almost holds something o The Wicker Man and Deliverance in terms of its sense of small town sinister fever and a threat that is at once normalised and absolutely monstrous in its sheer callous drive. The imagery at play is startlingly stark in its direct nature; particularly evoked in the simplicity behind the reality of brutality on display. The image of a man tied to a wooden post, limp and exposed in the middle of a broad field, a location of mid-western or southern American expanse that connects back to the traditions of the land itself, feels nearly apocalyptic in its blunt and chillingly senseless reality, a reflection of a nation on the edge of something barbaric. This is given further thematic depth by the focus on gender and sexuality that is skilfully expressed. Langen sets up a surface division between male and female initially with the central male pictured as an outsider, and wracked with fear; while the mother and daughter are the calm force, focused and unshaken, provide an interesting subversion on stereotypical gender roles. Langen beautifully develops this with even more pointed and playful design by cross cutting between the Mothers savagely beating her victim with the daughter preparing her cookies in the kitchen: a sequence that brings into perfect contrast savagery with delicacy to rend the spectrum of clichéd female representation asunder. Bringing so many elements together in such a tightly paced and deliberate fashion is extremely impressive to behold, here Malleus Maleficarum illustrates exactly what this form can achieve when used with pointed intelligence.

The following segment, Stash, feels far more unfocused, especially in its opening moments which lack the motivation to build a genuinely suspenseful momentum as it unfolds. This is especially disappointing as at its heart, Stash’s comment upon a generation of lost youth starved by a culture of greed within a stagnated social hierarchy ultimately strikes a strong chord before delivering a crescendo that perhaps treads the line between satire and grizzly gore a little too neatly for either to shine.

The final segment, Delivery, suffers the most from the restriction of communication that the silent form places upon the film, as the police partners at the core of the segment as they are unable to express themselves convincingly and in an effort to convey more somewhat push too far into silly reactive mannerisms due to the confines created. However, the sheer lean pace catapults the audience on with enough slick momentum and intrigue to keep them committed to the narrative endgame, and conceptually the piece fits perfectly into the critiques of social systems (family, capitalism, religion) with the officers ultimately manipulation the system for a darker purpose to satisfy their desires, and the desires of those who enough influence; culminating in a final image of simple suggestion, whose taboo implication lingers with a dreadful weight.

3 Dead Trick or Treaters is a flawed but extremely admirable attempt to present a distinctive yet deeply interwoven anthology of horror whose ambitions may exceed its reach; however it offers something different to horror fans in search of raw pulpy intrigue and surprisingly focused critique.

 

Movie Review: 3 Dead Trick Or Treaters
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk