After gathering dust on Warner Bros.’ shelves for two years, Mike Dougherty’s Trick ’r Treat finally found its way to DVD earlier this month. Though inexplicably denied a theatrical release, screenings at festivals and conventions helped the film earn an enthusiastic fan base and a well-deserved reputation as one of the best horror movies in recent memory.
It also makes for some good Halloween reading in the form of a graphic novel from DC’s Wildstorm imprint. Written by Manhunter’s Marc Andreyco and illustrated by a bevy of horror-friendly comic-book artists, the pricey ($19.95) but handsome volume is a throwback to the old Creepy and Eerie comics that inspired the movie. It doesn’t add much to the film, but it’s a faithful adaptation that beautifully captures the story’s spook-house mood and October ambience.
“I think the film is a blast,” said Andreyco, who jumped on board as soon as the adaptation received a green light. “It is so nice to see a scary movie that has a sense of fun. These torture/sadism movies that pass for horror films really depress the hell out of me, so having a film that is spooky, funny, gruesome, and celebratory of Halloween is like water in the desert.”
The movie was still in production when work began on the graphic novel, so Andreyco worked from Dougherty’s screenplay.
“Not having the film to watch actually helped a lot,” Andreyco says. “I was able to adapt the story, not just dialogue a fumetti book, and I think the book complements the film pretty well. I want people to be able to read the comic and have a complete story and then want to rent the film. The whole purpose of the graphic novel for me is to put focus on Mike’s film because it is such a labor of love for him—and damn fun to boot.”
For the uninitiated, Trick ’r Treat is an anthology of four separate Halloween stories that are united by the ubiquitous Sam. He looks harmless enough with his footed pajamas and jack o’ lantern lollipop, but be warned: dis Halloween, and he’ll hand you your ass in a bloody paper bag. In both the film and the graphic novels, the stories are dressed up in every small-town Halloween trope you can think of, from glowing jack o’ lanterns atop picket fences to swirling leaves in a gloomy forest. If it all sounds like a twisted take on It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, that’s no coincidence. The characters were originally named after the Peanuts gang; the names were changed when, according to Dougherty, the issue came to the attention of Warner Bros. attorneys.
It would be a shame to spoil the stories’ many surprises, so it’s enough to know that each chapter is a celebration of all things horror, and each comes complete with its very own Tales From the Crypt-ish twist. The proceedings occasionally get pretty nasty—in an early scene, for instance, a young boy learns a particularly harsh lesson about why it’s important to check your candy before you eat it—but there’s a constant campfire atmosphere that keeps everything planted firmly in the realm of fun. Each chapter is illustrated by a different artist in a very different style. Mike Huddleston, best known for his work on Gen 13 and Friday the 13th: Badland, favors a traditional comic-book technique with heavy lines and shadows for the first chapter’s suburban serial-killer tale, while Grant Bond (Archibald Saves Christmas, Gene Simmons’ House of Horrors) opts for a more cartoonish take on the second chapter’s story of a Halloween prank that gets a bit out of hand. Christopher Gugliotti (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Raising Cain) uses vivid hues and watercolors that are just right for the inside-out fairy tale of part three, and Fiona Staples employs the strikingly cinematic compositions and heavy pen work that earned her much attention for North 40.
Like the movie, the Trick ’r Treat graphic novel is a welcome throwback to the kind of horror that doesn’t rely on people getting tied to a chair while other people slice bits off. It’s traditional, old-school horror, and it’s creepy, funny and suspenseful. It won’t have much cross-genre appeal, but fans of horror comics will get their money’s worth.
“[It] was made with a love of all things Halloween,” Andreyco said, referring to both the movie and the graphic novel. “It isn’t a sequel or a remake or a re-imagining. It is wholly Mike’s vision, and the fun he had making it is palpable.”
If you’re a horror fan, Trick ’r Treat, in any form, is a must. So carve a pumpkin, watch the movie and read the graphic novel.
And always check your candy.