I think I just saw a movie. Then again, I’m not sure if I should call it a movie. The more the minutes lingered, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” felt more like an out of body experience desperate to find at least some humor. One joke to hang onto despite a soulless effort to make use of the holiday. Tyler Perry stated in interviews he’s not a fan of ghosts, witches or anything creepy crawly. A shame as the trailers advertise scenes of everyone’s favorite granny punching clowns and running away from zombies. If one thinks this will be a big “monster mash,” you will be disappointed to find its really a lame pumpkin smash.
The main plot relies on Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) and his inability to control his bratty daughter. He crushes his daughter’s plan to go out and party at a nearby fraternity by having Madea watch her. As expected, Brown’s daughter sneaks out and the granny is not happy. Armed with her two friends and brother, Madea seeks justice in a plot that really goes nowhere. I shouldn’t be surprised as that tends to happen in most of these movies. There seems to be a spark of an idea but somehow gets lost in a sea of meandering subplots and running jokes.
First, we get the fraternity and their big Halloween bash as every teen acts like a stereotype from Animal House or a watered down gang that boozes on beer and sex. While we don’t see any beer glasses touch lips, the writing for these characters gets irradiating with a one sided view on the modern teenager. The kind who is constantly saying a bunch of suffer talk in a masculine way, but acts all tough. The only time the fraternity got interesting is when they try to wise up (say if, someone under-aged appears at their party) and take responsibility. But even then, this action would immediately backfire when they decide to do something completely irresponsible like intense pranking.
This leads into one of the biggest problems of the whole movie. It seems to be really centered on the idea that a prank gone too far can have serious consequences. And honestly, I’m ok with stuff like that. The way its being handled is what I can’t tolerate. Without spoiling too much, certain characters will go out of their way to do these elaborate pranks against each other wither it be staging a zombie apocalypse or the death of a main character. I understand the morale value behind this subplot, but it wears the welcome too much. It even trails into an unnecessary 15 minutes near the end which completely contradicts the “other” main message.
And that is the other big problem I have which is the main theme of parenting. Most of the Madea movies center on a certain theme from second chances to dysfunctional families. “Madea Halloween” tries to examine the idea of what is good parenting and bad parenting. But it gets a set of mixed messages when you have jokes about how to beat a child up wrapped around a climax when Brian finally gets the idea of how to discipline your kid. I’m all for the idea of show and even discussing the limits of child discipline. Yet everything goes back and forth on key jokes like Brian talking to Uncle Joe about a time when Joe tossed him off the roof to learn a lesson. Material like this is not funny and bogs down the message to the point it will feel like a beating to the head or exhaust itself.
I can’t remember a single character I liked from this movie. They were all annoying, irradiating and even some that got under my skin a lot. Madea was never funny or interesting to me. I get the reason why people love this character, but I always find her to be too mean spirited at times. And it doesn’t help when you have her force out this morale message of kids respecting parents when immediately afterwards has a entire sequence when she does something mean to others. I know the purpose why she does (I can’t say without spoiling), but it sort of goes against those moments when the character has a heartfelt morale to say.
As for the others, I really couldn’t care less. Uncle Joe is the perverted senior that’s always trying to say some kind of catchphrase or dirty joke. Aunt Bam has this running gag about being able to legal smoke marijuana which gets old. Hattie is the comic relief with the annoying voice that keeps mispronouncing words just for a gag. The biggest offender I found was really Brian and his daughter. I get they are trying to build this arc over how he can’t manage to connect or even maintain control of his daughter. But when we get to their moment when they recoup, it feels manipulated after a slew of exposition on why Brian is inept over taking charge. And for someone his age, Brian should at least be able to know his daughter this well.
There were only two times I actually did snicker during “A Madea Halloween.” Once at a gag when Bam steals candy from kids and a comment from Uncle Joe about Madea having a prostate. Those jokes only worked because of the delivery of the humor and the ideas behind these two jokes. Everything else I recall is material about being harsh on child discipline and fraternity boys learning responsibility the hard way. There is nothing else I can remember that was remotely investing outside of the advanced technical work giving us the ability to see three Tyler Perry characters in one shot. I know there is an audience for Madea, but I’m not one of them.
“Boo! A Madea Halloween” left me feeling empty and dumb down to the point my mind felt numb. The morale is mixed between cynical humor and taking responsibility to the point it feels kinda calculated. Tyler Perry said his movies were meant for entertainment and not to be thought too heavily on. My criticism to that is when you force a morale like that amidst jokes of spanking and child beating, there will be mixed signals. There are better things to watch this Halloween season and this movie is no treat. I wouldn’t even recommend a single frame to anyone. The only positive about this whole thing was that I saw this Madea movie at my local cinema on Bargain Tuesday for $6. Because it would have been a whole lot scarier if I paid to see this for full admission price.
Anthology movies are a rarity these days. The idea that moviegoers would be getting three or four stories for the price of one seems to be something that is not done a lot these days. However, it is a bit of a double edge sword seeing most of the stories will not be fully appreciated. Again, you’ll have a movie like The Kentucky Fried Movie or Twilight Zone: The Movie where it will have some good segments and some that are not as strong as the previous. There’s even the case where a certain idea would have played better as a full-length feature film. But when you think about, the idea of a multi-story feature is actually not bad. There’s many ways to pull it off and creative ways to do this kind of movie. You can have them play separately like a string of vignettes or even try to make a narrative out of it. Though that last one is hard to pull off, there’s essentially no right or wrong way to this kind of movie. Its all about the magnitude of stories and how they hold up. And this is where today’s flick comes in.
I knew at some point I had to give Trick ‘r Treat some limelight. Its one of those movies that never really crossed my mind or even garnered much interest when I first heard it. The trailers and advertising painted it more like a slasher film or something twisted like a Rob Zombie movie and I believe that’s what turned me off more. It also didn’t help that the film was finished in 2007 but kept getting held back for a good two years until it got a very limited release. I have no idea why they would so such a thing as some believe its due to the falling out with Warner Bros. and the film’s producer Bryan Singer who disappointed with the low box-office returns of Superman Returns. Others say is because of the competition at the time, but for whatever reason, I really feel bad this never got a huge nationwide release because this is really good movie to see at this time of year.
The whole idea is that four stories happen around the same Halloween night and somehow interconnect with each other. So its sort of like a cross between a comic book and a jigsaw puzzle. Some have little foreshadowing hints that will happen later while others answer certain questions from the previous segment. To describe this movie in a nutshell is basically like digging into a trick or treat bag full of candy. But each piece of candy has a very distinctive flavor that mixes dark chocolate with something bitter and sweet at the same time. On first watch, you really don’t know what to expect but upon repeated viewings, you start to appreciate how much it connects with the holiday.
Dylan Baker plays a principal in one segment where he gets revenge on a neighborhood bully by means of poisoned chocolate. Worse of all, he has to find a way to hide the evidence from his son and the neighbors next door. On paper, it sounds dark and horrible but again, its all about how it plays out. The first segment really reflects the overall dark comedy that is within. Dylan gives a performance that is chilling yet enjoyable. You can tell his character really relishes the holiday and won’t stop anything to make sure it doesn’t get ruined. You might remember him better as Dr. Curt Connors from the Sam Raimi Spider Man films. He’s so serious and controlled in those movies but here, he’s the total opposite. What makes this entry enjoyable is the pay off near the end which I want to give desperately away. Its one of those “if you stick around and keep watching, you know what’s coming.”
Much of this movie is like that even considering another segment where Anna Paquin of current X-Men fame is a teenager named Laurie out with a group of girls to a surprise party in the woods. There’s much stab at “virginity” here when they have to get dates and we speculate its probably an old-fashion drink and sex bash in the forest. But then things change up a bit with a vampire tossed in who has his sights set on Laurie to the point we wonder what direction it will take. Well, much a story out of a Tales from the Crypt comic, it hits us at the end with a double twist that even I didn’t see coming. There’s so much focus on the girls and the vampire that we wonder just how they will collide. Sure enough when they do, it all comes together and we start to understand from the start where this was all heading.
However, I can’t say all the segments work. Each one tends to dip in darker territory that might turn some viewers off. One notable example is a segment where a bunch of kids plan to explore a lake near a rock quarry to find the destroyed school bus from a “massacre” thirty years ago. The story goes is that a group of mentally ill children in a school bus crashed into the lake but it turns out the parents of those children paid the bus driver to do the dirty deed. Its something that nearly took me out of the movie just by the concept alone. I’ve seen mentally disabled people and even had the notion to see their behavior during my times at school.
The thought of such a horrible act nearly made me turn off the movie. What stopped was the direction it goes in. As it turns out, the kids come back in the form of ghoulish zombies almost similar to the ones in John Carpenter’s The Fog. As the kids try to play a prank on another, they are unaware of what danger lurks right under them. Its intense but again, I felt the idea of mentally ill kids being sent to their doom almost soured it. I understand this is a horror movie and the need to go dark but it really feels like they are attempted to go dark just for the sake of it as opposed to giving a purpose. I was fine with the first segment because there was a reason for the mean spirited vibe. The kid was destroying Halloween decorations and defiling house and he got his “just deserts” as a result. Here, the dark angle just felt tagged on but if you stick around there is sort of a reason why.
The final segment sees Brian Cox as a Grinch-like character that really hates Halloween to the point he scares kids away and steals their candy. But all of that changes when a kid named Sam intervenes and tries to make him change his ways by means of scares and murder. Its an intense segment that really ends on a high finish. After spending so much time about the town, we get to take a story from the man giving out the treats. There’s some scares that are good but at times feel predicable like the cue for a big reveal or a jump scare. What saves it is how the monster of this segment is actually a little kid that wants candy. Not since John Carpenter’s Halloween have this gone this route and gives it a unique take. The character of Sam is basic but feels creepy and fresh. The orange one-suit pajamas and burlap sack on his head with button-eyes feel somewhat iconic. This is easily my favorite of the batch just for its quiet atmosphere and little use of dialogue. It shows that a story can be told with images and sound without speaking.
I still feel bad Trick ‘r Treat didn’t get that full wide theatrical release because this movie deserves it. But since its release to home video, it was able to maintain a strong cult following and was a critical success none the less. I’m honestly glad I was able to see this and I admit its actually a good movie. I like the tone, the fact it takes place on Halloween night and the fact it feels like a horror comic book film like Creepshow but with a darker edge. The only problems I have with it is the narrative structure that seems to have each story loosely connected to each other. At times, one event affects the next segment but at times we jump from one story to the next at a point one might need to get a notepad to keep track of what’s going on. And also the dark humor might not before for everyone’s taste. As said above, there’s some mean spirited jokes that work in its favor and other times where it could leave you unsettled. Overall, Trick ‘r Treat I’m sure will get a bigger reputation as one of the best Halloween movies. But for now, its a high recommendation that’s perfect for the season.