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Shadowvision: “TRICK ‘R TREAT”

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Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black and white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.

Before Amicus, CREEPSHOW and TRILOGY OF TERROR introduced colorful and multifaceted world of the horror anthology to the mainstream horror-loving audience, these tiered tales began in the world of black and white. 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT was among the first anthology horror films ever produced, and notably inspired many horror films in the decades since its release. And while the format has been explored to emulate the stylings of home video (V/H/S), pulp comics (CREEPSHOW) and even ‘70s exploitation (GRINDHOUSE), no modern film has come to mind in terms of attempting the black and white aesthetics of DEAD OF NIGHT for a contemporary audience.

Hence, this week’s Shadowvision was to give a very old school look to a beloved horror anthology, with a special mind kept to the relationship to color in the intended product. While I’ve covered THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE for its own obvious reasons, this writer decided on Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT, a fright film that encapsulates the many faces of the horror genre just as well as it captures the spirit of Halloween itself. And with the film’s many different visual cues, tonal shifts and SFX shots, TRICK ‘R TREAT would posit an interesting challenge in experiencing the film in a literal new light.

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In terms of technical specifications, this one will once again rely on the SD/HD presentation that the viewer so chooses. For HD audiences, no contrast shift is needed, although if your presets are set to “Sports” or similar defaults, you may want to lower the adjusted brightness to reach a more organic black and white visuals. For SD presentations, however, a slightly higher contrast shift might be needed as to compensate for the lack of natural brightness within the television itself. In any case, if the film looks uncomfortably bright and too dark upon playback, adjust to your liking, even if it may lessen the overall black and white effect.

Unsurprisingly, TRICK ‘R TREAT actually makes a very curious shift when in black and white, ramping up the atmosphere with the increased presence of the night-time environments while establishing a visual continuity that allows the stories to flow into one another almost unnoticeably. While the stark, festive colors are gone, the ever-wandering camera of Glen MacPherson still injects the visuals with a fantastical and mischievous point-of-view, which almost feels like it would fit in with the more classical horror tales of the ‘40s. Likewise, the film’s scariest sequences even take a new shape in black and white: without the blue hue, the karmic justice in the “School Bus Massacre Revisited” sequence feels less bleak, even when the increased shrouding factor of the mist offers a more intense and horrific perspective on what transpires.

In fact, it’s exactly director Michael Dougherty’s humor-and-horror laden approach to said material that makes it work so well in black and white. In “The Principal”, Dougherty’s approach feels almost indicative of influences from comedy-of-errors and dark comedies such as ARSENIC AND OLD LACE while retaining a modern sardonic tone that’s not necessarily defined by the color scheme of the segment. Meanwhile, Sam’s attacks range from genuinely terrifying (with the prologue and certain reveals in the final segments) to downright silly, and his appearance in black and white almost looks ADDAMS FAMILY-esque, even when he reveals his demonic true face. And then there’s the unique look on Halloween itself in black and white: Jack O’ Lanterns, various costumes and decorations and even the suburban environments themselves seem much more foreboding when deprived of color.

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However, TRICK ‘R TREAT is not exactly a home run in monochrome either, as some aesthetic changes work out for the worse. For instance, while the world of TRICK ‘R TREAT feels more cohesive and contained in black and white, it also feels more limiting as well, as where as the bigger, bright color counterpart holds an aura of fantasy that feels as if there’s a whole world of horrors outside of the presented tales. Furthermore, the bloodier and more deranged moments, such as the School Bus Massacre itself, don’t carry the same punch or emotional reaction in black and white, relegating the moments to mere plot points rather than petrifying punctuations. And then there’s the “Surprise Party” scene which, when paired with an impressive digital-practical SFX combo and a musical cue from Marilyn Manson, doesn’t quite work without the MacPherson’s wicked fireside color scheme.

Speaking of color, TRICK ‘R TREAT is also not-so-subtly inspired by classic horror comics as well, which makes the black and white presentation even more blasphemous. The harsh blue, yellow and orange color composition each scene takes helps each tale to exist on their own while separating the lurid locales, yet the monochrome experience offers a much more straightforward and free-flowing visual presentation. And while that continuity isn’t a bad thing, it does take away some of the intentional tonal shifts, which Dougherty uses to evoke a horror-humor relationship more familiar to ‘70s and ‘80s horror anthologies than anything in the black and white era.

Overall, TRICK ‘R TREAT does in fact work quite well in black and white, but the film is so effective in its intended state that this writer doubts anyone would want to experience it otherwise. Dougherty and MacPherson both leave enough aesthetic choices to allow both experiences to co-exist, but at the end of the day, TRICK ‘R TREAT doesn’t exist to outright scare as much as it does to provide a much more fun and definitive Halloween cinematic experience. While the fans and the curious will find more fear in a black and white TRICK ‘R TREAT, most fright fans will be undoubtedly satisfied with the anthology in all of its eerie autumn colors.

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Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Maybe.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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