Color, 2016, 73 mins. 30 secs.
Directed by Torin Langen
Starring Holden Levack, Jeremy Charles Singer, Raven Cousens, Lindsay Stewart, Ryan Leandres, Maxwell Lantz, Eric Repke, Rebecca MacKinnon, Andrew Smart, Olivia Susan Pluard, Mike McCarville
Videonomicon (Blu-ray & DVD) (Canada R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1)

Though 3 Dead Trick or Treaterspeople have been trying to write it off at least since the 3 Dead Trick or Treaters'70s, the horror anthology still shows no signs of slowing down, let alone dying. One welcome recent trend is holiday-themed omnibus films, something really kicked into gear with Trick 'r' Treat and continued with the likes of A Christmas Horror Story, Tales of Halloween, and so on. To that list you can add the Canadian production 3 Dead Trick or Treaters, which finds some fresh new ways to spin the formula. The biggest way it achieves that is something that sounds like a gimmick but actually works well with the overall concept: there isn't a single line of intelligible dialogue. At all. That's even two less lines of dialogue than The Artist. Instead the rich music score and dense sound effects do the heavy lifting to keep your ears entertained while the stories play out, complete with a framing device that's actually the scariest part of the entire film.

While delivering newspapers, a very grown-up paperboy (Levack) notices that his deliveries have been piling up on the porch of one house. He decides to go investigate and, upon finding no one home, decides to snoop around the premises. In the back he finds three fresh graves complete with makeshift wooden crosses, upon which are hanging a trio of Halloween masks. Affixed to each grave 3 Dead Trick or Treatersis a handwritten story, and these three tales play out one by one -- with a fourth story added on in the aftermath. Any coherent synopsis of the 3 Dead Trick or Treatersstories is tricky since the characters don't have names, but here's the gist. "Fondue" (originally a short made in 2013) feels like a Halloween spin on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as two adolescent trick or treaters decide to pay a visit to a very special house for something much nastier than candy or an apple. In "Malleus Maleficarum," a passage from Leviticus segues into a town where two siblings and their aunt purchase an accused witch to take back home and punish, and when one of their fold strays from the brutal cleansing rituals, it turns into a frantic, deadly chase in the woods that probably won't end well for anyone. In "Stash," three homeless people loading up on candy to keep them fed for the winter decide to bury their bounty in big holes in the woods, but when one of them gets a little too greedy, it turns into the most macabre use of candy corn in movie history. Finally, "Delivery" focuses on two cops who notice the alarming number of missing people in the area and decide to go off the beaten path, only to make a gruesome discovery with a little twist. In between each story the framing device advances as the paper boy runs afoul of the person writing the stories, who has his own psychotic motivation that plays into the truly nightmarish climax.

3 Dead Trick or TreatersObviously this isn't going to be the easiest film for some casual horror fans who may be put off by the lack of dialogue, 3 Dead Trick or Treatersbut the surprisingly adept and subtle performances as well as the strong, atmospheric style should win over most doubters. It's even genuinely chilling in spots, and while the last two minutes take the cake, it's studded with little jolts like a great shock moment in the second story and a quick but unnerving visual in the final shot of "Stash." That said, don't expect much that's tongue in cheek here; it's a dark ride even devoid of the poetic justice of an E.C. Comics story. It's more akin in philosophy to the British anthology film Ghost Stories with each story basically saying that horrible things keep happening to people who don't deserve it, so brace yourself.

Released just in time for Halloween, 3 Dead Trick or Treaters comes from Canadian label Videonomicon as a limited (1,000 unit) Blu-ray/DVD combo (a far more limited VHS edition already sold out) and features some very robust extras. This is the label's first Blu-ray release, and they've definitely knocked it out of the park here with a terrific transfer that brings out every bit of essential detail in the desaturated but stylish production. The audio is just standard Dolby Digital 2.0 (no need for 3 Dead Trick or Treaterssubtitles obviously!) but it sounds fine given the straightforward nature of the sound mix. Very young Ontario-based writer-director Torin Langen (who also shot, edited, and produced) appears on 3 Dead Trick or Treatersseveral of the extras including two audio commentaries, one with producer Eric Repke and the other solo. If possible, listen to them in that order as they were recorded in tandem and chart out the years-long process of mounting the film from its origins as a single short through its evolution into the multi-story final form it eventually took. Along the way you'll find out the various locations, the challenges of shooting outdoors around Christmas, the tricks of making enough prop cookies for multiple scenes, the family emergency that disrupted the final scene, the intentional surrealist elements that pop up here and there, and the methods needed to direct actors without a bit of dialogue. A fourth audio track features Langen and composer Stephen Schooley doing a 45-minute radio interview where they cover some of the same material but also go more into the creation of the film's virtually nonstop music score, which is quite an impressive feat. Langen also appears in a video interview (28m33s) chatting about his enthusiasm for bringing a "punk rock ethos" to a horror anthology and finding distribution outside of the Hollywood system. Also included are a storyboard comparison (12m50s) for "Delivery," a couple of minor deleted scenes (3m24s) from "Malleus Maleficarum," a gallery of stills, posters and storyboards, and the theatrical trailer. Finally the disc closes out with bonus trailers for Ogroff and Science Crazed, while an insert features appreciative liner notes by Videonomicon's Tyler Baptist.

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Reviewed on October 9, 2018.