Get Ready for the Fall Season with Trick Or Treats from Code Red (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Ah, this is a quirky one.  I think nearly everyone who first stumbles on the poster or DVD cover, or really any of the marketing, essentially expects a Halloween knock-off.  Maybe not a particularly faithful one, but at least some sort of slasher film set on Halloween night, right?  And I guess Trick Or Treats does just barely, technically qualify as that, basically by virtue of the last twenty minutes or so.  But this is a very different movie.  And I don't just mean different from the He Knows You're Alone-style slasher you might be imagining.  I mean, just as a stand-alone sentence to describe the film: this is a very different movie.
So, if it's not a Halloween knock-off, what is it?  Well, in some ways it's closer to my favorite horror genre: evil killer kids, like The Bad Seed or Devil Times Five.  Except the kid here never actually kills anyone or anything so bad as that.  So, in that sense it's closer to Rivals.  But it's also a silly comedy that's only tangentially about the kid in the first place, spending more time trying to get laughs out of a man running around Las Vegas in a dress.  Here, let me just describe the plot, and you see what you can make out of it.
We open up on the rather cold, marriage of veteran character actor Peter Jason (you'll probably recognize him from John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness) and Academy Award nominee (for Diary of a Mad Housewife) Carrie Snodgress.  Apparently she's finally had enough, as she quietly lets in two large orderlies from the local mental hospital in to have her husband involuntarily committed, and they chase him around the swimming pool for literally four minutes of screen time, no joke.  Or maybe it is a joke - some kind of brain damaged slapstick routine - but what I mean is that I'm not joking when I tell you it literally goes on and on, around that pool for minute after minute.  It reminds me of that famous scene in Ingmar Bergman's Hour Of the Wolf, "a minute is actually an immense space of time."  And this is several.
Okay, finally we cut to "several years later."  It's Halloween night, Snodgress has re-married (to David Carradine!), and they're looking for a babysitter while they go to a party.  They call Jackelyn Giroux, who's essentially her protagonist, and introduce her to their hell raiser son, played by the director's own son, Chris Graver.  He's a budding magician and uses his magic tricks to psychologically terrorize Jackelyn all night.  Meanwhile, Peter Jason escapes from the mental hospital dressed as a nurse, and has a series of misadventures (mostly a string of petty robberies) trying to make his way back home.  He plans to kill Snodgress in revenge for having him locked up, but has no idea she's out for the night.  So for the climax, Jackelyn has to team up with the horrific kid to fend off the killer trying to break into the house.
If that sounds fairly coherent, I think I deserve more credit for that in my synopsis than the original screenwriter does in his script, because it's really all over the place.  For example, Jackelyn has two friends who are movie editors, and we suddenly cut away to the movie within the movie that they're working on, tantamount to nothing, except maybe a slightly meta commentary on horror films.  But there's not much direct correlation between the two at all.  And Steve Railsback (Manson) is also in this movie as an actor who's debuting as Othello in a local production on Halloween night, plus Paul Bartel has a fun cameo as a homeless man who Jason robs at knife-point.  The tone and genre are also ever-changing.  Overall, I'd say this is a comedy, but there are long stretches where the film is quite serious, occasionally even going for genuine scares and atmosphere.  Our slasher racks up a body count of 1, though; so again, don't come in looking for a traditional slasher flick, or you're going to be disappointed.
The real star is the kid.  You wouldn't expect much knowing he's the director's son, but he handily steals this picture.  He really should've gone on to be a child actor, because he's awesome.  In the closing credits, we see that the magic tricks he employs were designed by none other than the great Orson Welles himself, which only begins to make sense when you realize the director was a DP and protege of Welles for a number of years.  Still, frankly, most of the tricks are stuff any kid could come up with themselves, if they were twisted enough.  But yeah, the scenes with the kid are by far the best part of this film.  Everything else is kind of a drag, just made slightly amusing at times thanks to the crazy cast this film has.  And I have to admit, the way the film finally comes together, pitting the kid's tricks against the killer, with this poor babysitter caught in the middle, is pretty clever and entertaining.  So I actually do enjoy this film, though I'd only recommend it to a select few with a particular set of tastes, and actually feel compelled to warn more horror fans away from it than to it.  But if you're a fan of that kid who faked his own death in Nightmares In a Damaged Brain, then this is like that times ten!
For years and years, Trick Or Treats had only been available in the junkiest of grey market discs, ripping the old, ugly VHS tape transfer.  But finally, and surprisingly, in 2013, Code Red gave it the special edition treatment, with a restored widescreen transfer from the original 35mm negatives, and an impressive selection of extras.  Then, last year, Code Red returned to the title, giving it its HD debut on blu-ray.  How does it measure up, how do they compare?  Well, I've got both editions right here on my desk, so let's find out!
2013 Code Red DVD on top; 2015 Code Red blu-ray bottom.
First of all, Code Red's DVD looks terrific!  Especially after living with such garbage presentations for all these years, it was a real surprise this film could even look this good.  After decades of VHS cable DVD, it was common for critics to slag off smaller films saying the director didn't even care how their film was shot, etc.  And it wasn't until discs like these, that preserve their OAR, where we can actually see, oh, even on these little films, real care was taken and these movies actually look pretty good!  They're not just the junk everybody's been treating them as.
2013 Code Red DVD left; 2015 Code Red blu-ray right.
The "problem" with a DVD transfer like that - and problem's in quotes because it's not really a problem - is that it doesn't give you much room for improvement when it comes time for the blu-ray.  What's left to improve upon when you get it right the first time?  I suppose technically there's a little flicker and signs of the film's age, but basically it wasn't broke, so they didn't fix it.  This transfer is exactly the same as the DVD except in HD.  Same scan, same 1.78:1 framing, same colors, same strong mono audio track, same master.  But, of course, I'm not suggesting this is an upconvert or anything.  Certainly not.  The full benefit from going from SD to HD is still here, and when you get in close to the details, you can see the more refined lines and far less compressed imagery.  This is a proper 1080p boost.  It's just that these days I'm getting used to brand new 4k scans and old masters getting replaced.  This looks like I'm reviewing a combo pack.  And I'm completely alright with that.
And again, this is a film I never thought we'd see any extras of, but thanks to Code Red, here we are.  The main feature is an audio commentary with stars Peter Jason, Jackie Giroux, Chris Graver and DP R. Michael Stringer.  This is essentially a cast commentary, so expect a lot of laughing and banter, but Chris has a lot of memories of his dad, and everyone remembers the shoot, so it manages to answer some of the many questions we all have from watching this film.   There's also a brief but interesting audio-only interview with Steve Railsback, who has kind words for everyone he worked with on this.  Then the DVD has a nice photo gallery, of Gary Graver on set working with the actors, and bonus trailers for other Code Red titles.

The blu-ray carries everything over from the DVD, except the photo gallery and the bonus trailers.  In their place, though, we get the option to watch this is Katarina's Bucketlist Theater mode, where host Katarina Waters provides a video introduction and wrap-up to the film.  It's nothing special and you're not missing much if you skip it, but you might as well give it a watch if you've got the disc.
I don't really care about stills galleries, I don't even tend to look at them on the discs I own unless I know of something particularly interesting in them.  But it's still a little annoying to see it dropped off the blu.  Like, if you already have it a put together for the DVD, why not leave it on there?  Let the blu be a complete package with everything.  Still, it's an excellent blu-ray release, with all the important features and a great looking transfer.  If you already own the DVD, though, don't expect a huge growth spurt.  This is the best version to own, but since the DVD was already so strong, I'd say it's a very low priority double-dip.  And that's assuming this wacky film is for you in the first place.  But now, after reading this, you should know now whether it is or isn't.

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