Dylan Baker, Up To His Old Tricks

When I was a kid, horror comics (along with all kinds of other comics), were popular. Every kid on the block had a box of comics and everyone was “collecting” something, so that trading was rampant, especially since most of us changed what we were collecting frequently. I collected Black Hawk, Captain Marvel, and Plastic Man, for example,  for at least  a week or two each. And everybody had a go with Classics, though nobody actually ever read them. I picked up empty soda-pop bottles at construction sites after school every day – 5 bottles at 2 cents each on return paid for one new comic at the drugstore.

Horror comics hadn’t been banned yet, but I don’t remember anybody collecting them. I mean, I don’t remember anybody announcing in public that they were collecting Vault of Horror or Tales from the Crypt, not in the same way that they would ask around for issues of Archie or Little Lulu. I didn’t know anything about sex, general kinkiness, or pornography, but I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be reading stories that included, say, cannibalism, much less enjoying them, much less collecting them. There was something in the pleasures bestowed by the stories that these comics contained that wasn’t exactly in accord with what I was hearing every week in Sunday School. I thought about those pleasures the other night while watching Trick ‘r Treat (2008), a collection of four loosely interconnected tales – thought about them especially during the climatic moment of the first tale – a moment shared by a young boy and his dad, the grammar school principal, Dylan Baker of all actors, coming back for more after Happiness (1998) – the ultimate in inspired call-back casting here. (I read somewhere that Warners shelved the movie for two years because of this scene. Its final frame, with a dialog bubble added, could have appeared proudly in any fine horror comic of the 50s.)

The tales in Trick ‘r Treat aren’t especially gory by today’s standards, they’re just wicked. It’s not the visuals, it’s the attitude. The muckraker book Seduction of the Innocent came out in 1954, but I didn’t read it until all the horror comics disappeared, partly because of it. Ironically, it became the only place you could get a glimpse of the banned material, via the illustrations in the book. The great tragedy for me when these comics were banned was that my favorite comic book by far, by way far, was Mad. Because it was produced by EC, it got the ax along with all the horror and crime comics, even though it was innocent compared to the rest. Well, relatively innocent. Although Mad transmogrified into the later magazine, it wasn’t the same after.

But I digress. The last time that I remember grinning and shaking my head like I did while watching Trick ‘r Treat was for Santa’s Slay (2005) and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006). Most horror these days is more entertaining, for me at least, with the commentary track turned on, but Trick ‘r Treat entertains all on its own.

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