“Five interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer; a college virgin might have just met the guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; a woman who loathes the night has to contend with her holiday-obsessed husband; and a mean old man meets his match with a demonic, supernatural trick-or-treater.” — IMDb
Trick ‘r Treat, for such a well-known Halloween staple, had a surprisingly slow and stuttering start. Directed by Michael Dougherty, it was originally slated for an October 2007 theatrical release but got pushed back. It was screened at various film festivals between late 2007 and late 2009, including at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con, before it was officially released on video in October 2009.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to believe that this movie didn’t have a theatrical release, but clearly the fans have picked it up and ran with it. Dougherty announced in 2009 that he is planning a sequel but it’s been slow going. But, according to Bloody Disgusting, he’s planning to dive back into production when he finishes up his current project, Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
It’s an extremely well done anthology, with all five stories centering around Halloween and the traditions surrounding it. There’s a school principal who moonlights as a serial killer, a legend of a school bus massacre, beautiful women taking part in an interesting nighttime ritual, a grouchy neighbor who finds his home invaded, and a man trying to convince his wife of how awesome Halloween truly is.
** SPOILERS! **
I loved this collection, honestly a lot more than I thought I would. I realized that I had been avoiding this film for a long time. Something about it just struck me as cheesy, both because of the name and, truly, because of the character of Sam, the little scarecrow-like creature with the burlap sack over his head. (I still thought Sam was a little bit cheesy but after subsequently watching Dougherty’s 1996 short film, Season’s Greetings, I like him a lot more.)
The stories are all woven together SO incredibly well. There are many instances of overlap — probably more than I even noticed on first viewing — that really tied the whole thing together. Too often horror anthologies are just a string of seemingly random short films, the only relation being the genre they belong to. But Dougherty paid attention to the most minute details… things like having a werewolf howl in the distance in one short, and circling back around to it in a later story. The stories are happening at various points in the night, but it bounces between all of them, making the whole thing feel very cohesive.
The film had the most nostalgic feeling to it for me — it really EMBODIES Halloween. It walks that fine line between being technically a horror movie but not actually being all that scary… but not in the sense that it failed, more in the sense that it has the perfect air of the holiday to it, of the traditions surrounding it, of the legends and the lore. It’s tough to describe, really, but it felt like childhood in a way. Despite all of the terrible things happening, I wanted to live in that small Ohio town — glowing jack-o-lanterns adorning each yard, a lively parade pulsing through downtown, costumes and candy everywhere. It had an extremely homey feeling to it. It brought me back to being a kid and whispering about urban legends or jumping at something rustling in a bush while trick or treating.
Each story had a sort of cruel humor to the individual twists. There were times when it almost felt like a children’s Halloween movie (in the best way) until you were abruptly reminded of how adult it really is (the girls partying in the woods stripping out of their “sexy Cinderella” and “sexy Little Red Riding Hood” costumes, for instance).
The one scene that really did freak me out — that tapped into a sort of long-standing fear of mine — is when it briefly shows a woman making out with a masked man in an alleyway during the parade. He reveals his sharp fangs and winds up killing her… and then just props up her lifeless body on the sidelines of the festivities where no one was the wiser. I think that’s part of the reason that Halloween feels so dangerous, so electric, to me — when everyone’s in a costume and everyone’s striving to be as realistically scary as possible, people tend to overlook what would be horrifying in the light of day.
And then there’s Sam, the weird little kid made of stringy pumpkin pulp. I liked him tagging along to each story, being ever-present. It’s amazing how recognizable he was even before I knew anything about the movie, really. But I especially liked how once he got his hands on a candy bar, he was good to go. Like dude, I FEEL THAT. You see the message written in blood all over Mr. Kreeg’s bedroom — “trick ‘r treat, give me something good to eat” — and you think it’s some diabolical play on words, that he’s actually looking to eat some flesh. Hellll no, kid just wants some CANDY. I appreciate that.
Overall, a freaking great Halloween anthology. Is it going to scare the crap out of you? Likely not. But Halloween is as much about the nostalgia, the harkening back to childhood fears, than jump scares or psychological thrills. Watch it!
Rating: 7.5/10 | Director: Michael Dougherty | Writer: Michael Dougherty | Music: Douglas Pipes | Cinematography: Glen MacPherson | Starring: Lauren Lee Smith, Moneca Delain, Tahmoh Penikett, Brett Kelly, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Alberto Ghisi, Samm Todd, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Leslie Bibb, Connor Christopher Levins, Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Quinn Lord