I wasn’t aware that Halloween was a holiday that needed its own version of A Christmas Carol, the seminal literary classic celebrating that most commodified of holidays. Decades of horror efforts give those into skeletons, spirits, and haunts* plenty of films to choose from to last through the entire month and then some as they celebrate the delights found in scares, creep outs, and gross outs; it’s hard to imagine that gorehounds ever really needed a movie that similarly pays loving tribute to Halloween. I mean, we have Halloween for crying out loud, (which admittedly only takes place during the holiday and doesn’t actually revolve around its various trappings)– do we need anything more than that?
Well, it turns out that we did, and fortunately for horror fans, Michael Dougherty decided to stand up and assume that charge a couple of years ago when he first made the much-buzzed about horror (think Creepshow) Trick ‘R Treat. The film has had distribution woes since 2007, and only this year managed to secure a direct-to-DVD deal**. This means that, like a fine wine left to mature in a properly outfitted cellar, Trick ‘R Treat has been sitting in limbo for years, generating positive buzz and large amounts of hype each time it screened for audiences on its rounds through the festival circuit. 2 years. That’s a long time to build a film up. The question is, does this movie live up to all of its goodwill and promise?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that Trick ‘r Treat is the sort of unexpected, creepy, and campy good time that horror fans look for in their movies, and an easy contender for the title of “most quintessential Halloween film”.
Trick ‘R Treat is a collection of five interwoven stories that take place in the same town on Halloween as various characters overlook the traditions and practices of Halloween that actually keep them safe from being harmed by things that go “bump” in the night. The film establishes these rules– check your candy, wear a costume, don’t blow out Jack-O-Lanterns until after midnight, always hand out candy– in the early going before showing exactly what happens when said customs are broken (or in some cases, what happens when you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time). Principal Wilkins (an effectively creepy Dylan Baker) teaches a student about why we keep the traditions of Halloween; a group of kids discover the truth about one of the town’s urban legends; a young woman (Anna Paquin) finds herself stalked by a mysterious stranger in her attempts to find the perfect date for the holiday; and a grouchy Halloween Scrooge (Brian Cox) has a run-in with a mischievous and malicious trick-or-treater who may only be disguised as a child.
Trick ‘R Treat is very obviously the sort of movie that benefits from being seen in a crowded theater alongside an appreciative and enthusiastic audience, and it’s a shame that the film’s first public release has taken place on DVD. That said, despite being a theater movie, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun at home, whether you’re alone or with a group of friends. The film is certainly creepy, atmospheric, and very often rewardingly scary; it’s easy to recommend just switching off the lights and watching this one in the dark on your own. That said, there’s no doubt that Trick ‘R Treat should quickly become a new staple in the Halloween film canon, the kind of movie that finds its way into the DVD player more often than not at parties throughout October.
In today’s modern horror climate, Trick ‘R Treat is sort of a marvel; it is neither a sleek and shiny mall kid horror flick (Prom Night), nor a sequel (the unfathomably stupid Saw series) or remake (take your pick of any J-Horror facelift). And it’s not particularly mean, either, choosing to scare rather than disgust and nauseate. Trick ‘R Treat isn’t a taxing experience like Hostel II; much of its bloodshed happens off-screen, though the effect is never cheap and the film never feels like it’s copping out on the audience. What we don’t see ends up being effective in that our imaginations end up conjuring the images for us as our hapless protagonists come to the end of their Halloween adventures, a special feat when what today passes as horror is typically determined by how much blood gets thrown on the camera. I’m not offended or put off by liberal amounts of gore beneath a dollop of gratuitous and graphic violence, but after a while it grows somewhat tiresome, and you start to wish to be scared through other means.
It’s comforting to know that people out there like Dougherty are more than happy to oblige.
What ultimately makes Trick ‘R Treat so special, and what makes it stand out, is that it’s one of the few Halloween horror films actually celebrates the holiday instead of using it as a setting for its story. I wasn’t really joking when I compared the movie to A Christmas Carol; obviously the themes of that book are largely absent in this film, but like A Christmas Carol, Trick ‘R Treat is a story that pays loving homage to the traits of its holiday from start to finish, relishing what it is about Halloween that impels people to revel in the spirit of the season every year. The film even has its own Ebeneezer Scrooge character***, for God’s sake– Mr. Kreeg is about as anti-Halloween as a person could possibly get, and his story sees him visited by what could be described as a custodian of the holiday similar to how Scrooge met with the spirits of Christmas in a bid to get him to comprehend and embrace its meaning. Of course, this isn’t Christmas here, and meeting with the spirit of Halloween is never a walk in the park (and being Halloween’s Scrooge doesn’t guarantee anything close to a happy ending)– but that’s part of the fun.
*A gold star to whomever catches the reference.
**I don’t know the details of the Trick ‘R Treat kerfuffle, but it’s sort of mind-boggling that anyone could screw up a release that is so much a slam-dunk. I mean, come on.
***Without the antisemitism!