Poison, drowning, claw or knife… so many ways to take a life
When looking back on films that have become genre classics, I sometimes wonder if the film makers knew what they were creating. Can you intentionally make a film designed to become a classic?
Michael Dougherty knows, and with Trick ‘R Treat, he went all-in to make something guaranteed to be viewed ritualistically year after year when Halloween is in season. It’s a pure love letter to his favorite holiday – a film that drips with Halloween spirit from every corner of the screen. Characters who whine or balk at Halloween tradition are terrorized and/or murdered, jack ‘o lanterns appear somewhere on screen in most scenes, and several famous Halloween tropes are explored in detail. This film feels like it was made and marketed to me.
Like the most fun horror stories, the plot is told anthology style, with distinct but overlapping stories taking place on the same Halloween night. A snotty chick receives punishment for taking down decorations before the night is over; a school principal-slash-serial killer deals with a messy problem; a prudish teenage girl and her slutty sisters go to a Halloween party and run into trouble; trick or treaters explore the grisly legend of “the Halloween School Bus Massacre”; and a miserly old codger is taught a hard-learned lesson about respecting Halloween tradition. Several characters cross-pollinate into other stories, either by simply appearing in the background or via more substantial links, and every story is connected to the others by various threads. The most consistent visual motif comes in the form of the little creature in the image to the left, Sam, who appears in every story and acts as the enforcer of the spirit of Halloween. I want to be him when I grow up (or down in this case).
Dougherty hits the tone with pitch-perfect precision. The balance of horror, comedy, and old-fashioned entertainment value are set at just the right levels. It’s also quite a beautiful film – with a color palette dominated by orange, black, red, and brown, and a visual composition brimming with classic Halloween imagery. You could freeze frame this movie at any moment and make an October screen saver out of it.
Content-wise, you get a lot of bang for your buck. It’s got zombies, werewolves, monsters, slashers, and ghosts. Vampires are referenced too, but minimally (it’s been covered). The R rating is well-deserved; the film doesn’t pull any punches with regards to violence, language, or nudity, but it never feels gratuitous or over the top. There’s a great scene in which Principal Wilkins is interrupted while burying a body by his son, who yells from the house that he’s ready to carve pumpkins. The principal tells the boy to go inside and watch Charlie Brown (a nice nod to the Great Pumpkin special), to which the kid replies “Charlie Brown’s an asshole!”
I could go on and on about all the things this movie does right, but I don’t want to diminish the effect for anyone that hasn’t seen it. As it turns out, that’s a distressingly high number of people. The film was finished and in the bag by early 2007 and slated for a theatrical release, but the studio balked and delayed the film, as studios are apt to do with any movie that doesn’t have precedented market value. It sat on the shelf looking for a release date until October 2009 when it was unceremoniously released straight to video. It’s an unfitting fate for such a great film, but I’m just glad I eventually got to have it. Like Sam, I feel it’s my duty to spread Halloween spirit using this film, so save me the trouble of having to bind you up with your eyelids pried open, Clockwork Orange style, and just see the movie yourself.