Michael Dougherty’s 2007 cult classic Trick ‘r Treat is a well-realized anthology that works at face value as both a fun and sinister horror film, but also serves as an absolute celebration of Halloween. Over the course of 82-minutes and four interweaved tales, Trick ‘r Treat revels in the centuries-old pagan holiday, intermingling traditions both new and old to substantial effect.
A character seen throughout the stories ties the film together. This character is Sam, short for Samhain (pronounced Sah-win), the name for the Gaelic holiday precursor to what we know of as Halloween today. Sam masks his face within a burlap sack, appearing to be a child due to his size and stature. This is appropriate for a supposed figure that symbolizes Halloween within the film, since the holiday is often recognized as one for children anyways — it’s children who “trick or treat,” after all.
Trick ‘r Treat is most successful when twisting many childhood fears associated with Halloween, a trick Dougherty employs throughout. Horror films are a Halloween tradition, but very few truly capture the spirit of the holiday like Trick ‘r Treat does.
As I mentioned before, Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology horror film. There aren’t all that many anthology horror films, and more likely than not, they are of middling quality. A more recent example is the VHS series. VHS and its two sequels are disconnected horror anthologies, as their stories have nothing to do with one another, with no characters or settings shared throughout. Each story is written and directed by different writers and directors, making for a disjointed collection of horror shorts of varying quality and less than great films.
Trick ‘r Treat, on the other hand, tells four interweaved tales all taking place in the fictionalized town of Warren Valley, Ohio. And while Michael Dougherty’s initial pitch for Trick ‘r Treat was in the same vein as a VHS kind of anthology (a picture that would feature 4-5 disconnected stories all made by different people), in the end, Legendary Pictures, the studio who produced the film, wanted Dougherty to make an anthology film with connective tissue.
Trick ‘r Treat ends up standing above most other anthology films, as its stories can be watched and enjoyed separately, but when viewed as a full-length film, Trick ‘r Treat truly captivates as its seemingly disconnected stories and their respective characters bump into each other in interesting and fun ways along the course of the film.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is in its setting, Warren Valley, Ohio. The down-to-earth, middle-class, suburban neighborhoods are the perfect playground for Dougherty and company to share their dark tales within Trick ‘r Treat.
The 300-plus jack-o-lanterns utilized in the film line the sidewalks — the same sidewalks that you walked as a kid, going door to door, house to house, trick or treating in order to snag the most candy of all your friends, bragging the following school day about your plunders. The town and its realistic characters ground Trick ‘r Treat in reality, making for a film that you can somewhat relate to, even when the action onscreen feels very outlandish.
The four main tales that make up Trick ‘r Treat are bookended by both a tinier prologue and epilogue scene, lending to an opening that sets the stage for what’s to come, and an ending that ties an appropriately not-so-pretty bow on the film.
The opening introduces the film’s rules, as well as its main character, Sam. Sam is the walking embodiment of the Spirit of Halloween; Dougherty’s answer to Christmas’ Santa Claus or Easter’s Easter Bunny, albeit a far more sinister character — appropriately so for the holiday he’s bound to. There’s a legitimate mystery to the character that is captivating, even though he isn’t in all that much of the film.
But when Sam does pop up, however, it’s because one of the characters has broken a rule of Halloween. Those rules are:
Rule #1: Don’t blow out a jack o’ lantern
Rule #2: You better be wearing a costume
Rule #3: You better be giving out candy
Rule #4: Always check your candy
If you are to stray from any of these principles of Halloween, then Sam will surely make you pay the price. This makes Halloween and its traditions less of a setting and more of a character in itself. There’s a case to be made that the holiday itself is perhaps the most important character within Trick ‘r Treat, as the theme ties the entire film together.
Many aspects of Halloween are discussed and dissected in Trick ‘r Treat. One story is based around characters who partake in some of the more adult aspects of Halloween, like the sexy costumes and drunken parades. Another tale is based around the legend ghost stories we’d tell each other as children in order to spook one another. Dougherty explores the history of the holiday to an incredible extent, giving insight to traditions that go back centuries.
A commendable aspect of Trick ‘r Treat is that very little of its effects were made from CGI animation, instead opting for practical special effects-work, which is something you rarely see in horror films today. The sets are hand-crafted with incredible detail, prosthetics and makeup utilized in order to bring the ghastly creatures to life, and in a time where most films and TV shows rely on CGI blood (which almost always looks bad, mind you), the copious amount of blood and guts in Trick ‘r Treat are “real” as well. We’re also treated to one of the absolute best werewolf transformation scenes in recent history.
Trick ‘r Treat stands above all other horror films in its ability to bring you back to the happy-go-lucky mindset of a child on Halloween night, all the while effectively capturing the spirit of the holiday so unbelievably well. Trick ‘r Treat is a horror film that’s less concerned about scaring you, rather being one that aims to be a fun time, and it is exceptionally successful in this way.
Trick ‘r Treat is the perfect filmic understanding of the holiday, and one you should enjoy every Halloween night.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor