Over the last few years the 2007 horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat has joined the ranks of titles like Hocus Pocus & The Monster Squad as one of the films folks in my age range dutifully watch every Halloween season. Curious about the hype, I finally gave the film a shot & was pleasantly surprised to find a mostly goofy, sometimes bloody horror comedy that turns the spirit of my second-favorite holiday (no offense; Mardi Gras is still king) into lore of urban legend proportions. Although the film is far from perfect in terms of consistency & tone, its reverence for Halloween as a social & spiritual institution makes it a perfect candidate for the annual revisits I usually reserve for The Monster Squad & The Worst Witch. As soon as one of the first characters introduced is brutally murdered for offense of griping, “I hate Halloween,” and talking down their decorations a day early, the film establishes its mission statement: to protect the sanctity of dressing up in costumes & eating candy at all costs.
One of my favorite things that Trick ‘r Treat does is punishing the grumps & chumps that casually disparage the sacred holiday of All Hallows Eve. All of the following transgressions against the most unholiest of holidays are punished in the film: ignoring the “take one” signs on candy jars, not costuming, couples bickering instead of having fun, curmudgeons refusing to hand out candy to trick or treaters, horny dudes using the occasion as an excuse to hit on girls in skimpy costumes, snot-nosed punk kids mindlessly smashing jack o’ lanterns, bullies taking scare-pranks a step too far, and (as mentioned) taking down decorations a day early out of fatigue with the holiday. There’s probably more offenses that I can’t even recall. The film takes the sanctity of its temporal setting very seriously. It also puts a lot of stock into the power of urban legends, constructing new legends like The Halloween School Bus Massacre and turning old traditions like the classic “trick or treat” rhyme into a deadly ultimatum. Even the candy that holds the whole holiday together is given an almost religious significance, sometimes saving lives (when dispensed properly) and sometimes ending them (through poison & razor sharp shards brandished as weapons).
There’s only a minimum amount of genuine scares to be found in Trick ‘r Treat, mostly achieved through the confusion of real life ghouls & monsters mixing in with the drunken, costumed crowd. The film’s much more concerned with trope play & subverted expectations than scares. Victims turn out to be killers; killers turn out to be victims; when you think you’re getting one kind of famous monster the film delivers another, etc. Also surprising is the way Trick ‘r Treat interconnects its vignettes so that they’re all smoothly part of one large narrative, a rare ambition for an anthology horror. As for the individual players in the story, only actor Dylan Baker stands out in his performance, building nicely off his dark comedy work in past films like Happiness & Fido. I guess it’s also remarkable that Anna Paquin was put mostly to good use here, as she is always eager to remind the world that she is, objectively speaking, a terrible, godawful, not good at all actress. I was also relieved that besides brief use of Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” the film avoids devolving into the late 90s-early 00s mall goth aesthetic that ruins films like American Mary for me. Instead, it builds most of its visual palette off of the inherent spookiness of the holiday (in details like blood moons & jack o lanterns) as well as the comic book framing that worked so well for classic anthology horrors like Creepshow & Tales from the Crypt in the past. What works most for Trick ‘r Treat, though, is the effortless reverence it shows for Halloween traditions & urban legends. That’s surely the aspect of the film that has opened it up to annual cinematic traditions, despite its tepid reception upon its initial straight-to-DVD release almost a decade ago.