“Halloween is the one night of the year when all bets are off. Anything can happen” –Michael Dougherty
One of the things I love about Trick r’ Treat is it provides us with different perspectives of the holiday from various stages of our lives. From a young child who is fascinated and excited by the traditions of Halloween taught to him by his father (however demented he may be) all the way to the elderly man who has become disenchanted and bitter towards “All Hollows Eve” and the annoyances he feels it brings. Dougherty weaves all the age group’s stories together with ease and makes them feel organically intertwined while thoroughly exploring various subjects of Halloween lore.
Trick r’ Treat is set in the fictional town of Warren Valley, Ohio. At the center of town a huge Halloween Parade takes place where the streets are filled with costumed people enjoying the sights and sounds. The air is visibly cold and damp, the sidewalks paved with colorful yellow, orange and red leaves, Jack O Lanterns illuminate front yards and porches– THIS is Halloween. The care and attention to detail that the production design is handled with might be easily overlooked by a regular viewer, but to anyone who truly holds Halloween near and dear to their heart, the moment those opening credits start to roll you instantly fall in love with the film.
The film begins with a couple returning home after a night out at the parade. It is here that we are first introduced to the fact that Trick r’ Treat is all about the preservation of Halloween’s ancient traditions and the respect it deserves as the husband tells his wife not to blow out the candle in the Jack O’ Lantern. As a lifelong Halloween enthusiast, Trick r’ Treat came along at the perfect time for me. I have always loved the holiday, but being in a warm climate took some of the oomph out of the holiday, especially since I grew up with the traditional brisk-autumn-pumpkin-patch Halloweens. As my enthusiasm and spirit waned to the point where I hardly even decorated anymore, I was still anticipating seeing the little anthology movie about Halloween that had been making so much noise throughout the Horrorsphere. I remember running around to different stores to find it the day it was released. I came home, made some popcorn, turned it on, and once it was all was said and done, I was blown away by how enjoyable it was. As soon as it was done, I restarted it from the beginning and decided to break out my box of Halloween stuff and decorate my apartment while the film played in the background. It was like a shot of Halloween adrenaline that has flowed through my veins ever since.
There are a lot of things in Trick r’ Treat to love, whether it be the tragic backstory of the “Halloween School Bus Massacre” that is used by a group of adolescent kids to play a cruel prank on the class outcast Rhonda; the aforementioned story about the murderous school principal Mr. Wilkins and his son Billy who have a much more sinister way of celebrating the Holiday than most; or the “pack” of beautiful women on the prowl for their next meal…er…date. There is something for everyone in the film: younger kids, adults, gorehounds, and fans of the spooky. All of these things fit the bill of iconic Halloween themes and ideals, however ask any fan what the best thing about the film is and you will get the same answer: “Sam”.
Throughout the film, we are provided glimpses of a small creepy figure dressed in orange footie pajamas, hiding his face in burlap mask with buttons for eyes. It isn’t until the final act that we discover just who this mysterious little character is when he enters the home of the Halloween despising, candy stealing Mr. Kreeg, and proceeds to torment him until he finally heeds the rules of Halloween. Writer/ Director Michael Dougherty said it best: “Every Holiday has a cool mascot, Halloween is the only one that didn’t have something. There’s a lot of iconic images but there wasn’t just that one mascot character.” For him, Sam was the opportunity to create one such character. Sam is one of the coolest creations I have seen: a mini pumpkin headed demon born in a pumpkin patch who dresses up in orange footy pajamas and a burlap sack mask; a perfect Halloween character that I will forever be jealous that I didn’t create myself. Sam is essentially Halloween’s version of the “Ghost of Christmas Past,” the enforcer of the holiday’s traditions and rules. While he may not be fully acknowledged as Halloween’s official mascot, for serious horror and Halloween fans alike, he is definitely held in high esteem and is loved right up there with Michael Myers and Jack Skellington in terms of Halloween iconography.
Michael Dougherty believes in the spirit of the holiday and did his utmost to present it in Trick r’ Treat so that it can be further appreciated and preserved for future generations. Whenever I’ve spoken to people about this film, everyone agrees the filmmaker’s get what makes Halloween special and have created a vision of it that is timeless while still being contemporary. The world presented here is one I find myself wanting to visit every October and spend the night exploring regardless of what creatures lurk throughout: I want to wander through the Halloween Parade, I want to walk the dark streets with a lit Jack O’ Lantern, hike through the foggy pumpkin patch as I make my way to the haunted rock quarry that is site of the School Bus Massacre. Of course I would like to avoid being eaten alive by beautiful werewolf women, but I suppose there are worse ways to go. After all, it’s in the spirit of Halloween.