Halloween is almost here! In just a few days, kids will roam around their neighborhoods hunting for candy dressed up as little vampires, goblins and ghouls (my wife and I are going as Itchy and Scratchy). After we get back from taking our son around the neighborhood, as we sit down to sort and safety inspect his haul, we have a tradition of filling the rest of the evening with horror movies. For many years, we would just marathon the Nightmare on Elm Street series or rotate through whatever Turner Classic Movies had on their programming slate for the night. However, a few years back, a movie came out that instantly became mandatory Halloween viewing in my household.
Produced by Bryan Singer (X-men, Superman Returns, Apt Pupil) and directed by Michael Dougherty (Co-writer of Superman Returns, X-Men 2), Trick 'r Treat was originally scheduled for release in October of 2007 but was pushed back repeatedly. It was finally released straight to DVD in 2009. The film interweaves four main and two minor stories taking place over one Halloween evening: Little Red Riding Hood looks for her first Halloween party date, a school principal shows his darker side, five children head down to a haunted gorge, and a cranky old man is visited by the Spirit of Halloween.
I’ve previously mentioned my affinity for anthology films and this one continues the trend. One of the main differences between this film and other anthologies is the way the stories are woven together. Films like Creepshow and Tales from the Hood (yes, I referenced that) are usually filmed with the use of an envelope story. In Tales from the Hood, for example, a mortician takes a couple of men through his funeral home and tells the origin stories of four different corpses.
What Trick 'r Treat does is skip the envelope and incorporate all of its stories into a cohesive narrative. It makes each one both self-contained and dependent on one another. Throughout the film, characters from one story are seen in the background of another, lending to the cohesion of the world. This is shown during the opening credits, as the camera follows behind a child dragging a bag of candy along the ground during a Halloween parade; the camera periodically tilting upward to see the other characters. Characters even appear without being explicitly acknowledged unless the viewer looks for them. Normally, I’ll catch a new cameo by one of the characters in the background every time I see the film.
The various cameos of each of the characters serve an additional function of establishing the chronology of the film. This is an aspect which I really dig. The chronology is all over the place. The film isn’t told straight from beginning to end but rather pulls its stories from various points in the evening, sometimes from adjacent periods of time. For instance, the segment with the evil principle (Dylan Baker) takes place at the same time as Old man Creeg (Brian Cox) is attacked; yet, these stories take place on opposite ends of the film’s 82 minute run time.
There’s even a flashback story told about a haunted gorge where a bus driver murdered a bunch of children. The story has ramifications for the gorge kids and some other characters later in the film. This brings me to probably my favorite thing about it; Dougherty wisely uses as much of his characters for all of the different portions of the movie as possible. There's limited waste to his stories and there’s an economy in utilizing characters from one tale to the next.
The film isn’t by any means the scariest horror movie I’ve seen, but it does have a few groan-worthy parts (broken glass in hands… /shivers) and a few creepy characters. The ghosts of the dead children in the gorge are by far the creepiest. There are some effects by Patrick Tatopoulus (of Underworld fame) that are fairly well done. The film does have one of the more iconic characters to come out of horror movies in the past few years. That character is Sam, and he’s the cutest little demon ever. I’m not a cosplayer by trade, but seeing his character convinced me to get some burlap and make my own costume.
Trick 'r Treat perfectly captures the spirit of Halloween for me. The anthology format, smart writing, excellent incorporation and economy of different characters, and shifting chronology of the film really set it apart from many of the different Halloween movies out there. There’s a reason why, even though I JUST watched it last night, I’ll be popping it back in the queue this weekend.