One of the greatest traditions in horror is the telling of scary stories. Told one after the other by many voices, each trying to top the previous in terror, this kind of storytelling is thousands of years old. It’s still done this way, of course, but scary storytelling has adapted to all forms of media that have come along. Creepypastas are essentially online campfire spook stories, after all. On film, the group tales have become the horror anthology. Many distinct stories, unrelated to each other in fact, are brought together and presented as a singular experience of terror.
Perhaps the most well-known and loved of these horror anthologies today is Trick ‘r Treat. Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, and produced by Bryan Singer, the film had a rocky start, but even being sent directly to DVD could not silence the movie. It has built a massive cult following, and for good reason!
Trick ‘r Treat is lovingly crafted and presented as the ideal Halloween movie. It takes place entirely in the span of one Halloween night, and tells five stories that center around the holiday’s visuals and traditions. While I won’t spoil the exact nature of the movie’s mascot, Sam, it can surely be said that he is the perfectly concocted punishment for all the Halloween grumps and naysayers in the world.
Speaking of Sam, he has deservedly entered the canon of horror’s most beloved monsters and killers since the movie’s release. He’s such a strange combination of lovable and terrible, amusing and frightening, that you can’t help but be fascinated by the little bastard. He actually debuted in a fun animated short Dougherty also made, which you can watch here, and Trick R Treat brings new facets to the character as he traipses in and out of the five stories; trailing blood in his wake.
And unlike most horror anthologies, Trick ‘r Treat‘s stories are mixed together in a unified continuity. Stories don’t play out one after another, they are intercut. Characters are not unrelated, they show up in one another’s stories in parts large and small. This alters the classic horror anthology formula in ways both good and bad. It sacrifices the ritualistic nature that makes anthologies special and the stories aren’t paced as well as the best true anthologies are. It also passes up on the weird, experimental, explosive freedom that shorter and distinct stories are granted by necessity. But it does keep you guessing, wondering when elements from old stories will reappear. It lets you stay invested in the whole movie, because your favorite segment is never really over. And most importantly, it deliver its themes in a strong and straightforward way.
Trick ‘r Treat was released in 2007, right when the many horror classics of the 80s started to reach peak vintage, and as a result it feels like a loving homage to those movies as much as Halloween. The movie’s opening shot and credit sequences are ripped right from Creepshow. Subtle references to The Thing, Pet Semetary, and Halloween are dropped without feeling cheesy. Almost all the effects are practical, and the character of grumpy Mr. Kreeg was designed to resemble John Carpenter. However, the movie also helped usher in a new era of horror. It’s one of the first “social media generation” horror movies; its success has been made through discussion and viral word of mouth. Trick ‘r Treat, in a lot of ways, is about our shared cultural experience, and the internet at the birth of social media was a place people were dying to share their experiences.
Dougherty was once quoted saying that Trick ‘r Treat‘s different segments are based on what Halloween means to people of different ages. Halloween at 12, Halloween at 22, Halloween at 42, and Halloween at 72 are all very different experiences. And it’s true, the movie does carry that bittersweet feel that reminds you of the things you gain and lose as you grow older. In a broader sense, though, Trick ‘r Treat is about the loss of purity that Halloween has endured. It’s no longer homemade and raw, it’s mass-produced and carefully packaged as an organized holiday. And yet, Halloween still has this visceral power and magic that can never truly be destroyed. That power, magic, and awe is filtered down to its purest essence in Trick ‘r Treat.
Personal Favorite Story: “Surprise Party”
Quick and Dirty: A college-age virgin is in charge of finding her special guy to take to a sexy, remote Halloween party in the woods. Things get ugly when she finds herself stalked by a ravenous vampire.
I have a theory. In most movies, the part where you shake your head and mutter “What the hell is going on?” is the worst part of the movie. In horror movies, it is the best part, and in Trick ‘r Treat, that part is the end of “Surprise Party”. You laugh, you shiver, you don’t believe what you’re seeing. Even apart from that final inventive shock, Anna Paquin makes a very sympathetic protagonist, the story ties back into a previous one in a very funny and surprising way, and the sequence in which the vampire is introduced is genuinely creepy.
Catch Geek & Sundry and Nerdist’s live stream of Trick ‘r Treat tonight at 10 pm PST on the Geek & Sundry Twitch Channel!
Featured image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures