To many horror fans Trick ‘r Treat Is the horror movie that should have been a good commercial hit and become a repeated seasonal favourite loved across world. It should have seen that commercial success mixed with being a critical darling and its director, Michael Dougherty, should have gone on to a varied and successful career as horror’s new champion. However the film got dumped by Warner Brothers on to a very minor straight to DVD release two years after being made and it’s taken Dougherty eight long years to get his second feature done. It’s one of the great crimes of horror cinema along with The Devils being buried (again by Warners) for years and that terrible Nightmare on Elm Street remake being allowed to exist.
Why did Warners dump Trick ‘r Treat? Well there are rumours that it was in response to the supposed failure of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns which Dougherty wrote (Singer produced this) but that seems like madness: our giant summer tent pole did only average business so we’re going to fuck you over with your smaller horror anthology, oh and fuck ourselves over at the same time because we paid for the thing. It doesn’t make any sense but then I don’t know how some minds work. The main reason though seems to be the old it’s-too-difficult-to-market-to-a-mainstream-audience bullshit. I have never understood this argument for two fairly simple reasons:
1) if you think no one is going to see this film then why bother pouring money into it in the first place? It’s not as if you didn’t read the script before you invested in it, unless of course that’s exactly what you did.
2) If a marketing team says that a film is too hard to market then it is not the film that is at fault it is the marketing team. They are clearly either the wrong people for the job or talentless knob cheeses who should be fired straight on the spot. You know a film about multiple characters taking shit in LA where the hero played by a then unhirable John Travolta who dies half way through is a tough film to sell, but not that tough that some marketing gang with some serious skills can turn the obscure cultural referencing and extremely violent Pulp Fiction into a worldwide smash. Why couldn’t Warners find a way to get this beautiful little movie out to the general public? It’s a tragedy I tell you.
I mention Pulp Fiction because Trick ‘r Treat is not your average horror anthology but is instead the Pulp Fiction of Halloween horror. However, instead of Travolta as a hitman you have Dylan Baker as a child killer. And instead of Bruce Willis as a washed up boxer you have Anna Paquin as Little Red Riding Hood. Okay it doesn’t sound as cool but really it is.
Essentially Trick ‘r Treat consists of four tales set over one night but instead of them happening one after each other with a surrounding story, they weave and intermix with each other, characters cross over from one story to another, plots are connected to other plots, some are even the ends of a different story and it all wraps up with some clever use of time so that the end of the film is also the beginning and vice versa. It also helps that whilst there is a lot of variety in the four tales and you could say that two of them a comedic and two of them are more straight forward (well not straightforward at all actually) scary tales, they also flip about on the heads with some genuine frights in the comedy tales and some terrifying bits in the funny ones.
What I’m saying is there’s something for everyone here.
If we are really going to break things down then the first story would be about Dylan Baker and his quite frankly awful approach to parenting and children in general. If you’ve been fortunate/unfortunate enough to see Todd Solondz’s Happiness then you know full well that Baker excels at doing awful things to children. Trick r Treat goes nowhere near that dark but Baker is great at black comedy, trying to cover up a despicable crime whilst attempting to give the aura of the opitame of normalcy. He does this all whilst covered in a dead child’s blood but hey, it’s Halloween, it’s just a costume right? That’s one of the lovely things about this film, the most atrocious crimes and murders happen right in the public eye but everyone just ignores it, thinking it’s all just part of the fun. I imagine it’s only the next day when the police find bodies all over the place that they realise they’re not just props from a seasonal costume store.
The next story involves Anna Paquin and her chums rolling into town to party and pick up some blokes for a good time. Paquin is the classic horror virgin cliché but there’s a twist in the tale and it’s worth watching a second time just to hear how almost every bit of dialogue tells you what is really happening but you just don’t know it until you know it. Actually Trick ‘r Treat is worth watching multiple times anyway because despite its very tight eighty minutes it is so packed with incident, detail and clever asides that you might never get bored of it.
The third story is probably the scariest with some kids playing a trick on a nerdy girl in their neighbourhood. The setting here is an abandoned water filled quarry and is incredibly creepy, what’s hiding in the water is even more so. This sequence is filmed with more mist that John Carpenter’s The Fog and with its water-logged monsters is probably scarier.
Watching all these different events unfold is a weird little boy dressed in a dirty orange costume with a sack on his head called Sam. He flits in and out of the different tales like a happy little observer untouched by the horrors in front of him and maybe even enjoying them a little too much. Sam is a fantastic character even though we know next to nothing about him: he’s like the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween – creepy and weird but also a lot of fun. Sam is the main player in the final story, tormenting an up-for-it Brian Cox in a story that is like a Halloween version of A Christmas Carol only with chocolate and Stanley knives.
Watching Trick ‘r Treat now it is impossible to understand what some Hollywood executives at Warner Brothers must have been thinking back in 2007. The film is a near perfectly made slice of macabre movie entertainment. It’s not that it isn’t dark and gory because it is, but it is also so brilliantly crafted and entertaining that it is apparent to anyone with even half an understanding of cinema that it is a modern classic. Maybe it could be said that it might not work quite so well watching it in the middle of summer as it does the week before Halloween but then that’s all the more reason to roll it out now, turn off the lights and curl up with some chocolate and wine and enjoy Trick ‘r Treat for the seasonal wonder that it is. And next year you can put it on and enjoy it all over again. And then do it again the year after that. And the year after that…