Before Michael Dougherty was roped into big budget mainstream movies (as it often happens), he made two holiday-related horror comedy classics. The other one is Krampus, but while this isn’t quite as good, it is almost as good. This one came out eight years prior to Krampus and Dougherty didn’t make any other features between them. The world is not fair. (Obviously, I don’t know him personally, so this might have been by choice, but I wouldn’t have minded seen more of his movies during this time.)
As usual, spoilers.
It’s Halloween in a small town and all things evil are out and about. However, nothing turns out quite as it would initially seem. It’s an anthology movie… sort of. There is four different stories (plus an opening and closing) from within this same town, but they do also intertwine, so they aren’t really independent stories as such.
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days and I can’t seem to come up with examples of this, but I feel like horror anthologies often use this twist of the bad guys becoming the victim. Is this a trope of these shorter horror stories or does this movie just dominate my personal understanding of that subgenre of horror? Anyhow, this is the core of the movie: We see a kid smashing pumpkins and stealing candy becoming a victim of a serial killing headmaster of the local school, who in turn becomes a victim of werewolves and so on.
But back to the beginning: In the opening, we have a couple, who are arguing (in quite a friendly manner, as couples do) about cleaning up their yard of all the Halloween paranaphelia. The problem is, according to tradition, you are not supposed to do it yet. So, the wife gets killed for breaking this tradition.
In the next part, the school principal lectures a kid about stealing the candy at his door. It just so happens that the principal is also a serial killer, who has poisoned the candy. While this murder is happening, a bunch of other kids arrive and the principal hands them candy. Along with the kids comes a small masked figure, who might or might not be part the group, but we learn later on what’s going on here.
Next we have a story about another group of kids, who are playing a trick on another kid, Rhonda. They tell her a story of school bus driver, who was paid by some parents to get rid of their mentally-challenged children, and they scare her by pretending to be the undead children. One member of the the group stops the rest when he sees that Rhonda is paralyzed by fear. The leader of the children kicks one of their lanters in frustration, which summons the real undead. Rhonda manages to escape leaving all the others behind. She meets the masked figure we already met earlier and seems to recognize him(?).
Then we move onto some young women discussing dates. The other feel Laurie needs a date for their party, but Laurie feels that she doesn’t want to join their little gathering. Instead, she wanders in to the local Halloween festivities, where she is attacked by the principal, who soon learns that he might have been a little too confident, when Laurie overcomes him, takes him with her to the party tied-up, where she and her friends go on to devour him and couple of other men. The kid in the mask is again there to witness.
In the fourth part, the kid in the mask is in a bigger role. Our principal’s neighbour (who we saw previously in the movie) is scaring some kids to steal their candy. The masked kid doesn’t like this, so he (?) attacks the man, until the man offers the kid candy, which the kid accepts and leaves the man alone, but it turns out that the man is the school bus driver from two parts back.
In the closing, the driver starts following the tradition of dealing out candy and witnesses many of the characters from the previous stories.
Here’s a fun connection to Krampus on a thematic level: In Krampus the titular character arrives, because the kid is frustrated with his family on Christmas. In Trick ‘r Treat, the masked kid (who turns out to be demonic in nature) is there to see that the traditions of Halloween are followed. He/it is ready to kill if things don’t go the way they are supposed to. Does Dougherty want to tell us that traditions are important?
But here’s the thing: How do traditions become important? I’m Finnish and while we technically do have All Hallows’ Eve as we are by law a Lutheran country (it doesn’t actually mean that much, because while the Evangelic Lutheran and Orthodox churches do have an official standing as the national churches, you don’t actually have to even be a member of either of them), but we don’t actually, mostly, celebrate Halloween in the same way as in the US. Sure, there have been attempts by marketing people to force feed it on us, but thusfar it hasn’t really worked. So, do we curse our descendants into following traditions, if we take them on? What is the power that does this? What is behind Sam (the little demon) and Krampus? Are they just projections of our own, subjective reality?
We do have our own Trick ‘r Treating tradition, but it happens around Easter depending on which part of Finland you live in. Is Sam there to observe that everything goes as it should or do we have our own little demon doing it? Or in this case I think it would be a witch, because, again specifically in the area I’m from, the whole tradition is about paying off witches, so that they don’t mess with you during seedtime. Not that most people even know this.
Which again brings up the importance of traditions. If you don’t know what they are about, can they be important? In the context of these two movies, they clearly are, because these supernatural beings are making sure we follow them, but that doesn’t really translate into real life. Are these beings metaphors of other potential problems caused by not following these traditions? These celebrations do often fall on important dates on calendarss, so perhaps in an agricultural society there would have been, but we are not agricultural any more.
Our Trick ‘r Treating tradition is still alive, but has been muted. When I was a kid we used to dress up and try to visit as many places as possible, but that has changed in the recent decades. Now most kids only use routes planned by their parents as if there was actual risks. Fuck you, Americans. You’ve destroyed trust in one another through your fucking fearmongering. I’m not pointing fingers at movies here, but instead on the various rumours about blades in candy and such (which does happen in this movie).
Well, that took a turn I didn’t expect when first starting to write this, but that’s good. That means that my brain has been working on this.
The movie has been widely seen despite not having any real theatrical release. It did release around the time when DVD sales were at their highest, so that may have been a factor, or it’s on streaming services. It’s definitely worth a watch, if you haven’t seen it. It’s a quality movie, but with a certain amount of freedom not allowed in most movies. Not that I necessarily want to see kids killed…