With Halloween on the horizon, eager film fans will turn to their spooky classics from years gone by. Whether that’s John Carpenter’s slasher classic Halloween or Kenny Ortega’s campy witch comedy Hocus Pocus, never has a film captured the essence of Halloween like Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat.
Trick ‘r Treat found its origins in Dougherty’s 1996 Seasons’ Greetings, an animated short which featured Sam, a little boy dressed in orange pyjamas and a burlap sack.
The feature film was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia and set for theatrical release on October 5, 2007. However, it was later announced that the film had been pushed back and it eventually made its way to a home media release in 2009.
Over a decade since its release, Trick ’r Treat has found its way as a modern cult classic, receiving much critical acclaim, with its main character, Sam, having his own range of merch, from NECA figurines to pop Funkos. A sequel is also rumoured to be in the works.
What makes Trick ’r Treat the ultimate Halloween film?
Trick ’r Treat is a film that feels as distinctly Halloween as something like The Santa Clause feels to Christmas. It gets the holiday.
The aforementioned Halloween (1978) is a great film but if you took out the fact it takes place on Hallows Eve, would anything change? Nope, not really. If at all.
Whereas Trick ‘r Treat both has the atmosphere – the falling leaves, the decorations, the costumes – and uses its many tales to dissect Halloween traditions and stereotypes.
The opening prologue shows Emma and her husband Henry returning home after – presumably – a Halloween party.
Emma, who isn’t a fan of Halloween decides to blow out their jack-o’-lanterns, despite her husband’s superstitious hesitance.
Unlucky for Emma, superstition proves true, and Henry later discovers her body hanging with the decorations.
All Hallows Eve is drenched in superstition, built from years of different cultures, social statuses, regions, and religions. Trick ’r Treat manages to perfectly capture this through its gruesome opening.
We later meet a principal and an overweight kid named Charlie. Charlie is a hooligan, smashing jack-o-lanterns and stealing candy from unattended candy bowls.
Principal Wilkins isn’t at all pleased with this and offers Charlie a bar of chocolate while he lectures him on the importance of Halloween rules and traditions.
Charlie begins to feel a little funny; growing gradually more and more unwell until he vomits chocolate-laced blood. Wilkins laced the candy with cyanide. And as he puts it, “you should always check your candy.” Yet another example of how the film engages with the traditions and rules of Halloween.
The section then begins to play out in delightfully dark comedic fashion, with Wilkins taking his son to carve a jack-o-lantern, holding a knife behind his back as if he is about to murder him.
Clever camera work seemingly shows Wilkins go through with it, but in true Halloween fashion, it’s a trick! It turns out he had plunged the knife into the severed head of Charlie who they are about to carve.
“Never has a film captured the essence of Halloween like Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat.“
“Halloween School Bus Massacre” is the perfect embodiment of the ‘urban legend’, following a group of schoolchildren who trick Halloween traditionalist Rhonda into going with them to a flooded quarry to scare her into thinking the ghosts of disabled schoolchildren who were murdered have come back.
However, the twist comes when the undead children eventually do emerge from the lake and attack all but one of the teens. Rhonda escapes, leaving the others to their fate.
The closing segment is perhaps the most important. Here we are properly introduced to Sam, the main protagonist/antagonist/villain? (Something along those lines…) who is punishing a grumpy old Halloween-hater, Kreeg for refusing to give out candy.
However, Kreeg is spared by the sack-headed spirit as Sam impales a candy bar in Kreeg’s lap instead of the man himself. The Halloween tradition has been fulfilled.
Sam reoccurs throughout all the segments, often just as an onlooker, but it can be guessed that he was behind the killing of Emma at the beginning of the film too.
He leaves the characters to their own devices unless they break any Halloween lore. Dougherty manages to wrap the film up by both connecting and wrapping up the individual stories in one scene; with Kreeg revealed to have been the bus driver assigned to murder the schoolchildren back in the School Bus Massacre Segment.
Michael Dougherty’s cult classic, Trick ’r Treat, is a delightful film which explores various Halloween traditions, rules and urban legends through a darkly humorous lens.
It remains as arguably the greatest representation of the holiday onscreen, encapsulating the essence of it in every which way.
Featured image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures / Canva