Trick ‘r Treat (2007) – Directed by Michael Dougherty – Starring Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Quinn Lord, Lauren Lee Smith, Tahmoh Penikett, Brett Kelly, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, and Leslie Bibb.
Somewhere around the middle of TRICK ‘R TREAT I began to realize that I’d found a new film to champion, so folks who know me should get ready to hear me yap about Michael Dougherty’s fantastic Halloween movie quite often over the coming years.
TRICK ‘R TREAT is a horror anthology film and owes a tip of the costumed hat to George Romero’s Creepshow. Like Creepshow, TRICK ‘R TREAT is an anthology that has a comic-book inspired visual feel, but unlike Romero’s movie, TRICK doesn’t need the comic images to link the individual stories because the stories are intertwined. Dougherty presents one story as the focus but weaves the other stories through the background. During “The Principal” sequence, angry old bastard Kreeg (Brian Cox) is used as a bit character; we see him banging on the window of his house, imploring his neighbor Steven (Dylan Baker) for help, but Steven blows him off. We continue on with Steven’s story but then later come back to see this sequence play out from Kreeg’s point of view.
Characters from each of the four main segments and the opening sequence pop up here and there throughout the film, as does Sam, a mysterious costumed “kid” (he’s actually a demon, I suppose, with a face that looks like a pumpkin shaped-skull) dressed in orange pajamas from the neck down, and a burlap sack from the neck up to cover his giant head. Sam is always around when bad things happen. The premise with Sam is that he’s here to help punish (or at least observe) those that don’t respect the traditions of Halloween, and this simple take is part of the charm (yes, charm) of TRICK ‘R TREAT: Dougherty treats the holiday as an historical tradition worthy of respect and not just as an excuse to hack and slash people to death. There’s surprisingly little gore in TRICK, as the fun comes not from watching someone be tortured and killed, but in the narrative that leads up to the violence.
Can I just say, “Thanks” for that? Look, I love me a good a slasher film (I can’t believe I made it through horror month without reviewing the three classics: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street – chalk one up for poor time management), but I don’t think horror movies have to be slashers, or their derivative, snuff-inspired torture porn followers. TRICK has as much in common with Magnolia or The Player as it does Nightmare and Halloween given it’s use of multiple narratives that intertwine to strengthen the whole.
There are four main segments and a brief, opening sequence that sets the tone.
“The Prologue” – Emma and Henry (Leslie Bibb and Tahmoh Penikett) are coming home from the nightly Halloween parade festivities. She wants to blow out the candle in the jack-o-lantern by the front gate but he tells her not to do it because you don’t want to mess with tradition. Emma rolls her eyes and does it anyway, as she sets about taking down all of the decorations. Someone – we find out later that it’s Sam – doesn’t like this and kills her. The message is resoundingly clear – respect Halloween traditions or pay the price.
“The Principal” – A fat kid shows up at a house to find no one home, but there is a tub of candy left out with a notice to take one. The kid takes a whole bunch because he’s a kid, but he gets caught when the homeowner returns. It’s the school’s principal, and Wilkins sits down on the porch with the kid as he starts to eat the candy, eventually throwing up blood and chocolate. Wilkins poisoned him and proceeds to drag him inside and lop off his head, burying his body in the backyard. Dylan Baker is really great as the nerdy killer, impatient when a group of his students show up at his door asking for candy and a jack-o-lantern (they’ll be the focus of the next story), and then edgy when his neighbor Kreeg’s dog sticks his nose under the fence and starts barking. While Stevens is trying to bury the body, his kid keeps yelling down at him from an upstairs window, and one of the bagged-up corpses he’s trying to bury keeps moving. Stevens just wants to bury the body and get back inside but the world keeps getting in the way. It’s interesting but it’s not overly compelling, but then Stevens goes inside where his annoying kid is still yammering away.
Which is when Dougherty springs his first real trick on the audience. Stevens shepherds his kid down into the basement, a big knife hidden behind his back. The set-up is that Stevens is going to kill the brat, but when the knife drops it’s not aimed at his child but at the head of the poisoned kid. Stevens didn’t bring his kid to the basement to off him, but so the kid could help him carve up the poisoned kid.
“The School Bus Massacre Revisited” – The best sequence in the movie, this story shows a group of four kids picking up a mentally-challenged girl named Rhonda (Samm Todd). Macy (Britt McKillip). the leader of this group, has clearly designed this night to somehow turn out poorly for Rhonda. The kids go to the quarry, where Macy tells them the legend of the School Bus Massacre, which saw the parents of a group of special needs children pay the bus driver (who turns out to be Kreeg, though we don’t know this until the end of the movie). Macy is wonderfully evil, using the quarry’s rickety elevator to set up her scare. When Rhonda and Chip follow down, Macy and the two others are hiding. At the appropriate time, they jump out, pretending to be the ghosts of the School Bus Kids. Rhonda freaks out, starts crying, and Schrader tries to comfort her, but then the kids start to hear voices and they want to scram.
Tricks on them, though, because once Macy kicks the lit jack-o-lantern into the reservoir, bringing the actual School Bus Ghosts back. Rhonda seals herself in the elevator and watches the other four kids die as she slowly climbs to safety. When she reaches the top and heads back to town, Sam is there going in the other direction.
What gets me most about the school bus sequence, though, is the empathy generated when one of the kid realizes that something is wrong and completely freaks as he tries to break free, and then the sheer tragedy of him not being able to save his fellow schoolmates on the bus. He could have just split but he didn’t; instead, he moves to the driver’s seat and tragically drives the bus off the cliff. He was trying to do the right thing and it just went wrong. Totally gutwrenching. One of my favorite moments in film in a really long time.
It’s a fantastic sequence, built on real tragedy, local legends, and kids scaring kids. The story works on its own, but also reinforces the whole of the movie. TRICK does this self-reinforcement really well.
“Surprise Party” – A predictable yet enjoyable tale that sees virginal Laurie (Anna Paquin) dressed up as Red Riding Hood and looking for a man to bring to some secret party in the woods where her sister and pals are hanging out with the dudes they’ve already collected. There’s been a creepy dude in leather milling about and we watch him kill a hot young female in one scene, so when he shows up in this sequence and sets his sights on Laurie, well, even when the girls first showed up it seemed kinda obvious they were going to be killers of some kind, but that doesn’t stop this sequence from being enjoyable because Dougherty executes Laurie’s turn into the killer who’s actually a werewolf splendidly. The creepy leather guy is revealed to be Principal Wilkins, building on the earlier story and reinforcing the whole.
“Meet Sam” – The last story is straight ahead horror stuff, with Kreeg battling Sam. It’s the payoff sequence, as we learn that Kreeg was the bus driver that condemned the kids to death at the behest of their parents, and we get to see Sam in action. It’s good, solid, man versus monster action, which ends with Kreeg thinking he’s made it through the ordeal alive, only to have the School Bus Ghosts ring his doorbell, giving vengeance its due. For his part, Sam’s got to walk across the street and kill Emma for blowing out that jack-o-lantern.
All told, TRICK ‘R TREAT is a fantastic movie, well worth an add to your horror movie rotation, and a fine end to the Anxiety’s Horror Month.