by Katze Genet
WARNING: spoiler alert. Of course there are spoilers! Ridiculous amounts of spoilers! In fact, this whole article is one big spoiler! If you haven’t seen the movie, DON’T READ THIS ARTICLE. (Why haven’t you watched the movie yet, anyway?)
If you try to explain Michael Dougherty’s movie in any sort of detail, people are going to look at you like you’re nuts and your descriptions never feel quite right anyway. Child monster named Sam (short for Samhain, the old name for Hallowe‘en) who kills people if they don’t adhere to tradition? Four stories about Hallowe’en night, but they take place backwards and crossways? You learn very quickly to simply say, ‘It’s about the spirit of Hallowe’en,’ and hope that that is enough to convince your friend (victim) into watching the best Hallowe’en movie ever.
Top Ten Reasons Why ‘Trick ’R Treat’ Should Suck
1. It’s billed as four stories, but it’s not.
Maybe this point is a cheap shot, but the very premise is misleading. The four stories are supposed to be (I think): Emma and Harry, the school bus massacre, the principal, and the surprise party. But Emma and Harry’s story really only takes up the first ten minutes or so, and while in some way it sets up the tone of the movie, it’s a predictable jump scare. The school bus massacre story is really two or three stories in one: the kids today, the kids on the school bus (told in sepia-tinted flashback), and the bus driver Mr. Kreeg.
2. The timeline is extremely confusing.
The very first time I watched this movie I found myself saying, ‘Wait, what?’ at least a dozen times. To this day I’m still not sure I have it straight. Reading various reviews and plot synopses for this article, I learned a few things I still hadn’t noticed after over a dozen viewings. If we’re going to count three main stories (the principal, everything associated with the school bus massacre, and the surprise party) they each tuck and weave and jump back and forth. Worst of all, no matter which way I twist it, I can’t make the ending fit the timeline — unless a lot more time passes after Kreeg’s encounter with Sam than it seems.
3. The acting is patchy at best.
Some of the acting in this movie is amazing: Dylan Baker as Principal Wilkins, Anna Paquin as Laurie. Even Brian Cox as Mr. Kreeg is so over-the-top hammy that it’s brilliant. But the rest of the cast leaves a lot to be desired. The film didn’t exactly have a blockbuster budget, so I’m sure their casting fund was blown on Baker, Paquin, and Cox; unfortunately, it shows.
4. The script is stilted.
Oh, my goodness, but the monologue Macy delivers about the School Bus Massacre must have been written by someone who has never in their life told a ghost story by a campfire…. Sometimes a bad script winds up not being that big of a deal, because the actors believe in it. (‘City of Angels’ comes to mind.) But (see my previous point) an awkward script at the hands of mediocre actors is wincingly painful to watch.
5. There are way too many bad jokes.
There are jokes in the script that make no sense. ‘Daddy, don’t forget to help me with the eyes!’ — except the adorable cherubic kindergartner isn’t carving a pumpkin, so why does he need help with the eyes? And, the irony! — that Laurie is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, considering who she turns out to be. Really? Dougherty couldn’t come up with anything more clever?
6. What / who in the heck is Principal Wilkins, anyway?
Principal Wilkins confuses me. Okay, so his wife is deceased; I don’t think there’s any implication that he killed her, so maybe her death is what set him off. I can run with that. But he’s the principal of a local school — while killing children with poisoned candy, sitting on his front porch, in full view of the entire town, with his son at home. Right. (I presume there were multiple children, because there was more than one body in the hole in his back yard.) Then, just for funsies, he goes out to the parade dressed as a vampire, and kills a woman by biting her to death in a back alley with his fake vampire teeth — again, in potentially the full view of the town. Does he have a death wish? Does he like to kill kids, or women? Or maybe he kills kids because he resents his son and / or students, and he kills women because he resents his wife for dying. Any way you look at it he’s a hot (confusing) mess.
7. Who / what is Sam?
This might seem like an odd question, but I mean it. Look at the original animated short: Sam is a child in a homemade costume, trick or treating alone way too late and nobody answers the door to give him candy. Then a bad man waylays him in a back alley; but Sam turns the tables, kills the man, and the body is the ‘treat’ that fills his bag. In the movie, he looks the same — except he’s this goblin / troll thing underneath the mask. (He’s supposed to be a pumpkin-head, I think, but he doesn’t look very pumpkin-y; besides which, pumpkins were a much, much later addition to the Hallowe’en myth.) And he’s supposed to be the ‘spirit of Hallowe’en’, going around enforcing the rules, but he looks like no traditional spirit that I know of and he possesses powers I didn’t know Hallowe’en spirits could have. I dare you to read the Sam wiki, because apparently people read even more into the movie than I thought possible and the story gets even more confusing. If you have a single historical bone in your body, you will probably cry.
8. The technical effects leave something to be desired.
I don’t think there’s a single original or interesting camera shot in the entire film: there are wide shots when and where you would expect wide shots, there are close-ups when and where you expect close-ups. I wouldn’t expect ‘Citizen Kane’ – type artistry, but more interesting camerawork wouldn’t go amiss. The same can be said of the special effects, which are generic at best. Some, like the werewolf transformations, are more than a little rough. I could go on, but you get the idea. Again, I know Dougherty didn’t have a stellar budget, but creativity can do quite a bit to compensate for quality, and this film is sorely lacking.
9. The sets are way too crowded.
Almost every single scene is full: crowds of people, heavy woods, dozens of jack-o-lanterns, dozens of yard stake decorations. Even the scene at the ravine, which one would expect should be desolate, is thick with fog and vegetation; darkness would have served the purpose just as well. The movie is often visually tiring to watch.
10. For a movie about the traditions of Hallowe’en, not much time is spent talking about the traditions of Hallowe’en.
There’s bits here and there, I’ll admit. There’s the comic book sequence during the opening credits. (Why the heck is there a comic book sequence in a movie with no attachment whatsoever to comics, anyway?) Principal Wilkins says a little, as does Rhonda, but there are no real explanations why. And the ‘Four Rules of Hallowe’en’ (wear a costume, give out candy, never blow out a jack-o-lantern, always check your candy) seem rather arbitrary — not to mention the last one is rather a modern addition. I would expect at least a little more history in a movie billed to be about traditions.
So Why Do We Love This Movie?
– because, when it’s all said and done, we do! Rabidly! Irrationally!
I think it’s because ‘Trick ‘R Treat’ is the only movie out there that is completely, solely about Hallowe’en. Sure, there are oodles of great movies (and even more not-so-great movies) set on or around Hallowe’en. There are many movies which use the holiday as a vehicle with which to tell the story; there are many movies about Hallowe’en-related things, like pumpkins or monsters or ghosts; there are even a few movies which invoke the ancient festival of Samhain.
But if ‘Trick ‘R Treat’ is about anything at all outside of the twisting, barely-related plots, if it has a single story at its heart, it is about the holiday itself.
Michael Dougherty himself has said on several different occasions that he created Sam in part because he felt like Hallowe’en needs a symbolic, identifying character. Christmas has Santa Claus, Easter has the Easter Bunny, but what does Hallowe’en have? It’s a jumble of contemporary habits and half-forgotten fairy tales.
Sam stands at the crossroads: his name an invocation of the old holy day, his ability to cross between the worlds of the living and the dead a reminder of the old beliefs, but he’s a pumpkin-headed child in a homemade costume with a candy fixation and the magical abilities of a modern horror movie icon.
Besides giving Hallowe’en fanatics their very own iconic character, this movie also delivers up just about everything. No matter what you love most about the holiday, this movie has it: jack-o‘-lanterns, trick or treating, costumes, urban legends, serial killers, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, the works. And it’s a movie everyone can watch! Scary enough to please horror movie fans, but mild enough for even the (braver) kiddies.
When it’s all said and done, for all its flaws as a movie, ‘Trick ‘r Treat’ is, quite simply, THE Hallowe’en movie.
Looking Forward to ‘Trick ‘R Treat II’
Finally, last year, Michael Dougherty announced a commitment to make a sequel. It was supposed to start filming this year; unfortunately it has been delayed, as Dougherty is now working on ‘Krampus’.
I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, I can’t wait to see Dougherty’s rather twisted touch applied to another holiday; but darn it, there is a legion of very disappointed fans who have been begging for a sequel for years!
It’s a toss-up whether the delay will help or hurt the sequel, which I doubt very much will be able to hold a candle to the first one anyway.
But you know I’ll be there at the front of the line for the premiere!
all images credited to Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, Bad Hat Harry Productions, and Little Sam Films