Do you need to watch a movie to get into the Halloween spirit? Look no further than Michael Doughtery’s 2007 pumpkin-smashing extravaganza, “Trick ’r Treat.”
“Trick ’r Treat” is exuberant in its Halloween setting, and Doughtery’s screenplay is part “Creepshow” (1982) and half “Pulp Fiction” (1994) with a dash of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982).
Doughtery’s movie knows what it is, and that is a go-for-broke horror movie with lots of surprising heart to the narrative. The heart exists in the movie not in a schmaltzy way, but in how lovingly endearing to the holiday it is. It does not pull any punches and is a better movie for it.
Where most movies cut away from the action to garner suspense, instead Doughtery pushes or cuts in on the action to make the audience squeamish with dread, filling the atmosphere of the screen with the spooky sensation Halloween so rightly deserves.
The movie is anthologized much like its constituent “Creepshow,” but each of the segments bleeds into one another to create a cohesive, time-jumping narrative much like “Pulp Fiction.” At the core of all of the stories is the sack-masked, jumpsuit-clad little boy named Sam who goes around murdering people if they are not in line with the festivities of Halloween, such as forcing an old, reclusive curmudgeon with a dark past (Brian Cox) to finally partake in the giving of treats on the holiday, only for that very act to be his ultimate comeuppance for his nasty past.
The movie takes serious themes, imbues them with moments of levity, and then doubles down and creates awe-inducing fear in the viewer. It takes actors, like Dylan Baker and Anna Paquin, and takes what audiences will perceive of them and flips the script and to put them into a new context. It takes character archetypes and completely upends the narrative expectation of them. There is no redemption here — just Sam making sure the holiday is respected.
There is a bit of trouble in the narrative when it comes to the “wraparound” story, or victim, who is just a woman who takes down the Halloween decor on her house too early. At the beginning of the movie, it teases that perhaps the plot is just about someone going around killing on Halloween, much like John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978).
By the movie’s end, the audience has discovered that Sam is helping right wrongs throughout the night, bringing justice to all who deserve it, or merely becoming an observer of people getting what they deserve. Here, it upends lil’ Sam’s moral superiority on the holiday when he only murders this woman because she takes decorations down the night of Halloween. While this is a criticism, it could be chalked up to Doughtery just making one big movie that is not afraid to go all the way with its mean spirit.
However, it could be argued that this woman meets her end in such a devastatingly obligatory way that helps cement the idea that evil can happen to anybody at any time, anywhere. It also leans into the concept of the holiday’s ideology of “trick or treat.” It is two choices on a binary spectrum that don’t allow for any middle ground. There are only tricks or treats, no in-betweens. The woman at the beginning and end of the movie is a perfect encapsulation of this concept. She was just sick of the idea of these decorations being up for a single day in a month they do not belong in. But not giving the holiday its due deserves a trick, and Sam delivers the trick of a lifetime to her.
Now, just why is this the perfect movie for the Halloween season? It follows closely to the “old rules” of the holiday, as every single person who disrespects the holiday in any little way is severely punished by good ol’ sack-boy Sam. Sam himself is an iconic horror villain in his own right, and at the movie’s climax, his beautifully designed suit is ripped away to reveal a wonderful creature underneath: a pumpkin-skulled monster with a taste for candy and murder.
Doughtery’s movie is not necessarily interested in upending the clichés found in autumn-soaked movies that have come before it so much as it is interested in reveling in the spirit of the holiday, rolling around in fallen leaves and unleashing carnage on the unsuspecting but rightly deserving masses.
So, grab the popcorn – or candy corn — dim the lights and turn on “Trick ’r Treat” for some nasty surprises and plenty of Halloween fun…if you dare.