Editor’s note: All throughout October, the vibes get spookier and the nights get longer. It’s the perfect time of year to watch horror movies, whether you’re a year-round horror fan or you just like to watch horror flicks to get into the Halloween spirit. This year at Horror Obsessive, for our 31 Horror Classics Revisited series, we’re giving you one recommendation for a classic horror film each day throughout the month of October. What do you think–is this film a horror classic? What other horror films do you consider to be classics, and what films do you make sure you watch each October? Let us know in the comments below!
Filled with shots of suburban streets littered with multicolored autumn leaves and crowds of trick-or-treaters, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat (2007) is the ultimate Halloween-themed movie. Set in the fictitious town of Warren Valley, Ohio during its annual Halloween festival, Dougherty orchestrates Trick ‘r Treat‘s nonlinear narrative perfectly as he seamlessly weaves different stories and characters together. Sam (Quinn Lord), a trick-or-treater in a vintage scarecrow costume with a sack mask, orange footie pajamas, and a burlap sack treat bag, is a common threat throughout, appearing in all of the vignettes. However, Sam is no ordinary trick or treater. Sam is short for Samhain, the spirit of Halloween, here to make sure all revelers observe the rules of Halloween: (1) Always wear a costume; (2) Always hand out candy; (3) Never blow out a jack-o’-lantern before midnight; (4) Always check your candy; (5) Never take down your decorations before November 1; (6) Never hurt the innocent; and (7) Respect the dead.
Trick ‘r Treat is a mixed bag of scares from slashers to classic horror monsters and the supernatural. Dougherty incorporates every type of horror movie character, giving each one a unique twist. The film is an anthology reminiscent of classic films like Creepshow (1982), serving up horror with a twist of tongue-in-cheek dark humor. The stories include references to classic and contemporary fairytales and Halloween lore from a young woman in a Little Red Riding Hood costume wandering through the woods to a child killed with poisoned Halloween candy. The anthology has a recurring revenge theme with unsympathetic characters getting what’s coming to them.
Observe the Rules—Sam is Watching
Trick ‘r Treat‘s first tale is a nod to slashers. Emma (Leslie Bibb) and Henry (Tahmoh Penikett) return home from Warren Valley’s festival. Henry loves Halloween and Emma hates it. She gratefully whips off her cardboard robot costume as soon as they get home. She blows out the jack o’lantern, ignoring Henry’s warning about doing so (remember rule #3). Henry falls asleep watching a porno movie and Emma breaks another sacred Halloween rule (#5) as she starts taking down their decorations. Someone pops up, from under a sheet ghost in the front yard and remains unseen as they attack Emma. We just see shots of Emma screaming and the flash of a jack o’lantern lollipop (which we will see again later). Blood soaks the white sheet. When Henry wakes up, he finds Emma’s mutilated body. Her killer put her body on display underneath a sheet that Henry whips off. He finds Emma displayed like a gory Halloween decoration, a lollipop shoved in her mouth.
This scene is reminiscent of 1978’s Halloween in which Michael Myers leaves Annie Bracket and Lynda’s boyfriend, Bob, on display. Myers leaves Annie on a bed with Judith Myers’ headstone near the headboard, and he pins Bob to the wall with a kitchen knife. Dougherty includes a shot from the point of view of the killer, a style from Giallo films later incorporated into many classic slasher films. The first story sets up the tone which fluctuates from tongue-in-cheek black comedy that quickly becomes serious as characters are dispatched in shocking ways by a killer you don’t see coming. Reminiscent of Creepshow, the scene becomes a panel or illustration in a comic book. The opening credits are pages of comics illustrating the other stories in the movie.
In the next story, Charlie (Bad Santa’s Brett Kelly) is spending Halloween night destroying jack o’lanterns. He arrives at the home of Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker), the school principal, and helps himself to a bowl of candy left out on the stoop. Mr. Wilkins catches him.
Steven Wilkins is the perfect picture of a school principal—neatly groomed and dressed in a crisp white button-up shirt and tie. He lectures Charlie about the importance of respecting Halloween tradition as he feeds him poisoned candy. Charlie begins to vomit blood and chocolate as Wilkins continues talking. Charlie passes out on his lap. As Wilkins tries to bury Charlie in the backyard on top of another body, he’s also interrupted by his son, Billy (Connor Christopher Levins), and his cranky neighbor, Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox). Once he’s finished he casually waters the grave which has a little garden gnome sitting on top.
Wilkins is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a sinister character hiding in plain sight who blends into the community. This story sets up a theme throughout to not judge a book by its cover. Dougherty throws unexpected twists and turns throughout the film. We find out Wilkins’ wife is dead and are led to believe that he may kill Billy. However, we learn that he’s teaching his son to be a killer. Wilkins sits with his son in a macabre bonding moment, watching Charlie’s severed head spinning around on a plate. This story only scratches the surface as far as Wilkins’ nefarious activities are concerned.
Urban Legend or Terrifying Truth?
A group of students, Macy, Chip, Schrader, and Sara, (Britt McKillip, Alberto Gisi, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, and Isabelle Deluce) go trick or treating and look to collect jack o’lanterns. They arrive at Rhonda’s (Samm Todd) house, or as they disparagingly refer to her behind her back “Rhonda the Retard.” Rhonda filled her front yard with intricately carved jack o’lanterns that she made herself. Rhonda, dressed as a witch, gives them some jack o’lanterns and goes with them to the local quarry.
The group’s leader, Macy, who wears an angel’s costume, tells the group about a local urban legend of the Halloween School Bus Massacre. Many years ago, a school bus with eight children with disabilities on board crashed into the nearby quarry. All eight children died but the driver survived. As the story goes, the children’s parents, considered their children embarrassments and burdens. So, they paid the driver to kill them.
Macy says that she wanted to leave eight jack o’lanterns as offerings for the souls of the dead. She and two other kids descend in an elevator, leaving Rhonda and Chip behind to follow. As Chip and Rhonda descend, all they can see are the glowing jack o’lanterns and hear the screams of the other children. Rhonda gets out of the elevator and advises Chip not to let the jack o’lanterns go out since they will protect him. She sees the sunken bus, then the deceased children attack her. Rhonda runs back to the elevator to see the zombie children eating Chip in a gory scene with Chip’s entrails hanging out of his body. Rhonda falls backward and hits her head.
When she comes to, the ghosts reveal that they are Schrader, Macy, and Sara. However, before they go, Macy kicks the last lit jack o’lantern into the water. They hear a noise, and the real murdered children emerge from the water. Rhonda gets to the elevator with the last lit jack o’lantern. The other kids beg Rhonda to let them in. She moves as if to open the door but instead presses the button to start the elevator. She waves goodbye to them as she ascends, leaving them to the murdered children. She steps off the lift and crosses paths with Sam. The two exchange a nod of respect.
This story follows the classic revenge horror formula. Rhonda is an outcast. Macy is the group’s leader. She’s the one who orchestrates the prank on Rhonda who she singles out as an “idiot savant.” It’s also interesting that Macy is dressed as an angel and Rhonda is dressed as a witch. The kids violate several rules of Halloween: Never harm the innocent, respect the dead, and keep the jack o’lantern lit. When Macy kicks the final lit jack o’lantern into the water, the murdered children rise from their graves. In the end, the real murdered children rise from their graves to devour each one of Rhonda’s tormentors. Is the jack o’lantern going out to lift the other-worldly barrier between the zombie children and Rhonda’s classmates? In this way, this tale is staying true to traditional lore. I always thought, in a way, they were also avenging Rhonda.
What Big Eyes You Have!
During the movie, Dougherty introduces a group of young women at the festival. Laurie (True Blood’s Anna Paquin), a shy 22-year-old is out for some Halloween fun with her sister, Danielle (Lauren Lee Smith), and friends, Maria (Rochelle Aytes) and Janet (Moneca Delain). The girls stop off at a costume shop. Two emerge from the dressing room dressed in provocative versions of Disney princesses, Cinderella and Snow White, and the other dressed as Little Bo Peep. Disney princesses come from the much darker origins of Grimm’s fairytales. However, Laurie wears a much more conservative Little Red Riding Hood costume, which sets her apart. At one point, Danielle refers to Laurie as the “runt of the litter,” which is a clue as to who these young women are.
The other girls plan to attend a Halloween party and aggressively snag dates. However, Laurie shows no interest in the party or a date with a random stranger. However, she realizes that a masked man wearing a black hooded cloak is stalking her. This character appears in an earlier vignette as a vampire who kills a young woman at the festival.
He pursues Laurie into the woods and attacks her. We see the girls at their party in the woods when something drops from the tree—a body wearing Laurie’s red hooded cape. Danielle moves the hood aside, revealing the masked vampire. She removes his mask and reveals that he’s Steven Wilkins. One of the girls removes a set of fake fangs from his mouth. Wilkins lies there as the young women shift into werewolves. Sam sits on a log watching the werewolves as they feast on young men. Wilkins finally gets what’s coming to him.
In another of Dougherty’s epic ironic twists, Wilkins masquerades as a vampire to kill young women. His masquerading as a mythological creature causes him to cross paths with a real one—Laurie. Masquerading as innocence, complete with a Little Red Riding Hood costume, Laurie is unsure of herself. She hasn’t had her first kill yet. Nonetheless, mere mortal serial killer, Steve Wilkins is still in over his head when he pursues Laurie into the woods. The hunter becomes the prey. He lectured Charlie about respecting the rules of Halloween, however, he didn’t respect the sixth rule: never harm the innocent.
What Goes Around Comes Around, Mr. Kreeg
Dougherty has more twists, treats, and tricks for us in the final story. “Earlier…” pops up on the screen as the final tale begins. Mr. Kreeg, already introduced as Wilkins’s next-door neighbor, hates Halloween and enjoys scaring the trick-or-treaters and stealing their candy.
During Halloween night, someone bombards Kreegs house with eggs, fills his lawn with jack o’lanterns, and scrawls the old “Trick or Treat” rhyme in red on the ceiling and walls. Sam attacks Kreeg, and the two engage in a knock-down drag-out fight, during which Kreeg unmasks Sam. Sam has the face of a jack o’lantern. As Kreeg shoots Sam, we see that Sam’s insides are like that of a real jack o’lantern. However, you can’t kill Sam. He’s not human. In the end, Sam just stabs Kreeg with a half-eaten jack o’lantern lollipop.
After Sam leaves, Kreeg, beaten, bandaged, and humbled, hands out candy to trick-or-treaters. From Kreeg’s perspective, we see the other characters from the stories, including Henry and Emma. Sam holds the lollipop that was left in Emma’s mouth. However, we took a stop back in time. Sam sees Emma blow out the jack o’lantern. Kreeg goes back inside and there’s another knock at the door. He opens it to see the ghosts of the children killed in the Halloween School Bus Massacre. Photos burn in Kreeg’s fireplace and a closeup reveals that he was the driver who survived the massacre.
Here, the story comes full circle. The children from the School Bus Massacre have their revenge. Sam attacked Kreeg for violating his disrespecting Halloween traditions. However, Sam humbled Kreeg so that he would answer the door and meet his fate. Trick ‘r Treat has the common theme of people getting what’s coming to them. Steve Wilkins eventually stalks the wrong victim and becomes food for werewolves. Kreeg is killed by the children he murdered.
All of these stories offer new twists to classic themes associated with Halloween, tied together by Sam, the spirit of Halloween, who appears in each at some point. Dougherty’s writing is clever, as he seamlessly weaves tales together that play on the timeless themes of deception and revenge, mixed with traditional Halloween lore and urban legends. He also offers a mixed bag of classic horror monsters, ghosts, and serial killers. What more could anyone want in a Halloween-themed movie?