You know, there are rules, you should be more careful. You might upset someone.
Oh, please. Who?
I’ve always been a sucker for anthology films.
Maybe it was a childhood of Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark, with its impossibly-scary opening montage. Maybe it was Freaky Stories or the original copies of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark that I still have at home, with their super-scary and later-censored artwork by Stephen Gammell. Could have been the cackling Crypt Keeper, or the Creephouse, or Treehouse of Horror, or a million other short-story collections. I couldn’t get enough, I devoured anthologies by the ton. I still do.
I also have the attention span of a ground-squirrel, so that helps too.
When you think about it though, it makes sense: anthologies and Horror are a perfect match. Horror, as a concept, is rooted in the unknown and the vulnerability that arises from a lack of understanding. Sometimes that lack of awareness is something enormous like an ancient curse, but it can be as simple as “who else is in this house?”. Horror is the lack of information, so the anthology format – where a storyteller gets in, gets out and never explains a thing – is a natural fit. Bad things happen suddenly, and that’s that. Every new story is scary because it’s new.
When there’s no time to explain anyways, why explain at all?
Once you’ve absorbed a couple decades worth of Horror, something odd starts to occur: the shock wears off. It’s the same phenomenon that helped ironic meta-horror rise to prominence. Once you understand the conventions the fear slackens and a kind of familiarity takes over. Horror movies operate on a relatively strict set of conventions, and once you start to see the patterns you begin to understand the ‘rules’. Meta-Horror films like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Scream and Cabin in the Woods distort and subvert the rules of Horror by relying on a shared awareness of the genre’s tropes, and they’re a blast because of it.
Today’s pick is also a Horror anthology. Like the films above, it relies on a common knowledge of the rules of of the Horror, but marries them to another set of conventions: 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat is about the rules of Hallowe’en.
And it’s an absolute blast.
Trick ‘r Treat is primarily a black comedy masquerading as a Horror anthology. However, it is also a vampire movie, a coming-of-age ghost story, a cautionary tale, a slasher, a murder mystery and, above all, a celebration of the spirit of Hallowe’en. It’s a reflection of every other movie it clearly worships, and in that respect is more of a study in Horror movies than a Horror movie itself. If you’re looking for a fun, spooky party movie that absolutely revels in the joy of the season, look no further. Trick ‘r Treat is the child of a thousand other Horror classics, and it clearly wants to be cult-classic royalty. It absolutely is.
Trick ‘r Treat is made up of six, roughly fifteen-minute stories. Each tale takes place on Hallowe’en in the same sleepy town, over a series of overlapping spooky locations. The sets are going to look familiar to Vancouverites because our city is in costume too, as Warren Valley, Ohio, the home state of director Michael Dougherty (of Krampus and X-Men Apocalypse fame). At a scant 80 minutes long, it’s also the rare Horror movie whose events take place in roughly real-time, as we hop between the different protagonists and their stories over the course of the night. The six stories aren’t in order, but as we’ll see, that doesn’t mean they aren’t connected.
The connective tissue of an anthology, the common thread that holds every story together in some way, is vitally important. The connective tissue sets the theme for the anthology and gives the set direction: in Trick ‘r Treat, it’s the little jumpsuit kid in the image above. His name is Sam, and he loves Hallowe’en very much.
The film takes most of its run-time to get into exactly who Sam is, but we know he shows up every time someone breaks the ‘rules’ of Hallowe’en. We’re never actually told what the rules of Hallowe’en are, though characters will occasionally make oblique reference to a kind of shared Hallowe’en knowledge. It’s the same knowledge we have as an audience: we know not to be a bully, or steal candy, or tear down the decorations early, because these things ruin Hallowe’en for everyone else. If you have any affection for the season, you already know the rules off by heart. Sam knows them too.
Our many protagonists, on the other hand, have some learning to do. And that’s where the pitch-black comedy kicks in. If you’ve never seen it and love fun-scary Horror, you’re in for a hell of a ride. It’s heart-warming in the strangest, most backwards way possible – and that’s before it even gets to the sad part.
At its heart, Trick ‘r Treat is a celebration of Hallowe’en itself, and that’s what makes it such a joy to watch. It’s a Horror movie on the side, but the core of the film is a shared observation of the things that make Hallowe’en great, and the morbid fate of those that would intervene. If Nightmare Before Christmas is a Hallowe’en movie masquerading as a Christmas film, Trick ‘r Treat doesn’t feel the need to wear a costume at all.
What better celebration of Hallowe’en than a Horror movie?