Trick ‘r’ Treat (2007)

Dir. Michael Dougherty

To the residents of Warren Valley, Ohio, Halloween means more than just candy and costumes. It’s the time of year when the barrier between the living and the dead is at thinnest; when ghouls and ghosts and monsters prowl alongside folks just out to have a good time. It’s all a big party, for sure, but in this town there are rules on All Hallows Eve, and disrespecting these traditions comes with steep consequences.

Trick ‘r’ Treat is a 2007 anthology film by Michael Dougherty, based on an animated short that the director made while at Tisch about a pumpkin masked Trick ‘r’ Treater who doles out punishment to those who break the rules of Halloween. These rules are common knowledge to most costumed kiddies: never smash a pumpkin, check your candy before eating it, and always give candy to the kids at your door. Stick to these guidelines and Halloween will treat you right. Stray, and Sam the Pumpkinhead will make sure the police have something to clean up in the morning.

The film jumps between several concurrent stories of characters learning harsh lessons in Halloween rule-breaking: a group of kids play a mean prank while investigating a local legend, an elementary school principal takes his aggression out on some students, a virginal red riding hood becomes the mark for a vampire, and Sam himself targets a cantankerous coot for being such an ornery old shit.

Taking a cue from EC Comics, the infamous publisher of macabre books like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear, Dougherty’s shorts act as little morality plays where supernatural forces step in as judge, jury and executioner.

The beauty behind Trick ‘r’ Treat isn’t so much in how scary it is or how tightly its concurrent stories weave together, but rather in its playful spirit. It’s a joyful exploration of every kid’s dream version of Halloween, one where your neighbor answering the door covered in blood may not be a costume, and the traditions of the holiday hold weight and meaning. It shares the same devilish nature as Gremlins or Creepshow, movies too rife with nudity, foul language and mangled bodies to be meant for kids, but appealing to their wicked little natures regardless.

Dougherty’s film is a slick production, one with sharp editing and a vibrant fall palette of browns and oranges. Though moody and violent, Trick ‘r’ Treat doesn’t get too bogged down with gore and depressing statements about human nature, which is refreshing when it seems like most horror movies go out of their way to the viewer feel horrible. Trick ‘r’ Treat is a celebration of the cartoon dangers that we grew up fearing, and the holiday where those spooky stories spring to life and wreak havoc on the everyday.