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Happy Halloween: Trick 'r Treat (2007) review

Updated on December 29, 2013

Director: Michael Dougherty

Cast: Dylan Baker, Quinn Lord, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, Brett Kelly, Leslie Bibb, Samm Todd, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Lauren Lee Smith, Moneca Delain, Rochelle Aytes, Tahmoh Penikett, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Alberto Ghisi.

At the heart of Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat is a character the end credits identify as Sam (Quinn Lord). Dressed in tattered orange pajamas and wearing a burlap sack over his head, he may appear to be nothing more than a child, but you wouldn't see a child's face if you were to take that sack off his head. What Santa Clause is to Christmas, Sam is to Halloween. He roams the streets of a small, Halloween crazed Ohio town, making sure the residents there are being good little boys and girls and upholding the holiday traditions. If they don't, they get more than just a lump of coal in their jack-o'-lanterns.

We learn as much in the movie's opening scene, where a married couple returns home after a night of celebrating. The husband (Tahmoh Penikett) loves the Halloween season; his wife (Leslie Bibb) does not. She blows out the candle in the jack-o'-lantern before she's suppose to, takes down all the decorations, and verbalizes her hatred for the season. Sam sees and hears everything, attacks her, and finishes her off with the business end of a chewed off lollipop. Then he puts some of the decorations back up, with a couple of added touches of his own.

Trick 'R Treat marks the directorial debut of Superman Returns scribe Michael Dougherty, and it's a slick, creepy, and wickedly entertaining treat. Doughterty was born a few days shy of October 31, and has had an undying love for Halloween ever since. His movie plays out like an ode of love to the season of the witch. Characters have dialogue scenes where they discuss the importance of Halloween traditions and even about the history of the season. There are many shots of suburban neighborhoods lined with jack-o'-lanterns and bejeweled with elaborate decorations (one house has severed limbs hanging from trees). Over half of the characters are teenagers and college kids dressed up in costumes and carrying bags full of candy.

"Te-he! This is where I keep my secret stash of porn!"
"Te-he! This is where I keep my secret stash of porn!"

Cinematographer Glen McPherson bathes the movie in a rich autumnal atmosphere, especially during a flashback where we learn the history of the town's infamous "Halloween School Bus Massacre" legend. Like Creepshow, the movie is a horror anthology that seems inspired by the EC comic books of yore. It captures the macabre spirit of said comics, and its humor is of the blackest kind. You may not think a serial killer attempting to bury his latest victim in his backyard while constantly being bothered by his young son could be funny, but that's just one of the ways that Trick 'r Treat surprises you.

After the film's opening, the movie proceeds to tell us four tales of terror, each of them involving characters getting punished for not completely upholding the traditions of Halloween. The first story involves a pumpkin smashing brat named Charlie (Brett Kelly), who tries stealing candy from his school principal's house. What Charlie doesn't know is that the principal, named Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker), moonlights as a serial killer, and plans to play a very nasty trick on kids who forget to "check their candy."

The second, and most haunting, tale showcases a star making turn from newcomer Samm Todd, who plays an autistic girl named Rhonda. She's invited by four local kids -- snob Macy (Britt McKillip), nice guy Schrader (Jean-Luc Bilodeau), and their friends Sara (Isabelle Deluce) and Chip (Alberto Ghisi) -- to an abandoned rock quarry where the legendary "Halloween School Bus Massacre" is said to have occurred. They plan to play a cruel prank on poor Rhonda, but the joke is ultimately on them, as they unwisely decide to extinguish the candles in their jack-o'-lanterns before leaving the quarry.

The third tale features the movie's best twist. Twenty-somethings Laurie (Anna Paquin) and her older sister Danielle (Lauren Lee Smith) are holding a Halloween party in the woods with their friends Maria (Rochelle Aytes) and Janet (Moneca Delain). Everyone has a date for the party, except Laurie, who ventures to the town parade to find herself that special someone. One of the characters in this story, I'm so not going to say who, learns the hard way why it's never wise to go out alone on Halloween.

She may look like an angel and talk like an angel, but she snarls like a demon!
She may look like an angel and talk like an angel, but she snarls like a demon!

The final story involves principal Steven's neighbor Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), a cantankerous, Halloween hating old hermit who gets paid an unexpected visit from Sam. Sam may teach Kreeg the error of his Halloween hating ways, but Sam isn't the only thing he'll have to worry about that evening. This story contains some of the film's creepiest images, including a bedroom that's covered in scribblings written in what I believe was dog's blood (you'll understand why when you see the film) and a background shot of Sam crawling upside down across the ceiling like he were Spider-man.

Each of these stories interlock in one way or another, and one of the pleasures of the film is seeing how each story connects. It could be something as simple as having a character from one story lurking in the background of another story, or by simply making two characters neighbors. There are other ways the stories do connect, some of which lead to two Big Twists that I didn't see coming, and I certainly won't reveal here.

What's especially refreshing about Trick 'r Treat is its reliance on practical effects over CGI. There are some special-effects used in the film, but they're used sparingly, and the movie is better for it. There is a werewolf transformation sequence that involves not people turning into hairy beasts, but people pulling off their human skin to reveal their hairy wolf bodies underneath. It's a spectacularly disturbing moment, made all the more so because CGI is seldom used during it (if it was used a lot, I didn't notice it).

In spite of the hype surrounding it and the positive reviews it received at the time, Trick 'r Treat was not given a theatrical release. I'm not sure if Warner Brothers was afraid of competing with Saw XLII, or if they just didn't trust a horror movie that has as many young kids dying in it as this one does. Anyone who knows me knows that I get squeamish with movies that exploit child endangerment, but Trick 'r Treat is not an exploitative movie. It is an enormously entertaining love letter to the season of Halloween, and is one of the very best holiday movies to come out in a while.

Final Grade: *** ½
(out of****)

What did you think of this film? :)

5 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Trick 'r Treat (2007)


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    • priley84 profile image

      priley84 4 years ago from Warner Robins, Ga

      @ FatFreddysCat: I agree with you 100%! Halloween may be the scarier film, but Trick 'r Treat captures the very spirit of the season better than any film I can remember seeing. It's great entertainment! :D

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Great flick, it's been an October perennial in my house for several years now. In my book it's the best Halloween themed horror movie since....well, since the original "Halloween!"