cult classic, gore, halloween, horror, movie review, review, sam, samhain, trick 'r treat, watchalong
For Halloween, I thought I’d put on a staple and enjoy the heck out of watchalong commentary in lieu of a straight review. Trick ‘r Treat is a perfect watchalong review, because it’s 1) timely, 2) fun as hell, and 3) an anthology, so it’s already broken into pretty little pieces. Like Creepshow, it’s a throwback to the cheesy, joyous, gruesome horror comics like Tales of the Crypt, as evidenced in the comicization of the opening credits and the closing frame. As anthologies go, it’s more interconnected than most, which works much better as a standalone feature film than most anthology shows, which tend to be strung-together shorts like a standard short story collection.
It’s a delightfully gory, gross, scary, charming horror movie that’s developed a sizable cult following (is it a cult following if it’s sizable?) and a place in the Seasonal Watching lineup for Halloween, especially since Carpenter’s Halloween isn’t necessarily my favorite movie (just personal preference) and I have to be in the right headspace to watch Zombie’s Halloween remake.
This watchalong review is designed for those who have already watched the movie, as most of my reviews are, so there will be twisty spoilers here. It’s hard to properly review the movie without addressing the twists, since anthology parts are too short not to mention their endings, and I’ve seen it so many times that I’m not sure how to write as though I haven’t seen it before. I’m just in it for the flaky layers, people–like a bloody croissant.
I may pop in and out of the scene line-up rather than going completely scene by scene, because the movie cuts from one to another story in a way that ramps up the tension really well and feels organic rather than choppy.
1) Don’t Blow Out the Jack-o-lantern, a.k.a. Meet Sam
The introduction to the anthology creates the first side of the bookend that will eventually weave all the stories together. You see characters from all of the stories passing through the frame, although we don’t know that yet, and we’re at the end of the Halloween festivities instead of the beginning. Everything’s winding down, Tahmoh’s character is silly drunk, and Leslie Bibb is done with the whole holiday.
For someone who isn’t crazy about Halloween, Emma certainly went all out for the yard decorations, I must say (as a person who loves Halloween and doesn’t decorate the yard at all… well, I did put out a really adorable Grim Reaper this year).
It’s not the most exciting of the stories, but it packs a hell of a punch at the end, with our first look at Sam and the first gruesome slaying of the one who breaks a Halloween rule, setting the tone for the rest. After Scream, you know that when someone in a horror movie mentions the rules, you gotta sit up and pay attention.
Michael Dougherty and Bryan Singer really pull no punches with their gore and gross-out, applying them with a sense of whimsy and undeniable fun for the genre, which is why I think this movie’s so well-loved in the genre. When the cast and crew are having fun, the audience can tell, and Trick ‘r Treat is just plain fun.
There’s also a nice homage to the movie Halloween in this segment.
I didn’t even know that keeping Jack-o-lanterns lit all night was a rule. Fire hazard much? If you have a plug-in or electric tea light and just keep it lit that way, does it count?
2) Always Wear a Costume, a.k.a. Peeping Tommy
The boy in the adorable bear costume also played Sam–except for the stunt work, of course.
Anna Paquin is one of those actresses I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I really like her. I think she’s just interesting to watch on screen. She has a presence and stature, and she’s memorable even when her characters aren’t. On the other hand, she always sounds like she’s not really passing in whatever accent she uses, including her own, and it’s distracting.
We set up the story with all the fairy tale references we can find, from Cinderella to Snow White to the seminal Little Red Riding Hood costume of the reluctant Laurie (Paquin). Could it possibly be relevant to the story? What about Sheep’s Meadow?
I’m awash in references.
Those are some amazing last-minute store-bought costumes, though. I mean, when was the last time Party City had something that fit that well and didn’t look like it was going to fall apart by Day of the Dead?
Cue the endless stream of sexual innuendos. They keep using them because they keep working. Nudge nudge, wink wink. No regrets.
3) Always Check Your Candy and Only Take One Piece on the Honor System, a.k.a. Barf Bag
I have to close my ears on this one every time. Vomit is right on the edge of being a hard limit for me, and this has one of the most graphic vomit scenes I’ve seen. The sounds as much as the visuals do it for me, and thank you, I’m not interested in sympathetic vomiting tonight. (Honorable mentions include the bulimia scene in Tamara and the weight loss scene in Wishmaster 3.)
But Dylan Baker, as always, is phenomenal as the serial killer, because as Wednesday Addams famously said, they look like everyone else, and no one looks more like a serial killer who looks like everyone else than Dylan Baker. He kills it (pun intended, of course) with his comedic timing in dealing with the foibles and pitfalls of being a single father to an adorable moppet who just wants to spend time with his father and trying to successfully bury the bodies without his asshole neighbor finding out. No one has suffered how he suffers.
WHY ARE ALL YOUR KNIVES DULL, PRINCIPAL WILKINS? WHY?
But Wilkins really stabs into the heart of Trick ‘r Treat like the Grinch puts the spirit into Christmas. We have all these traditions, all the rules, to protect us from evil, but no one respects the old traditions anymore and therefore must die. Seems like that escalated quickly, but hey, this is Halloween, this is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween… Wrong movie.
I’m not drunk. It’s just been a long week, and next week is going to be just as long.
Trusty Sam is here to make sure people keep the Sam in Samhain and to remind people why we have these traditions. Sam doesn’t want to carve you up, everyone. He just wants his trick ‘r treat candy.
Is little Billy an homage to Chucky? Because although he’s not wearing a Good Guy costume, his overalls and striped shirt with his mop of ginger hair really harken back to the doll.
4) Halloween Pranks are Fine, but Save Sadism for When You’re Older, a.k.a. Halloween Queen
Those kids really capture the horror of seeing your teachers outside the classroom context. Talk about a rude awakening.
Right up there with the whimsical gore, Trick ‘r Treat doesn’t hold back on child endangerment and death. No one is safe, even if your frontal lobes aren’t fully developed yet. Sam’s just a child, too. An ancient child, but a child nonetheless, and age won’t spare you if you break the rules and disrespect the holiday. No one messes with a Rhonda’s special interest, from which we get that it’s pronounced Sow-en, not Sam-hine, so we all learned something today to lord over everyone else.
Ms. Henderson briefly turns up at Sheep’s Hollow–you see her rolling the horny hot dog toward the fire.
Rhonda’s witch costume and Jack-o-lantern game is strong. I’m still getting serious fire hazard vibes, though.
5) Don’t Wander Off Alone, a.k.a. Watch Out for Monsters
Mysterious dark stranger in a mask and a cloak. The whole scene is sexy as hell, which makes who the stranger is such a twist, because that girl’s he’s got is a total ten.
I want to know where he got his vamp teeth, though, because they’re sharp enough that she didn’t notice she was being bitten and good enough to bite through skin without breaking.
Laurie searches for the man she wants to be her First. She just wants it to be special. But everyone’s already paired up, leaving her to walk through the parade all by her lonesome. Her big sister tries to hook her up with a man dressed in a baby costume–the same guy who played the the Great Child in Th13teen Ghosts!
The mysterious dark stranger intrigues, as mysterious dark strangers do.
6) Halloween Pranks cont.
The story of the kids from the school bus is just sad, sick, cruel, and I don’t know whether it crosses a line or not, because as shown in psych ward horror as well, we as human beings have historically been terrible people to the vulnerable.
Continuing the tradition on Rhonda, the Halloween Queen, is also sad, sick, cruel. Sam ensures that vigilante justice is served with julienne fries.
The vintage masks on those kids are the creepiest, especially the paper bag mask. I love cheap thrills.
Is Rhonda’s pumpkin carving of Freddy Krueger or Tom Waits? I’m thoroughly amused that I can’t tell.
If you’re a nineties girl, you had a pair of shoes like Rhonda’s. You just did.
You made Rhonda cry, and you snuffed out the last Jack-o-lantern. For that–mostly for Rhonda–you must pay.
7) Don’t Wander cont.
Little Red Riding Hood walking alone through the woods. A little on the nose, but shorts don’t really have time for subtlety, and the twist, while somewhat predictable, makes the bludgeon of the fairy tale work, because if there’s anything I love more than a fairy tale trope, it’s a subverted one. Bonus if it’s horror.
The mysterious stranger appears again to prey upon the lost little girl. Then the stranger’s body abruptly drops in Sheep’s Hollow, his leg broken. And the best twist of all, he’s ordinary serial killer Principal Steven Wilkins, who gets to be Laurie’s first.
Her first kill, that is.
Little Red Riding Hood is secretly the wolf. All of the women in Sheep’s Hollow are. Predictable, yes. Delicious, still.
Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” cover is a polarizing one. It’s almost definitely overused, but like She Wants Revenge’s “Tear You Apart,” it’s overused because it’s so damn cinematically effective. I could listen to both of them over and over and over again. And “Sweet Dreams” provides the perfect soundtrack for one of the better werewolf transformation sequences in cinema. First the girls take off their clothes, then they take off their skins. It’s bloody fantastic.
8) Always Give Out Candy, a.k.a. Razors in the Chocolate
At my house, we don’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters, and now that we have a dog heavily into guarding, it’s just better for everyone if we turn off the porch lights and don’t give out candy, even when we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic. So I’ve broken many of these rules and I’m still here. Except now I’ve put it out into the world that I break the rules, so maybe my luck won’t hold out.
The candy Kreeg takes from the trick-or-treaters he scares from his house is from Principal Wilkins. The first candy bar he eats is the poisoned one that kills the first kid, which is why he puts it down in disgust. The one Sam uses as a box cutter because of the razor blade inside is also from Wilkins. And the pumpkins Sam conjures to Kreeg’s house are Rhonda’s.
In spite of the best Easter eggs, this is my least favorite story, in spite of the presence of Brian Cox and the longest sequence with Sam in it. It took me a while to realize it was because it feels too familiar.
It’s basically Home Alone, but Halloween.
9) The End
Now we have context for all the interconnections that converge before Emma gets it.
There are lots of other interconnections throughout the movie, of course, but we end where we begin.
Thus ends another Halloween.
Hope you enjoyed yourself!
Time for NaNoWriMo. No rest for the wicked.