When the Tricks are the Real Treats

There’s a certain whimsey to the month of October that never quite fades, even as we grow older. Gone may be the days of dressing up in costumes from Party City or Spirit Halloween, delightedly skipping from one decked-out house to the next and demanding only the finest of bulk-purchased candy from strangers, but the mood itself is here to stay. It’s when the days grow darker earlier, the crunch of autumn leaves filling your ears as you go out of your way to step on a particularly dry-looking one, the influx of horror movies and creepy house decorations all around. There have been plenty of movies set during Halloween Day, but it’s the movies that are about the concept of Halloween itself that get the trophy here. And this is where a humble little film from 2007 called Trick ‘r Treat comes into play.

Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, who helmed the holiday horror film Krampus in 2015 and the blockbuster Godzilla: King of Monsters in 2019, Trick ‘r Treat follows five intertwining stories that unfold on Halloween night. We start off with a cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t blow out a jack o’ lantern’s candle before midnight before discovering a seemingly mundane high school principal’s deadly secret; then it’s off to watch a group of teenagers play a prank that quickly turns sour while in the nearby woods, a young woman is pressured by her sisters to find the perfect date; and we finally understand the reason why one crotchety old man harbors extreme distaste for the holiday. While each story unfolds in most of its entirety before moving onto the next, attentive viewers can see how each one connects with and intersects with the other: in the background of the opening scene, we see the group of masked trick or treaters departing the old man’s house, despite his story being told last. In another scene where the pranked girl is returning home and is nearly hit by a car, we see the car’s passengers are none other than the partying sisters from the woods.

Dougherty combines impressive writing with admirable practical effects to bring each tale to life, and the surprising presence of high-profile actors like Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and Dylan Baker doesn’t detract from the roles that they clearly had fun playing. While it may require more than one viewing to catch all the cameos and details that help piece together the chronology of the film, it’s definitely worth the rewatch. It had been originally slated for a wide release in October of 2007, but was inexplicably pulled from the schedule until 2009, where it was released straight to DVD. The unfortunate lack of marketing and noise around the film’s final debut meant it quietly entered public knowledge without much splash, but has since gained a notable fanbase through word-of-mouth – so much, in fact, that in 2017 it was incorporated into one of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights as one of the many “scare zones” in the park.

So put on your costumes, keep those candles lit until midnight, and make sure you have a bowl of candy ready for trick or treaters, because Trick ‘r Treat is a delightful romp into horror and Halloween goodness.