Just what can happen on Halloween night? Director Michael Dougherty serves up four unique terror tales that add up to one of the best anthology horror films in recent years. 

  • Genre: Horror, Anthology, Black Comedy, Serial Killer, Scary Mascot

  • Run time: 1 hour, 22 min

  • Writer/Director: Michael Dougherty

  • Producer: Bryan Singer

  • Cast: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, Quinn Lord

  • Release date: December 9, 2007 by Warner Bros. Pictures

  • As of this writing, Trick 'r Treat is available via pay VOD rentals and DVD/BluRay rental/purchase services.

Many horror fans, myself included, consider October and Halloween especially, as a time to sit back and enjoy horror movies. Despite the film/television industry bolstering and marketing this tradition for decades, there are actually very few movies that specifically capture the Halloween spirit. Fortunately, Michael Dougherty has stepped in to provide a film that helps to fill that void.  He also manages to succeed in creating a film that is one of the most difficult to pull off: the anthology film. 

The film opens with an old fashioned educational film from the 50's, providing many of the important safety tips we all grew up with before going trick or treating, before segueing into the opening scene with Emma and Henry, a married couple. Henry is obsessed with Halloween, and chastises his less than enthusiastic wife who is shown violating the traditions of Halloween by extinguishing a Jack-O-Lantern. He warns her, "you might upset someone." "Oh, please, who?" she replies. Emma gets her answer when she arouses the ire of our MC for the film, Sam. (Quinn Lord) 

Emma (Leslie Bibbs) and Henry (Tahmoh Penniket) argue over Halloween decorations. 

Emma (Leslie Bibbs) and Henry (Tahmoh Penniket) argue over Halloween decorations. 

After our first small encounter, we are treated to a fascinating title sequence courtesy of Christy Beckert and August Coleman. The film pays tribute to anthology horror comics to introduce our main characters and hints at their stories to come, before dropping us into our first tale. 

The Principal

Our first tale concerns a school principal, Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker), who leads a secret double life as a vicious serial killer. He reveals his murderous intentions to Charlie (Bad Santa's Brett Kelly), one of his students at school who is caught smashing Jack-O-Lanterns, and is taught a lesson he won't ever forget. 

One of Dylan Baker's best talents as an actor is his ability to portray characters who hide their evil intentions behind a milquetoast persona. He uses this ability to full effect to switch back and forth between these personalities as he interacts with the other characters. Cinematographer Glen McPherson and film editor Robert Ivison weave complex series of events that make us feel like we're observing the action in the first person, and seeing what his neighbor, Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox) sees during the backyard sequence. More on him later. 

Steven (Dylan Baker) gives Charlie (Brett Kelly) a chilling lesson about disrespecting Halloween traditions. 

Steven (Dylan Baker) gives Charlie (Brett Kelly) a chilling lesson about disrespecting Halloween traditions. 

The School Bus Massacre Revisited 

Four students, Macy (Britt McKillip), Sara (Isabella DeLuce), Schrader (Jean-Luc Bilodeau), and Chip (Alberto Ghisi) are collecting Jack-O-Lanterns as they arrive at the house of Rhonda (Sam Todd) and invite her to come along with them  to a rock quarry. It is here that we learn the story of the School Bus Massacre, and the kids are bringing the Jack-O-Lanterns to honor some children who died in a mysterious school bus accident. I won't reveal much more, but there are some disastrous consequences. 

Dougherty's writing and characters are most developed in this particular tale, and each of the actors in the story deliver some realistic performances. Themes of peer pressure, bullying, and the mistreatment of an outcast by more popular students are explored with efficient exposition. In addition, the mist during the rock quarry sequence as well as the score by Douglas Pipes creates a haunting atmosphere. (Sidebar: The music of film, particularly it's use of strings, is one of the best and most memorable horror film scores, and is right up there with John Carpenter's work) 

The kids greet Rhonda outside her house.

The kids greet Rhonda outside her house.

Surprise Party 

Laurie (Anna Paquin) is the star of this tale, a story of what happens when kids grow up and leave trick or treating behind. Her older sister (Lauren Lee Smith) and friends (Rochelle Aytes and Moneca Delain) kid her for still being a "virgin" and look to boost her confidence by throwing her a party where she can meet the right guy for her. Laurie decides to go off on her own instead, and ends up stalked by mysterious man in black. I'm going to hold off saying anymore about the plot for this one because it has a great payoff reveal that you should see for yourself. 

Anna Paquin sells the character of Laurie with gusto, playing up her innocence in a way that sets up Dougherty's reveal very well. The other women also deliver subtle performances that get even better on repeat viewings when you see their actions leading up to the previously mentioned reveal.

 

Anna Paquin as Laurie

Anna Paquin as Laurie

Meet Sam 

At last, we come to our final tale. Mr. Kreeg is unique to the film, as he is the only character who hates Halloween. A bitter, broken man living alone, he just wants the day to be over quietly. His evening is thrown into chaos when Sam discovers his contempt, and shows up with brutal punishments for Kreeg. 

In the hands of Brian Cox, this story ends up taking a minimalist approach. Cox based his appearance on director John Carpenter, and it ends up adding an extra layer that allows us to understand Kreeg without wasting a lot of time. In addition, Sam has mostly been an observer of the proceedings until this point in the film and it's exciting to finally see Dougherty let him loose and treat us to what he can do. The conclusion of the story ties in very well to the other parts of the film, bringing us full circle. 

Kreeg attempts to protect himself from Sam. 

Kreeg attempts to protect himself from Sam. 

 

Overall, Mike Dougherty has crafted an excellent anthology film that was executed by a talented cast and crew. It's an exciting one that is great any time of year, but especially right now! 

My rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5) 

Other observations and trivia (culled from IMDB and other sources) 

  • Most anthology films tell their stories chronologically. This one is a little different as all of the stories happen around the same time in the same night. Characters make cameos in each other's stories to help establish the actual order, which becomes more apparent on repeat viewings. 

  • The term "cult movie" is overused these days, but it actually applies here. The film was originally slated to be released in October 2007, but release was suddenly halted by Warner Bros. The exact reasons for this were unclear, but it was permitted to be shown at several festivals. The positive buzz resulted in the film being released on DVD in 2009. Since then, the now defunct FEARnet (which used to air the film for 24 hours on Halloween) and word of mouth helped build an organic following, yet this film is still one I find people haven't seen or even know about it. 

  • Mark Freeborn's production design for the film is excellent, especially with the Jack-O-Lanterns that are seen throughout the film. 

  • Sam was originally introduced in an animated short titled "Season's Greetings" which was made by Dougherty when he was still a film student at NYU. It's included as a bonus feature on the DVD, and it's well worth a watch.

  • Rhonda's house is based on Carrie White's house in Carrie

  • If you enjoyed this film and want more, check out the graphic novel "Trick 'r Treat: Days of Dead" including 4 new original stories by Mike Dougherty. A sequel to the film is in the works, though not much is known about it yet. The novel provides something to tide you over in the mean time.