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Fantastic Fest Review: Trick ‘r Treat

By  · Published on September 26th, 2009

This is it. This is the moment of truth for me at Fantastic Fest IV. Trick ‘r Treat, as you may recall from my news piece on the trailer, is my most anticipated film this year. In fact, I have been anticipating this movie for over two years. I walked into this screening haunted by the notion that it would not live up to the hype. I also felt a panic in the opposite direction: if this film is good, am I going to let my geek crush on it affect my objectivity and possibly assign it higher marks than it deserves? Lights out, projector fired up, point of no return reached.

Trick ‘r Treat is takes place on Halloween night in a tiny hamlet in Ohio. This is described as a town that really takes the holiday seriously and we are treated to several citizens having very different, but unanimously terrifying evenings. A school principle explores his dark side, a young girl seeks to lose her virginity, a group of children plan a macabre tribute to the town’s scariest myth, a hermit sits bitterly in his home, and a couple debate the merits of the rules of Halloween. How are these stories connected? Are they connected? Who the hell is that creepy little bastard in the burlap sack?

With no small amount of pleasure, I must report that I loved Trick ‘r Treat. It is simultaneously a unique horror film experience and a tribute to a breed of horror film we haven’t seen in a long time. Again I will reach back to my news piece on the subject and reiterate that as opposed to Carpenter’s Halloween, where the holiday is independent of the horror, Trick-r-Treat uses the unsettling origins of the holiday as a catalyst for the terror. The inclusion of the familiar nuances of the holiday gives this film a transcendent quality. It reminds us all of how even though we loved getting mountains of free candy as kids, we were consistently freaked out by the ghost stories and the monsters of Halloween.

I have to admit I went into this looking for connections to Carpenter’s Halloween for no other reason than the similarity of the setting. While there are homages to Halloween, the opening P.O.V shot for example, Trick-r-Treat is actually an homage to the anthology horror films of the 1980’s. The film that it most called to mind was Creepshow. Every story ends with a horrifying twist that is played with an incredible amount of black comedy just as the conclusions of those in Creepshow. The interesting deviation from this is the fact that while Creepshow’s stories are clearly episodic and exist in different universes, Trick-r-Treat’s vignettes are seamless and add scale to the world of the film. They are not so much segments as they are co-habitating stories between which we are constantly shifting. The one throughline is the an unsettling child in a poorly constructed scarecrow costume who appears at nearly every bloody story resolution. I loved the idea that these episodes did not have clearly defined endpoints because it allowed for a connection to be established between the audience and the town. I also enjoyed that the overlaps where subtle and realistic.

I will warn you that this is not a scary film. This is a horror film that, appropriately, strives to provide a thoroughly entertaining experience first and foremost. None of the segments in Creepshow were actually scary but the movie worked because it celebrated camp and employed the best brand of dark humor. While Trick-r-Treat uses a similar tactic, I feel there is a different reason for this tone that is directly tied into the theme. Halloween does have its roots in dark, pagan rituals but the fact is that it also possesses a spirit of juvenile glee. So Trick-r-Treat pays respect to the origins, but it also uses comedy to encapsulate the duality of the holiday. The gags all land perfectly because they are all based on the mythology and traditions of Halloweeen: warnings against smashing pumpkins, checking your candy before you eat it, and the perils that befall those who do not stock up on candy.

Good Lord but this movie is awesome. I had a blast watching it and I was legitimately surprised by some of the turns it took. The characters ring true and are very cleverly written. I loved Dylan Baker’s character as the school principal and the levels of evil he can achieve while still inspiring a chuckle. Anna Paquin does a dynamite job playing a virgin with a special kind of lust brewing in her and Brian Cox loses himself in his reclusive old fart character. The violence balances nicely between brutally cruel and hilariously cool. I really dug the jagged sucker weapon that provided for fantastic, sugar-coated bloodshed. I loved that director Dougherty created a human mascot for Halloween in the scarecrow kid because, as he mentioned in the Q & A afterwards, one has never really existed previously.

I have no idea why this languished in development hell for so long, but somebody should lose their job over it. This film is phenomenal. It is perfectly written, well executed, it looks great, and it’s so much fun. I can see this being the kind of iconic, cult classic that people talk about for decades and throw in every year around this time to get into the spirit of Halloween. I would recommend this to all horror geeks out there and to anyone who claims Halloween as their favorite holiday. I cannot gush enough about this film and I am so thrilled I got to see it on the big screen whilst in the company of ravenous geeks like me.

The Upside: An outstanding, unique horror film that is sure to be a classic

The Downside: If you can find one, I don’t want to know you

One the Side: This film, like some others that were released this year, was based on a short film.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.