Trick ‘r Treat

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good … You probably recognize those words from the beloved children’s song about Santa Clause. You’ve probably sung it, laughing and giggling at a joyful time of year. You have to admit, though, those words are pretty creepy. An old man with supernatural powers watching children sleep?

Every Christmas, we can expect admonitions to respect “traditions,” even if we steer clear of the religious side of the holiday. You have to have a tree and give gifts, like it or not. Why? Because it’s Christmas, that’s why. The same is true of other holidays. On July 4th and Memorial Day, for example, we are expected to demonstrate respect for our national traditions.

I loved Halloween as a child because there were no burdensome traditions. Be whoever you want. Roam the neighborhood at will. As long as you didn’t eat candy without a wrapper, you were free to run amok. Maybe it was your friend from YMCA soccer walking next to you under that costume … or maybe it wasn’t a costume at all. You could have whatever adventure your imagination could write, and no one threatened you with coal.

Until October of 2008, when Legendary Pictures released Trick ‘r Treat. Trick ‘r Treat is set in Warren Valley, Ohio, during the city-wide Halloween festival. The school principal, Steven Wilkinson (Dylan Baker), sits beside a student on his front steps, ominously stabbing and slicing a pumpkin. “My dad taught me a lot about the traditions of Halloween,” he says. “Traditions that were put in place to protect us. Tonight is about respecting the traditions, not breaking them.”

Oh, great.

The first scene in the movie involves a woman who blows out her jack-o-lantern prematurely and is then murdered by “Sam,” a child-sized creature hidden in a burlap costume. Trick ‘r Treat seems to be a horrific version of A Christmas Carol, with Sam acting as the Three Spirits, enforcing Halloween traditions. Later in the movie, he gives similar bloody treatment to a crotchety old man (Brian Cox) who refuses to give out treats. I have to admit, I would not want to be on Sam’s “naughty list.”

The rest of the movie is a patchwork of short stories, overlapping and intersecting. The stories are done fairly well, though there’s nothing original aside from Sam. If you’ve ever sat around a campfire with friends, you’ve heard the staple elements of all of them:

  • A psychopath kills neighborhood children and turns their heads into

    Anna Paquin as horror movie character #VIR017. By touching this movie, she has absorbed its uncanny campiness.


  • A group of friends pulls a scary prank on an unpopular girl, and it backfires horrifically.
  • A girl, begging for help, is murdered in front of party-goers who think it’s an act.

This is a good movie to watch at a party, or with a bunch of friends, to make fun of. It isn’t remotely scary, unless you’re the type who worries about being eviscerated with a lollipop. (Yes, you read that right.) On the other hand, the scenery is really cool, and the writing and acting are good enough to hold your attention. It’s fun to try to predict where the stories will interact. For example, early in the movie, one character looks at his neighbor’s house and sees his neighbor at the window, shouting “help me! Help me!” He waves him off and goes back to the story he is in. Later, the movie backs up and we see the story inside the neighbor’s house and learn what he was so afraid of.

But what is with Sam? Do we really need one more omnipresent holiday symbol secretly watching and passing judgment on us? Especially considering that, while Santa tends to be portrayed as merciful and just, Sam seems rather capricious. Do we really need a morality play about the power of mutilated pumpkins to ward off evil?

As the festivities wind down, the last few minutes of Trick ‘r Treat tie a lot together, and we realize most of what we saw happened on the same street. I would hate to be the coroner for Warren Valley. The authorities will be picking up the pieces for days. What’s more, the funeral homes and grief counselors will be booked solid til Christmas. Then Jacob Marley can start terrorizing us.

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