Re-Watchterpiece Theater is a series that explores the organic way that attitudes about films change after you watch them a second time, a third time, or more, further down the line than the original viewing.
In case you can’t tell from what I’ve been writing lately, I’m completely in Halloween mode. That means it’s time for me to re-watch five or six horror films that I try to watch every October. Most of those films are older films, classics of the genre. But one stands alone as a horror newcomer. That movie is Michael Dougherty’s anthology horror from 2007, Trick ‘r Treat. I watched it for the third time the other day and determined that it deserved the Re-Watchterpiece Theater treatment.
The First (Few) Viewings
Admittedly, this is a bit of an odd re-watchterpiece choice. Typically, the films I choose for this series are films that I first watched a long time ago, or at times when my attitudes might have been different. My first viewing of Trick ‘r Treat was just three years ago, and my second was two years ago. And because I had gone so bananas for the film the first time, I was well aware that this time- my third time around with the movie- wasn’t going to be much different. I knew I’d love it because it’s all very fresh to me.
That said, I wanted to really dig into it and find out why I like this movie so much. There are at least a few great horrors released every year but I don’t make it a point to watch any of them every October. And yet, here’s Trick ‘r Treat standing alongside the Universal monsters. What is it that makes Trick ‘r Treat such a joy?
In previous viewings, I had never thought much about what Trick ‘r Treat was attempting to do. It blurs the lines between the childhood aspects of the holiday–trick-or-treating, telling scary stories and urban legends to one another, dressing up–with the gorier adult slasher themes. We spend our childhood making a mockery out of scary things once a year to reassure ourselves that these things aren’t real. And then along comes Trick ‘r Treat, which presents all of that mockery in such a loving fashion, and it undoes all of those reassurances by making them horrifying all over again. It’s an impressive magic trick.
A large part of what makes it work so well is that Michael Dougherty and the people who made Trick ‘r Treat GET the holiday. They understand what it’s all about, and they effectively present it with all the trappings. The neighborhoods where these people reside could be any of our neighborhoods, both now and when we were children. There’s a boring suburban Halloween party with the boring housewife dressed as a cat, an asshole kid who ruins everyone’s decorations, the guy on the block who takes the holiday way too seriously, the huge adult street party, the grouchy old hermit on the block, one subtle and one less subtle tip of the cap to Charlie Brown, and the gaggle of kids wearing goofy outfits going door to door. And the atmospherics match it to a tee. It’s chilly, it’s windy, it’s dark, startling noises permeate the evening, and it all happens atop the crunch of autumn leaves underneath everyone’s feet. The people living in this movie are living in the perfect Halloween town.
As for the actual horror inside Trick ‘r Treat‘s world, there’s a little something for everyone. At various times, there’s a vampire, werewolves, zombie/ghost kids, a serial killer, and even an iconic slasher. That would be Sam, the film’s totem animal. The one thing I glommed onto the first time I saw Trick ‘r Treat was how perfect Sam was as an icon for the film. He’s a creepy bag-faced kid who grunts while creating all sorts of havoc. It’s somehow both deranged and playful all at once. That’s a magical combination. If you’ve never seen Trick ‘r Treat, I assure you that you will walk away remembering little Sam.
There’s a lot to be said for the role of urban legends in the film, some right out of real life (razor blades in the candy) and some fabricated specifically for the script (the school bus driven into the quarry). It’s a really important part of the holiday–telling and re-telling terrifying tales of things that go bump in the night. In this case, it adds so much to Dougherty’s yarn.
It probably sounds like there’s a lot going on in Trick ‘r Treat, perhaps too much to be effective. But that’s not the case. Dougherty pieced it together impressively, spackling all of the elements together Pulp Fiction-style, with overlapping sequences presented out of order. And it’s moot anyway because it’s a horror anthology. It’s supposed to have a lot of different stories linked together. It’s easy to lose sight of that fact because of how well Dougherty employed the wrap-around (Sam’s wanderings) to make everything seamless. The collective result is a Halloween classic, worthy of an annual watch.