Written By: Daniel Kinsley
Every culture has a tradition of stories being passed down over time. As it pertains to those of the scary variety, the indelible image is that of a group of friends or loved ones sitting around a campfire, sharing ghost stories. There is a sense of anticipation, fear, and tension that is unique to communal storytelling. The truth is, experiencing fright is just more fun with company. It is likely in this spirit that the horror anthology film was born.
Anthology films are made up of a handful of short films usually bookended by a frame story that may not be related to the rest of the film. In many cases, each short will have a different writer/director, tied together by a common theme, or setting. Horror anthologies have been subject to all types of variations over the years; from didactic morality plays, to literary adaptations from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King. Most anthology films play like a mixed bag of goodies, because some of the stories are inevitably more effective than others. The greatest anthology films are able to maintain consistency in both quality and tone, a feat that is not as simple as it sounds.
Trick ‘R Treat (2007) side-steps the issue entirely, as it is the unusual anthology film conceived of by one man. This auteur-like approach really goes a long way, as each of the four interlocking stories throughout the film weave through one another, while also remaining entirely enjoyable on their own. With this film, writer-director Michael Dougherty (making his directorial debut) crafted a true love-letter to Halloween, replete with all of the myth and mischief that comes with the holiday.
The four tales center on a principal with a secret double life, a group of children exploring a local urban legend, “The Halloween School Bus Massacre”, a group of women attending an annual costume party, and an old shut-in with a few secrets of his own. Each of these stories are a blast, the theme largely being the importance of rituals and rules, and the consequences for not following them. Halloween traditions like “always check your candy”, and wearing a costume take on a whole new meaning, but to reveal any of Dougherty’s twists and turns would be doing the film a great disservice. *
For many viewers, the film will not exactly be scary, but that is not really the point. There is an undercurrent of mischief that allows each story to never lose sight of the (admittedly, dark) humor, even in some very frightening situations. Ultimately, that is what Dougherty gets most right: the way the film captures the spirit of Halloween, more than any other in recent memory. Many little details are spot on, particularly in the way the children and adults interact with the holiday in vastly different ways. During subsequent viewings, this writer has had a blast noticing the many details hidden throughout, which place all of these stories firmly in the same universe.
The mostly unknown cast is led by familiar faces like Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, and Brian Cox, all of whom are pitch-perfect in their roles, playing into their usual character types before subverting them in surprising ways. Baker, in particular, is a delight to watch as there is a decidedly dark comic shading to his usual lovable oddball persona. Arguably the most clever move Dougherty makes with the film, however, is the inclusion of Sam (Quinn Lord) a delightfully creepy spirit of the night who presides over the edges everything. While Sam’s origins are never visited or explained (nor is what exactly Sam is), the name comes from Samhain, a pagan holiday (and ancestor to our modern one) where it was believed the veil between life and death grew thin, allowing the souls of the dead to come into our world. There is a richness to the world-building in the film, with its specific rules, and as the spirit of Halloween, Sam is the single best invention of this universe, a new horror icon who can comfortably take his place among the greats.
While there are films that have a better claim to being the scariest, or the goriest, Trick ‘R Treat is the quintessential Halloween film (all due respect to the GOAT, John Carpenter) and also one of the best horror anthologies ever made.
* If pressed to pick a favorite, however, the “Halloween School Bus Massacre” is the easy pick for this writer.
(Header Image courtesy of Gene Shaw)