Welcome to Day 25 of the Countdown! We're officially in the last week of Halloween season now, and I thought I'd kick things off by pulling out the best and biggest gun in the anthologies arsenal (where Halloween is concerned, in my opinion...) the 2007 Michael Dougherty helmed "Trick R' Treat!"
If you ask anyone I interact with regularly online or in real life they will tell you I am obsessed with this movie! And it's totally true. In my opinion, Trick R' Treat epitomizes everything that the Halloween season is, all wrapped up in one beautiful orange and black bow. I'm not claiming that Trick R' Treat is the best movie ever, or the best horror movie, or the scariest. I'm claiming it is the best Halloween movie ever made. Period. And yes, I am taking into account John Carpenter's "Halloween" when I make that statement.
This movie does not just take place on Halloween. It isn't just about Halloween. It is INFUSED with Halloween as if injected with Ron Popeil's flavor injector on a late night infomercial. Every color pallette choice, every lighting choice, every scene bleeds some aspect of the Halloween season all over the screen.
And as with all the greatest horror films, this one not only entertains... but it educates as well. Meaning, this movie will teach you some of the most basic and solemn rules of the Halloween season. I'm sure there must be more rules to learn than just the basic four we learn about in this film... but it's a very good start:
1. Wear a costume.
2. Give out Treats.
3. Check your candy.
4. Never blow out a Jack O' Lantern.
In the very first story of the movie we meet Emma and Henry, a costumed couple who are arriving home from a night of frolicking at the Halloween carnival in town. Henry balks as Emma blows out a Jack O' Lantern, warning her that it's supposed to stay lit. Emma however is a Halloween-Scrooge and just wants Halloween to be over. She stays out to clear off the Halloween decorations while Henry heads upstairs to wait for her.
This does not go well for Emma. What is seemingly hours later, Henry comes back out to check on Emma after having dozed off. He finds this:
And our film is officially off to a rollicking start! The entire scene where Emma is being taken down by a mysterious killer, who was hiding in the box of decorations, is punctuated by the excited, animal-like squeals of her killer, who sounds suspiciously like a child... (Spoilers! It's the movie's poster-child for Halloween, SAM!!! We'll talk about him all through this post, so get ready...)
We then jump to a point earlier in the night. Emma and Henry returning home after the festivities is actually the very last story, chronologically. The entire evening has been rife with crazy activities, and we have to rewind time a bit to see it all!
The stories are kind of all over the place at first. This is not a neat and tidy anthology film like your "Creepshow" or "Tales from the Darkside," and one of the great things about it is seeing the different characters cross each others' paths, albeit usually only very briefly throughout. (Btw, the little peeping Tom looking in on Laurie and her friends above is Quinn Lord, the same little boy that does most of the acting in the Sam costume)
The first parts of the movie after Emma's death scene are a mish-mash of confusion and sound, jumping from one set of characters to another. We meet Laurie and her friends, all getting dressed up in fairy tale garb to score some dates for a party in the woods.
We follow brutish kid, Charlie as he moves through the streets of Warren Valley, Ohio, smashing pumpkins, stealing candy, and wearing one of those charming t-shirts that says: "This IS my costume." So of course... HE MUST DIE. The end of the road for Charlie just happens to be at Principal Wilkins's house. The School principal catches Charlie making off with all of his "Please Take One" bowl that he left out while picking up more supplies. Instead of punishing Charlie, instead Principal Wilkins invites Charlie to have a seat a learn a little bit about what makes Halloween so special. This is one of those scenes that pulls double duty of exposition and fun. We get a little history lesson from the good principal, learn about "The Rules" and also find out that Mr. Wilkins is a stone cold serial killer. The candy he's been handing out this Halloween in poisoned, stuffed with razor blades, or worse.
In what is arguably THE most disturbing scene in the film, we watch Charlie upchuck about a gallon of chocolate, mixed with blood, and then Principal Wilkins drags him inside his house to deal with his corpse. One of the reasons I think Trick R' Treat was as limited release as it ended up being was the fact that kids get killed in this movie. Some in some very unpleasant ways. This is not Principal Wilkins's only victim of the night, as an open grave with at least one other body in it will later attest. In this film, NO ONE IS SAFE. And that can be controversial.
And don't get me wrong. I'm a father of three kids, and violence against kids can be a very sensitive subject. The recent film "Cooties" hit a few speed bumps recently for depicting a legion of child-zombies that have to be dealt with in the fashion that zombies have to be dealt with. But this movie deals with Halloween and the horrors of Halloween and the horrors of childhood are inextricably connected. Overall, it doesn't make this movie too disturbing to watch, it just makes it that much more unpredictable, and therefore fun.
It is also during the Principal Wilkins story that we are introduced to three trick or treaters that will be very important to the next story, Macy, Sarah, and Chip.
And we also get a good look at Sam, who grabs a treat from the good Principal. Sam serves as the spirit of Halloween in this film, and he is everything he ought to be. He's creepy, he's cute, he's dangerous as hell, and he's ever present when it comes to any mischief or mayhem going on tonight.
We get a nice look at Principal Wilkins's work station for doctoring the candy he's handing out. Cyanide, arsenic, and razor blades all in attendance.
While the good Principal is disposing of the bodies, he is set upon by his son Billy, and his neighbor, Mr. Kreeg.
Billy is desperate to carve a Jack O' Lantern with his dad, and he wants to carve a scary face this time, and he needs help with the eyes. AND he thinks Charlie Brown is an a**hole. So he's automatically a kid after my own heart.
Wilkins comes in from his gardening project, takes Billy down to the basement...
Where we get to see a wall of Halloween masks that it took me a few viewings to understand is probably a trophy wall of other trick or treaters who have been caught by Wilkins over the years. Nice touch.
It is shortly after this that we realize Billy is a young serial-killer-in-training, and the jack o' lantern they will be carving is going to be Charlie's head. Hoo. Boy.
On to the next tale! We catch up to Macy, Sarah, and Chip, who meet up with their buddy Schrader, and follow them as they collect together jack o' lanterns for... well... wait and see. They have plans for the lanterns, and for a very special girl names Rhonda:
This young woman here, who seems to be special needs. Rhonda LOVES Halloween, and is the one responsible for the LEGION of lanterns decorating her front yard.
We cut back briefly to the carnival/parade/party which I LOVE. This movie is the most idealized EVERYTHING when it comes to Halloween. We have an entire town in the throes of celebration, with costumed people crowding the streets, drinking, dancing, partying, and enjoying Halloween. There is a full street carnival in full chaotic swing. I would have loved to have seen more of what was going on just at this party!
And we do see a little bit, as a mysterious man in a cloak and mask with decidedly vampiric proclivities makes a victim of a woman in the crowd. He drains her of blood and leaves her body in the crowd. It was all so easy with the horrific bloody make-up and passed out drunk folk crowding around to mask his activities!
Then we jump back to the 5 kids with the jack o' lanterns. They tromp through a pumpkin patch...
And they end up at the old, abandoned quarry. Where Macy tells us the story of the School Bus Massacre.
A busload of special needs children 30 years prior were being carted in their Halloween costumes by a bus driver who had been paid of by the children's' parents...
To take them off to the quarry. The scenes in this flashback are the only ones filmed in daylight, and the colors are almost blinding. The oranges of the dead leaves and the pumpkins nearly glow.
We see wee Sam and the town pumpkin patch again...
And we watch as the bus driver murders the children by dumping the bus in the quarry (actually one of the kids was inadvertently responsible, but the plan was there... the bus driver just hadn't planned on joining the kids on their trip into the water.)
With the sad history of the quarry revealed, we have yet to learn what Macy's plan for the evening actually is.
But we jump back to Laurie long enough to see she is having no luck in rustling up a date for the party in the woods. She has attracted the attention of one fellow in a black mask however...
One who enjoys drinking blood...
We check in with Laurie's sister at the party, who plans on setting her up with this guy if all else fails.
Then back to the quarry to see what these kids are up to! This quarry segment hits home pretty squarely for me, since being from a part of Maine where there are creepy, abandoned granite quarries just all through the woods around here... I can relate to how creep this actually is.
Turns out, the kids are setting Rhonda up for a terrible scare. They dress up in zombie costumes and chase her through the quarry, pretending to be the drowned school bus kids.
She takes a bad fall, hits her head, and things go from "prank" to "dangerous" in just a few moments.
And then... the ACTUAL school bus kids show up. And s**t gets real.
The kids get locked out of the elevator out of the quarry, which Rhonda has control of. The pranksters beg her to let them in the elevator...
But Rhonda leaves them to the tender mercies of the undead bus kids. Which are not a very tender mercies whatsoever, from the squelchy sounds and screams we hear below her as she makes her escape.
Now we return to Laurie, who is making her way to the party in the woods on her own. She follows a horribly unsafe path of jack o' lanterns placed in the dead leaves of the woods all by her lonesome (or so she thinks...). She encounters our masked vampire from earlier!
It is shortly after this that a body wrapped in Laurie's red riding hood is tossed into the clearing in the woods where the party is in full swing. Everyone is worried that somehow Laurie has been hurt, but then we see that it's actually the masked vampire! He is unmasked and we see that it is actually...
Principal Wilkins! A bit of retribution for our serial killing, blood drinking school principal!
There's one more pep talk about "first times" and "being yourself" between Laurie and big sis, before the big reveal:
The girls are all werewolves! I LOVE this scene for a couple of reasons. First, the song "Sweet Dreams" covered by Marilyn Manson in this scene just makes it PERFECT, and ushered the song into being a 100% official Halloween song for me. I can't hear that song without thinking of this movie now. It's perfect.
Secondly, I love that the transformation is treated almost like a burlesque strip-scene. It's not overly lewd, but it makes the whole transformation very original. We've seen werewolves tear off their skin before, revealing the wolf underneath, but in this particular version, we get backs being split open like their being unzipped, and arms and legs being unsheathed as if long gloves or stockings are being removed.
And of course, who's there to witness the bacchanal? Our ever-loving Sam!
Which brings us to the final tale of the film. Principal Wilkins's neighbor, Mr. Kreeg is a crotchety old man who refuses to give out treats to the neighborhood kids. He even goes so far as to dress up his dog as a monster to scare off the kids and steal their candy. But Mr. Kreeg is going to get a visit from the world's oldest and meanest trick or treating kid EVER.
Things escalate pretty quickly here. We see Kreeg (played by the brilliant Brian Cox, who said he would only lay the part if he could be done up to look like the master of Halloween, John Carpenter himself) interact with Principal Wilkins for a bit, suffer through a few weird pranks, and then things get really malicious...
When Kreeg realizes that someone dangerous is IN THE HOUSE with him.
And that someone is of course, Sam. We get to see this horrific kid in action. Hey! That candy bar came from the house next door!
It's the creepy little flourishes that make Sam's story with Mr. Kreeg so memorable. It's all so appropriately Halloween themed! The messages written all over Mr. Kreeg's bedroom walls, the mechanical ummy's hand in the bed covers, the jack o' lanterns all over Kreeg's bedroom walls... It's really feels like Kreeg is fighting against the Holiday itself. For instance, the deadly candy and broken glass combo spread all over the stairs that causes Kreeg to slip and fall...
I still remember seeing the previews for Trick R' Treat, and one of the standout moments was watching Sam crawling across the ceiling as he stalks Mr. Kreeg in the house... but back then I never dreamed that the big reveal when Sam's mask was pulled off would be...
This!!! I did NOT like the reveal that Sam was actually a pumpkin headed freak the first time I saw it. It's a detail I love now, but it didn't work for me the first time around. Personally, I think it would be awesome if Sam looked different under the mask ever time someone different sees him... but I accept this iteration for now.
Some of the best scenes happen after Kreeg incapacitates Sam for a while. He blows a hole in Sam's head and shoots off one of his hands, but in true Evil Dead fashion, we get an animated hand...
And it isn't long before Sammy himself wakes back up and gets back in the action. Kreeg's reactions "You gotta be f**kin' kidding me..." and just his simple whimpering of "Oh no... Oh no!" are utterly hilarious in these scenes. They make the whole scene.
Kreeg is saved by pure luck here, as in order to call off Sam, Kreeg had to give him a treat. Completely by accident, a candy bar happens to fall onto Kreeg's chest just before Sam tries to stab him with a vicious, wickedly pointed lollipop. And so Kreeg is saved.
From Sam anyway. The rule of "Give out treats" has been satisfied, and Kreeg gets a temporary pass.
Of course, then we see that Kreeg is in fact the bus driver from 30 years ago...
I love the trick or treating costumes in this movie. Never have I seen such artfully thrown-together costumes. True to life, the costumes seem to be whatever the kids had lying around, with a few store-bought accoutrements. Like these three little pigs that get some candy from Kreeg.
We check in briefly with little Billy, who is dressed up as dad, and there's so much to be said about this moment and how sad and cute and chilling it is in equal parts... I don't even know where to begin. I think Billy is probably the one character we have a good chance of seeing return when (or if) Trick R' Treat 2 finally gets made.
One last look as the various survivors of the other stories go back to wherever they cam from. We see Rhonda trundle by with her wagon and still-lit jack o' lantern. Laurie and her friends are in the SUV you can see driving off screen up there, as they narrowly missed hitting Rhonda, who still seems a little shell-shocked.
It is at this point that Sam observes Emma and Henry returning home, and Emma blows out the jack o' lantern setting into motion the events we witness at the very beginning of the movie. THIS IS JUST ONE REASON WHY THIS MOVIE ROCKS SO HARD.
And just when Kreeg thinks he can breathe easy and head off to bed, there's one last knock at the door. Oh yeah... there's that one more loose end to tie up...
The school bus kids. What is AWESOME about this is that there's an easter egg very early in the film, when Emma is taking down Halloween decorations, and she sees someone in a white mask who seems to be watching her... YOU CAN TOTALLY SEE THE SCHOOL BUS KIDS WALKING BY IN THAT SCENE!!! But it's Halloween, and you ave no idea what's coming, so it just kind of slides by because like Emma, you're busy watching the kid in the mask. The movie is FULL of cool s**t like this!!!
So anyway, the school bus kids are back, and they have their revenge on Kreeg for what he did to them 30 years ago. So he doesn't escape the Halloween noose after all. MAN.
All right guys, this movie is THE Halloween movie for me. I love it SO MUCH. I hope you've enjoyed me blathering on about it. This was a long one, so if you read all the way to the end, I commend you, and thank you as well.
That;s it for tonight kids! I'll be back soon with some Ghoulish Goodwill Goodies. So, until then, Happy Haunting!
Remember, I'm doing this countdown as a part of the official Countdown to Halloween, so be sure to pop over there and look and see who else is participating this year.