Trick ‘r Treat‘s Sam has much respect for Halloween traditions, but the film itself takes pleasure in subverting standard horror cliches. The horror genre is packed full of movies set on or around Halloween, and that’s no surprise, as most horror fans treat Halloween like Christmas. Halloween is the one night of the year where “normal” people consider it okay to indulge in the scary, creepy, and all around macabre side of life, and pop culture.
In that sense, Trick ‘r Treat is almost like a Halloween party turned into a film. Director Michael Dougherty’s 2009 anthology is full of things sure to delight horror fans, from werewolves, to serial killers, to zombies, and all wrapped up in a nice Halloween-tinted bow. Considering how much of a Halloween tradition the film itself has become for many, it’s still kind of crazy to remember that Warner Bros. let Trick ‘r Treat sit on a shelf for two years before finally dumping it straight to video.
One of the most fun aspects of Trick ‘r Treat is how it both pays tribute to the familiar trappings of horror, while also subverting them in surprising ways. It’s not the first film to do that, and it won’t be the last. Still, it’s one of the better entries into that subset of the genre.
One horror cliche that Trick ‘r Treat absolutely delights in defying is the idea that kids won’t be hurt or killed. Even most R-rated horror shies away from killing small children, or oftentimes even putting them in mortal danger. Teenagers are usually the only non-adults considered fair game in horror, but in Trick ‘r Treat, multiple children die. First, Principal Wilkins poisons a young pumpkin vandal named Charlie, then buries his corpse in the backyard, only to take the severed head back inside to carve like a jack-o-lantern with his young son Billy. This subverts another cliche, that the cute kid is always sweet and innocent. Here he seems to not only know his dad is a killer, but not care.
Later on several child bullies are brutally killed by zombies for playing a prank on another, and the zombies themselves were kids murdered for hire by their bus driver decades prior, which is seen in a flashback. Outside of child death, Trick ‘r Treat completely upends the trope about the beautiful, virginal young woman that becomes prey for a predator. Wilkins stalks the seemingly shy Laurie to a Halloween gathering in the woods, only to discover that Laurie is really a werewolf, and a whole group of men are then eaten alive by young female werewolves.
The werewolves are also not of the standard variety, as they seem to transform voluntarily whenever they wish, and accomplish this by removing their own skin to reveal fur underneath. In general too, basically all the danger comes from characters that appear unlikely to do harm. Sam, at least when masked, looks like an adorable kid trick or treater. Mr. Kreeg looks like a feeble old man, but he’s good with a shotgun, and is a secret child murderer. Principal Wilkins appears to be an nonthreatening nerd, but is in actually a heartless serial killer. Very little in Trick ‘r Treat is what it at first seems, and that’s part of the fun.
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