Trick 'r Treat is the holy grail of Halloween themed horror films. Not because of the notoriously long path writer-director Michael Dougherty's film has had to take to finally get released (a refresher: TrT was finished and first shown back in 2007 and, despite an overwhelming reaction to its first public exhibition, proceeded to be locked away in a vault at Warner Brothers for unspecified reasons), though that did turn it into a rare find to be coveted. No, Dougherty's film is such a treasure because it is Halloween. It just had the misfortune of being born a decade too late, of being born into a time when studios only care about remakes or sequels and certainly not about anthology films. Dougherty had, as far as a studio is concerned, the audacity to finely craft, gasp, an original, American horror film.

Wrong-decade misfortune that may be, however, it's great to be able to say that Trick 'r Treat will still be watched on Halloween for decades to come. Those who love it, like I, will still be watching it with great devotion. Those who merely liked it will not be able to help themselves from putting it on as background to their Halloween parties. And those who hated it, well, those who hated it don't exist. They can't exist. To hate Trick 'r Treat would be to hate the entire spirit of Halloween, a spirit Dougherty apparently has complete domain over.

What he's created transcends generations. Doesn't matter if you were trick or treating in 1959 or 1999, we all know the distinct (and distinctly American) experience of that night, of wandering the streets of our neighborhoods when we're normally not allowed to, of wondering whether or not the demons do really come out to play, of becoming intoxicated with the mischief and mayhem that wafts through the chilly night air, of knowing deep down that, of all the nights throughout the year, Halloween has no peer.

As mentioned, Trick 'r Treat is an anthology film, so in place of a singular central plot are a series of individual stories that brush shoulders with one another. However, unlike most anthology films, Dougherty does not let his unfold in clearly segregated chapters. Instead, his stories are told in a fractured time line that goes a long way to keep things fresh. They're unique to the small, mid-western town he's fashioned, but they're all campfire stories at their heart. And the best part is that they span all ages.

Everyone experiences Halloween, be they children trying to play a prank on other children, the crotchety old man who hates the day, the kind looking neighbor with a dark secret, the young couple who just want to get out of their costumes, or the group of pretty gals who just want to take advantage of men with their sexy costumes. Aside from a few stories that do intersect, the thread that binds them all is the omnipresent Sam, a sack-headed child-figure who represents a guardian of the Halloween soul. Refuse to give out candy? That's a Sam'in. Kick over pumpkins? That's a Sam'in. Just flat out refuse to get into the spirit of things? That's a Sam'in.

And believe me, Sam is the coolest icon of horror since Jason put on that Hockey mask. The design of his tiny frame combined with his bulbous, gourd-like head covered in a rough sac whose only feature is two black buttons for eyes, is perfect. Seeing Sam will be love at first site for even the most cynical of horror fans, he's cool enough to have on your desk and creepy enough to haunt the dreams of a new generation. While he's the Trick 'r Treat mascot, he's not the only star of the film, nor is he the only character dolling out death. Dylan Baker and Brian Cox are inspired casting, both giving their all and completely disappearing into their roles of kind neighbor and crotchety old man, respectively. Plus we've got the eye candy of Anna Paquin, Leslie Bibb and Rochelle Aytes to give the film an aesthetically softer side when it's not showing us ghouls emerging from the mud or children eating poisoned candy with razor blades in it.

Even better eye candy gorgeous imagery that brings to life the night of horrors. Beautiful it may be, however, what's most admirable about it is that the production design is not outlandish. Dougherty's idea of Halloween is very much so grounded in Any Town, USA. And again, that transcendent property is what's best about Trick 'r Treat. None of us have grown up with the horrors told in Dougherty's anthology, but we've all grown up with the same sense of macabre wonderment it taps so expertly. It doesn't matter how old you are or where you grew up, this is unquestionably Halloween. Point of fact, I'm comfortable saying that Trick 'r Treat is the definitive Halloween movie. Others rampage coincidentally on Halloween, but no film lets Halloween itself rampage, and that's exactly what Trick 'r Treat does so damned well.
categories Reviews, Horror