The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering Trick ‘r Treat was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Adam Walton, Edited by Victoria Verduzco, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
It seems like every year, either at Halloween or sometimes at the end of summer, a new seasonally themed anthology, or six, gets released upon the horror-viewing community. We’ve been subjected to some good, some great, and some not so great. Anthologies come and go, but a few remain favorites for good, and sometimes bad, reasons. Films like Tales of Halloween, 10/31, Creature Features, Southbound, and Creepshow have been successfully harnessing the anthology category for years, decades even, while films like the V/H/S sequels, All Hallows Eve, and Verotika have shown us that not all anthologies are created equal. Of course, everyone has a different opinion on what the best ones are, but a title that keeps coming back when talking about the best anthologies or the best Halloween season films is Trick ‘r Treat (watch it HERE), released in 2007. Well, initially 2007 but wider in 2009.
What is the story here? Well, a small demon who looks absolutely adorable is running amok in a small Ohio town, seemingly killing random people. Or, as we find out, not all of them are random and not all of them are killed by this cutie pumpkin pie. The many stories here all take place more or less at the same time, all on the same night, Halloween night. We have a group of mean kids who want to prank a girl they find weird by taking her where a school bus full of kids was sent to their deaths by the driver paid by the parents. We have a couple coming home from a party who end up removing their décor before Halloween is over. We have a group of young women discussing sex while getting ready for a party. We have a killer school principal. Finally, we have an old man watching television and not quite willing to open the door to trick-or-treaters. Along with all of them, there is the aforementioned cutie pumpkin pie demon now-known as Sam, named after Samhain, a being that may or may not be a deity or a demon or just the spirit of a dead child who adores Halloween and goes after people who do not respect the rules of Halloween. There’s are a few other characters here and there, giving life to this little town. The main difference with most anthology films is that the short stories here are presented together, kind of all at once, crossing over each other, something that required a ton of planning script-wise to make sure that characters seen in the background are seen at the right place and time while the other characters are going through their stories. It’s no accident that the kid watching the lady undo the décor in the early part of the film is seen over and over, it’s also no accident that there is a random hot dog costumed person here and there throughout the film. Things like the old man having exactly 8 locks on his door, the number of kids killed by the bus driver. Everything here is connected to something else, and fans have been able to get something new each time they watch the film again, making this a film that is easily enjoyed over and over again.
This kind of story mixing the short stories within the larger one of the film is not something seen all that much within other anthologies. Tales of Halloween did have the characters moving from one short to the other as background characters or just extras, something that’s always fun to watch, but the shorts themselves do not have their stories intermingling. Closer to that style, A Christmas Horror Story did the intermingling of stories, but in their case, it had fewer character connections until the very end. Of course, other movies have attempted to do the same style and connecting all their parts together with background characters while interconnecting their stories, but most did not quite deliver like Trick ‘r Treat.
Considering the film was kind of groundbreaking, let’s take a look at the film’s release. It would be safe to assume it got a massive release with a huge marketing push and lots and lots of success. Well, the film had sat on a shelf from 2007 to 2009, so what happened, why was it not released right away, why did it end up seemingly dumped onto the public, and how did it become the cult film it now is? So many questions, some of them without obvious answers unfortunately. A good mystery always makes for a bit of intrigue which always helps a movie become a cult movie. As it is, there is a ton of information on this film on the internet, so much so that sorting through it all and making sense of what is true and what is fan conjecture can be a bit difficult at times. Of course, some sources are more trustworthy, so here is some of the best information out of everything out there about a film that is very beloved. Fans didn’t even get to see it for 2 years after its completion, yet it remains a favorite and one that gets so much virtual ink, you’d think it had been around for decades and made huge box office numbers.
That’s the first assumption that is incorrect, at least the box office bits. The film was first seen by film festival audiences in 2007 and then it seemed to disappear, something that happens from time to time to films after their festival runs. Some, like Trick ‘r Treat, see the light of day eventually, others, like Ricky 6, just plain disappear never to be seen again. No, seriously, someone find Ricky 6 and give it a release. Back to Trick ‘r Treat. The internet will tell you that the film made a tiny amount of money at the box office, $27,909, but it never got an actual theatrical release. Not a full-on release at least. It did get a sort of release in 2022, marketed to the nostalgia crowd with very limited screenings which is some cities were harder to get to than they should have been. Before that, only a screening here and a screening there, some film festivals, some nostalgia screenings, but never a real release like it deserved to get.
So, why did the film not get a theatrical release. Well, that’s a bit nebulous at best. The film is a Warner Bros property and they never explained why they pulled the theatrical release last minute in 2007. They did have another big film being released around the same time, Saw IV, which they knew would be a hit, but as a fourth in a series, some drop in box office from previous entries could be possibly, hence removing another film aiming at the same segment of audience could be a good move. But why not release it later or even earlier in September? Or just push it to 2008? The film was officially shelved without explanation. It eventually was set for a home video release on October 4th, 2009. Knowing what we know about Warner Bros now, perhaps it’s a good thing it was not given the full removal treatment like Batgirl. A speculated reason for this push back on the release and then drop onto direct-to-DVD at the time was that Superman Returns, co-written by Michael Dougherty, had been a box office disappointment a year before. Trick ‘r Treat being a film he wrote and directed may have worried them from a financial standpoint. That being said, this was never stated to be the official reason why it was removed from the theatrical release schedule at the time.
The film came out eventually though, in October of 2009, in a rather bare bones-ish edition. The DVD has very little in terms of extras, just some basics. Of course, a few releases have been seen since, including a packed release on Blu-ray which made fans quite happy. The film really found its audience on home video and made the most out of the word-of-mouth of its own fans to really grow and grow and grow.
So, where did the film come from and what made fans really into it? What made the film what it is now basically? Well, it’s a mix of its creator and its fans’ passion. The film came to be at first, as a thesis film for writer/director Michael Dougherty called Season’s Greetings. It was an adorable animated short film, just under 4 minutes long that showcased the basic ideas found in the feature version. It was clearly a passion project for Dougherty. Adapting the short film into a feature took 18 drafts of the script with many variations on sequences and character connections, the one thing they all had in common was the center of the film: that each of the stories show different stages in life through how they live Halloween. From childhood trick or treating to early adulthood sexiness to older adulthood where it’s about a party and then going home to elderly stage where it’s about giving out candy and turning in early. The film of course is very much about horror, so plenty of kills and horrific stories, which changed throughout development, including the bus kids being cemetery ghosts at one point where pumpkins were to grow on the ground of a cemetery and the random dead people would all come back to life at different stages of decomposition. Which honestly would have looked fantastic, but it was changed due to the complexities of creating all these undead people and the limitations of the budget being $12 million as well as a relatively short 40 days shooting schedule. Another major change was the film’s title which was planned to be Season’s Greetings like the original short film, but that came off too Christmassy, so it had to be changed to not created expectation of the wrong season. The film went through many titles before settling on Trick ‘r Treat, including Trick or Treat which was changed to what we know now due to another film having the exact same title, the 1986 heavy metal Halloween film co-starring Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. Removing one letter and adding an apostrophe seemed to be enough to separate the two films. Before they settled on Trick ‘r Treat, the film was almost called October the 31st, Halloween Terrors, and Jack O’Lantern Tales. A variety of Halloween-themed titles for sure, the current one seemingly the best considering how much trick-or-treating there is in the film itself.
Now, why are the fans so into this one? Well, many reasons, but mostly because it’s a just a fun damn film that is really well made. Of course, not all love it, but those who do love it are more than enough to outshine those who don’t. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 81% of critics reviewed it positively and 72% of the audience did as well. Not bad considering everything and anything seems to be getting torn to shreds by some these last few years, even nostalgia films which Trick ‘r Trick definitely fits in due to its age. Yes, it’s old now, and due to its content, people can be less forgiving with that sort of thing. Fans that love it had to clamor for a while to get a re-release on Blu which finally happened and has some really good stuff included. They also became loud enough to get a limited theatrical release in 2022. Also a comic book anf tons of merch is out there with plenty of it being from licensed sources. Fan art is everywhere, seriously a quick web search gives so many results on that front, and there was also a scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios that had characters based on the film in 2017, and now there is even talk of a sequel again.
Something else worth mentioning is the love for the genre shown with a ton of Easter Eggs. The school bus story is an homage to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the house the little girl lives in is based on the house from Carrie, one of the costumes is definitely based on Chucky’s look, and the scene at the bonfire in the woods is an homage to The Howling. Elsewhere, the Giant Baby at the bonfire party is played by C. Ernst Harth who played “The Great Child” in the Thirteen Ghosts remake, “Cry Little Sister” is heard at one point, referring to The Lost Boys, the Marilyn Manson song used, “Sweet Dreams”, was also used on the remake of House on Haunted Hill, and the original House on Haunted Hill plays on a television at one point. Finally, the character of Laurie takes her name from a character all should know by now, Brian Cox’s look is based on John Carpenter, a 1958 Plymouth Fury shows up representing Christine, members of Vancouver’s Parade of Lost Souls show up in the town celebration, The Changeling is channeled when a gumball bounces down stairs, and maybe a few more for eagle eyed viewers.
Of course, Trick ‘r Treat was a hit with fans, something the studio should have seen coming even though they didn’t seem to have any faith in the film. As it stands, it’s a seriously beloved film with the sweetest looking little demon at the center of a bunch of messed up stories. You get a tiny demon, disturbing ghost children, a serial killer, werewolves, Halloween traditions, trick-or-treating, candy, kills, blood, great music, an atmosphere that’s on point, and some deep knowledge and love for the genre brought to film with a ton of genre Easter Eggs everywhere. What’s not to love?
A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!