A Crash Course in Horror is a column by our self-proclaimed horror movie noob, Noémi Pomerleau. She reviews a classic (or even “new classic”) horror movie from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen it (because, well, she hasn’t).
Happy impending Halloween! This column marks the anniversary of the Crash Course in Horror experiment, and much like I did a year ago when I started with Halloween, I decided to be festive. Only rather than watching a film that obviously took inspiration from Psycho, I watched Trick ‘r Treat, which seems to take inspiration from Goosebumps instead.
Trick ‘r Treat follows an intertwining set of horror stories with a twisted sense of humor. It skirts the line of horror movie and black comedy, and almost does so successfully. Disappointingly, its humor sometimes stopped me from enjoying an otherwise super-fun film.
Trick ‘r Treat is all about the citizens of a small Ohio town on Halloween night. It features five creepy tales, which are, in order of quality: the story of a high-school principal (Dylan Baker) with a taste for blood, an old man’s (Brian Cox) encounter with a supernatural trick-or-treater, a Halloween-hating wife (Leslie Bibb) married to a holiday-obsessed husband, a day in the life of some no good punk teens, and a 22-year-old virgin’s (Anna Paquin) quest to get laid.
The murderous high-school principal is a storyline that is both extremely funny and unsettling and was easily my favorite. The principal’s desperate attempts to hide his crimes while acting like Ned Flanders reminded me of scenes from a Coen brothers movie. By comparison, most of the 22-year-old virgin plot had me cringing. A twist ending to that story almost made it worth it, but it features so much gratuitous nudity and sexism that it made me too uncomfortable.
This is the biggest flaw in both the concept and the script of this film. It indulges in cruel humor for shock value. Characters are vilified for their mental illness, judged for their sexuality, fat-shamed, and objectified. Many people could brush this off and enjoy the movie anyway, but I found it extremely alienating.
It’s a waste because Trick ‘r Treat is otherwise an absolutely delightful horror-comedy. It has all the cheezy self-awareness I saw in Krampus, but it doesn’t take its moral message too seriously. Which is good, because its moral message is more or less “don’t be a jerk; celebrate Halloween”.
It also does a better job, when its humor is on point, of maintaining the atmosphere of a horror movie despite cracking jokes, which is no small feat. Humor inherently diffuses tension, but Trick ‘r Treat never lets a joke land so hard it breaks the scene. The careful tone balance of the film carries to its mascot monster, Sam, who manages to be both “aww”-inducingly adorable and a total nightmare. He might be the cutest horror movie mascot out there, but I’m still worried he’ll kill me in my sleep.
The performances in the film are very uneven. Dylan Baker’s morbid principal is, as already mentioned, an utter delight. Brian Cox is a perfect bitter Halloween-hating old man, and his confrontation with Sam is really fun to watch. Anna Paquin gives… the same performance she always does. This may be good or bad depending on whether you enjoy Anna Paquin. None of the child actors are outstanding, and a couple of them are outright cringe-worthy.
On top of its mixed bag of acting, the film also isn’t a technical marvel. Having said that, its cinematography and music are strong enough to tell the story without being distracting. The heavy lifting is mostly done by the costume and makeup artists, who embrace the cheesiness of the film and build a world that — if it weren’t for its language and violent content — would feel a lot like a kids movie. It’s a smart choice because childhood fears never really leave you. Any movie that can play on them will always get under your skin.
It’s just a shame that the movie’s jokes and some of its plot points were getting under my skin at the same time.
Trick ‘r Treat is the 19th entry in the Crash Course series. I can no longer self-proclaim to be a horror movie noob. I’ve not only been reviewing horror movies — I watched many more, purely for entertainment (hot tip: Scre4m is not as good as the rest of the series) and thus this Crash Course has run its course. This is the last column in the series for the conceivable future. It’s been a great year, and I feel very grateful to have gotten over my fear of horror. I learned to love a good scary movie, which was the goal of this whole experiment.
Unfortunately for me, though it may be scary at times, Trick ‘r Treat is not especially good. Way to go out on a high note, me!
A Crash Course in Horror has come to an end, but you can find all the old columns right here! Thanks to everyone who has followed my rapid descent into spookiness over the past year. If you want to follow me on Twitter and see all the nerd garbage I post, I’m @NoemiPOM!