So last night Emily and I watched Trick ‘r Treat, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was much like Cabin In The Woods. I’m not well versed in Horror Comedy, but I’ll say that out of these and the third I’ve seen (Hansel and Gretel Get Baked) I like them. It’s easy to imagine how badly they can go, and thus, keeping your expectations low, you can be impressed. The genre is good, but what I liked best about these two was how dedicated they are to the Halloween mythos.
First let me say what I liked about Cabin In The Woods. It’s been almost three years since I’ve seen it, but I remember beginning it in mind of my brother-in-law’s endorsement that it was one of the scariest movies he’s seen, and gradually getting the sense that A) it was intended to be a wink at the horror genre, and B) Seth is a big pansy. Later, I found out that directors/writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard said they wanted to galvanize the genre, and recapture it from Eli Roth’s torture porn. Despite my expectations being completely wrong (or possibly because of that) I was awed! They payed homage to the 80s films that feature doomed camping trips, violent hillbillies, doomed sexual encounters, drug use, zombies, and fatalist endings. But, as if they wanted to make use of every horror monster ever and plumb ran out of screen time, they inject a scary smorgasbord into the last third of the film and quickly brought it to a-whole-nother level of demons, werewolves, merfolk, unicorns, killer clowns, giant insects, and basically anything that’s ever been scary. It treated each of these with such reverence and intention to be true to myth, and successfully reached into every sub-genre of horror. I know I’m making it sounds like the horror end-all-be-all, but just watch it. It’s close. And Trick ‘r Treat takes it one step further.
Trick ‘r Treat appreciates the 80s and Halloween themes: psycho neighbors, date rape, poisoned candy, the adolescent pranks-gone-too-far; and many will find that attractive—but Trick ‘r Treat goes further and also pays creedence to the ancient autumn tradition Samhain (pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ sah-win or /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/ sow-in), which is from what Halloween (or Hallows Evening, or All Hallows Eve) stems. This is my bag! This is my jam! I love the holidays more when there is a sense of credible tradition—something that’s older than me, or you, or grandparents, or even countries. Thanksgiving is better when it’s Puritan, and both Christmas and Halloween are better when they’re Victorian, but Halloween is even better when it’s couched in Antiquity*. (I’ll let you read up on the origins via the hyperlinks instead of dole them out here, and rather come to my point about the movie.) This film doesn’t just have a line of dialogue about Samhain, it makes it a plot point: “Keep the traditions and they will protect you;” or otherwise stated, “Be a dick about Halloween and you’ll get your comeuppance.” Which reminds me—.
I can’t get enough of the Halloween-dedicated movie. It seeks the cultured soul to focus on something other than murderers, zombies, and the like. To make a historical and religious tradition the central focus of a script is different and trickier than one you can just fabricate. You’ve got to play by the rules. There are facts you have to play with. Granted, you can creatively-license away the crap out of a much loved genre that has hard and fast rules, but those kinds of works never become cult classics. Halloween is hardly explored, and needs to be done more often. Everyone has watched the iconic Tim Burton film so often that it has become trite in its cult-classic status (you know what I’m talking about without me even mentioning it—it’s that ubiquitous). We need more films like this. It’s not hard to watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula or The Conjuring to gather a more serious and grown-up feel to the season, but it’s better when the dots are fully connected.
As a final note, I highly recommend this podcast episode (also available in iTunes) to get a better understanding of the Celtic Halloween. Heather Teysko has done a great job of compiling a survey history. This History Channel link has good video and text explanation, if you don’t have time for a podcast.
* Try that with Christmas and Yule negate the Jesus right out of it.**
** I believe in Christ, and still celebrate His birth. Regardless of the erroneous hallmark of December 25, rather than the correct April 6, I apply to the Mormon belief that the date is irrelevant as long as we celebrate the coming of the Messiah.