It is Halloween night in this Ohio town, but one of the inhabitants is not a fan; she is Emma (Leslie Bibb), who is back home from the annual parade and grumbling that she cannot stand the occasion - though her ungainly robot costume can't have helped her lack of a sunny disposition. She tells her husband Henry (Tahmoh Penikett) to start clearing things up in the yard as they had, at his insistence, decorated it with a variety of adornments, but he is reluctant and wants to head inside. Emma relents, and tells him to go and prepare while she takes in the pumpkins and makeshift ghosts - but she should have gone in with him as there is something out there which does not take kindly to Halloween haters...
Poor old Trick 'r Treat had a troubled history, supposed to have been released for Halloween 2007, only to be dropped and finally released, after an all-too-brief showing at selected cinemas, on DVD in 2009, so that hardly anyone outside of the dedicated horror fans were even aware of its existence. It was the feature debut of screenwriter Michael Dougherty, who had the backing of his X2 and Superman Returns director Brian Singer on this, and drawn from his short film which included the little masked character Sam in it - who also appears in this, apparently the spectre of the season who comes down like a ton of bricks on those who refuse to join in with the spirit of it all.
There is more than one plot to this, as in other hands this could have been a horror anthology like Creepshow, or going further back the Amicus portmanteau chillers such as Dr Terror's House of Horrors or Asylum, but Dougherty deftly intertwines each narrative thread so that quite often you'll see one character or more going through their storyline while the protagonists of the one you're concentrating on are put through whatever mill fate has in store for them. They are not played by an especially starry cast, with only really Anna Paquin and Brian Cox the famous faces likely to be recognised by the casual moviegoer, but everyone has the right idea of how to milk the most out of the idea.
That idea being that evildoers, or merely those who take their tricks too far, are punished, though not neccessarily when you might expect. After the introduction, we dive straight into the tale of the high school principal (Dylan Baker) who doubles as a serial killer, poisoning a kid with candy and burying him in the garden with a worrying amount of others: this one ends with a dark punchline that to all appearances lets the principal off scot-free, but be patient. Next up is Paquin, all dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood (spot the foreshadowing), and encouraged by her sister (Lauren Lee Smith) to lose her virginity this evening, though we don't realise quite what that will entail.
Then there's the mean trick or treaters who put one over on the more naive member of their party with a neat urban legend-flavoured bit about the ghosts of a group of juvenile delinquents who went over a cliff in their school bus into a water-filled quarry - on the deliberate insistence of their harried parents. Also showing up is Cox as an irascible old codger who does battle with Sam who has a beef with him about his bad behaviour when it comes to chasing the kids away, and there's a vampire about as well - or maybe not. None of these stories will send you reeling especially, but they are nicely handled with a decent sense of what makes this kind of thing entertaining. If there's an indulgent air to it all, then there's no harm in that, and Trick 'r Treat really should have had its chance at becoming a seasonal favourite; as it is, cult status seems to be its best bet. Music by Douglas Pipes.