'Tis the Season to be Scary: Why Trick R Treat is to Halloween as A Christmas Story is to Christmas
As is appropriate for the two most popular and publicly celebrated holidays, more than enough movies have been made about or around both Halloween and Christmas. There are plenty of options to choose from when deciding what to watch to get in the spirit of the seasons, including-but-not-limited-to the Jasons and Freddies, the Screams, A Wonderful Life, Ernest Saves Christmas, and Die Hard. But only one movie from either holiday gets the privilege of a 24 hour marathon on cable television every Christmas Eve for over a decade: A Christmas Story. If you've seen the movie -- and at this point very few of us haven't -- it isn't hard to see why it's held in such high esteem to audiences of all ages. Quite simply, the movie gets everything about the holiday season and our feelings for it and the day itself exactly right. The movie is probably the only one in existence where the sight of a disembodied leg brings shouts of joy rather than screams of terror, not to mention the most profitable piece of its merchandizing puzzle. A Christmas Story is just the right amount of nostalgia without ever overstaying its welcome or overstating its purpose.
Oddly enough, for a holiday that actually has a series of successively terrible films named after it, Halloween doesn't really have any movies that our culture has collectively deemed the perfect distillation of what that holiday means to us and also what it feels like whether you're in costume or not. Halloween has no movie that's trope-filled and terrifying enough to air repeatedly in a single 24 hour sitting, at least not one that's been universally recognized. Unfortunately, the recently released Fun Size probably won't be able to fill that jack-o-lantern-sized hole, either. But there should be, and thankfully that movie was already released some time ago, after years of delays and being relegated to the home video marketplace: Michael Dougherty's Trick R Treat. For those who have seen it -- and that is a decidedly smaller number of people than those who have even heard of A Christmas Story -- deeming it the quintessential Halloween flick shouldn't be too surprising.
For the rest of you, here's why you should be gearing up for your own Trick R Treat marathon for the rest of All Hallows' Eve and throughout All Saints' Day:
The Holiday Setting
As every scene in Story is filled out with green and red Christmas ornaments and lights, and many inches of thick, white snow, so every scene in Trick is filled out with orange and black Halloween decorations, and many liters of thick, red blood. Other than the inconveniences and conveniences of each movie's varying time frames, they offer very little of the world outside their small towns and absolutely nothing that doesn't pertain to their respective holiday seasons. The constantly themed set dressings and costume choices invoke a timeless quality to both movies, making them perfect for yearly viewings.
The Holiday Rituals
On top of everything looking like its Halloween or Christmas, both films spend practically of their run times documenting the annual traditions we follow to celebrate our favorite holidays. Carving pumpkins, baking cookies, visiting Santa to ask for gifts (obviously), trick-or-treating for candy (even more obviously), opening said gifts, opening said candy, sharing meals with loved ones, telling ghost stories to friends, and both feature the dressing up in costumes and chaotic shopping sprees leading up to the big days. The movies aren't just set during the holidays, they fundamentally catalog those rites and rituals we observe. Since we never really get tired of Christmas or Halloween, it's only logical we'll also never tire of these movies.
The Holiday Cheer
Christmas and Halloween are integral not only to the sets and plot lines of Story and Trick but also to the characters who inhabit them. Either in celebrating the holidays or in cursing them like Scrooge, the characters in both movies are guided by their desires to experience the seasons on their own terms. Like Harold and Kumar's search for White Castle and Lewis and Clark's expedition through the West, these are people motivated solely and entirely by how they interact with the universe during, and because of, the holiday festivities. Exactly like those of us watching at home at some point in the weeks and days before October 31st and December 25th.
The Holiday Spirit
With symbols like the Red Ryder BB gun and the leg lamp, as well as events like a friend's frozen tongue and the pink bunny outfit, Story plugs into the cherished and lost childlike innocence that every Christmas movie, TV special, and snow man tries to evoke in even the most churlish amongst us. Similarly, Trick uses the symbols of our most lasting horror tropes like vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the campfire tale to give us all the things we feared in our childhoods and everything we take delight in our aged immaturity, in one 82 minute package. But the true spirits of each holiday, in the sense of how they are truly appreciated, reside in the similarly stature'd forms of Sam and Ralphie. Ralphie is Story's keeper of the Christmas candle in his role as audience surrogate, and Sam is Trick's figurative avatar and literal embodiment of Halloween -- a murderous eight year-old who really wants his just desserts. What two better seasons greeters could we ask for?
As our esteemed horror and torture basement aficionado TK wrote in his original review, Trick R Treat isn't a game changer and doesn't exactly redefine the genre. (That's what Cabin in the Woods was for.) Though, Trick does improve upon anthologies like Creepshow with its interwoven narrative. Regardless, A Christmas Story, lying somewhere between the sentiment of Miracle on 34th Street and the irony of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, doesn't really do anything new with its genre's material, either. Considering that Christmas and Halloween aren't exactly known for their substance, but instead the frothiness of their moments, it's actually quite appropriate that both movies are best known for the power of their execution than the newness of their ideas. Like finding presents under the tree on Christmas morning or organizing candy after a long night trick-or-treating, A Christmas Story and Trick R Treat are exactly as satisfying as they need to be.
TBS would be likely too timid for a full marathon, so stations like Spike or G4 or AMC (since "American Movie Classics" is already willing to broadcast Thinner) would have to step in. But even if they don't, if you like horror movies and love Halloween then you should find a way to watch Trick R Treat as soon as you can, whether you've already seen it or not. Then tell your friends to do the same, or, hell, watch it with them. We can pay this bloody brilliance forward until it rises from the depths of cult status to something like the cultural saturation of Nightmare Before Christmas. Just like Haley Joel Osment's ghost would have wanted.
Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be found here. Now that he's thought about it, he's pretty sure Trick R Treat and A Christmas Story would make a weird but damn double feature... on Thanksgiving.