Misunderstood Monsters | ‘Trick ‘r Treat’s Sam and Our Eternal Halloween Spirit
By Matt Konopka
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Welcome fellow monster kids to Misunderstood Monsters. This is where I, Matt Konopka, sink my fangs into all sorts of beasts, ghouls, and creatures from above while I search for the humanity behind their frightening exteriors. From monster favorites such as The Wolf Man to obscure monsters like the whistling Shadmock, there is more to these fiends than bad hair days and gooey tentacles. Within them all is a piece of ourselves.
There’s a certain magic that washes over some of us when Halloween creeps closer.
I’ll never forget the feeling of stepping out into the cool autumn air for that first night of trick-or-treating. Leaves crunching underfoot, sporting a shaggy werewolf costume…it awakened a joy in me that returns from the grave every October. I imagine that if you’ve wandered into this cobwebbed crypt which serves as a loving home for all movie monsters, the holiday has carved a place into your heart, as well. Halloween isn’t just a day when all things frightening and foul emerge from the shadows for the one night of the year, which belongs to them; it’s the only time when we outcasts and devourers of the macabre can come out and play without fear of prejudice. For horror fans, Halloween is when we get to be ourselves the most, embodied by Trick ‘r Treat’s adorable monster kid, Sam (Quinn Lord).
Writer/director Michael Dougherty’s 2007 anthology horror film, in which a small town experiences a Halloween evening of mischief and terror, did not receive the love or attention it deserved upon release. Like so many fans of the genre, Trick ‘r Treat was misunderstood by Warner Bros. The poor film sat for years collecting dust on the shelves before dropping direct to video like a toothbrush tossed from a sack of candy. “How could they?” you might ask. Dougherty’s debut is an all-around pumpkin spiced treat! Good thing we outcasts tend to rally around our own. There’s no doubt in my mind that the film’s beloved cult status has everything to do with Sam and what he represents for all of us who howl at the approach of October.
When I was a young ghoul stuck in Midwest suburbia, loving horror was an invitation for murmurs that “something ain’t right with that boy.” After enough encounters with people who looked at me as if I were a Fulci zombie from Hell, I started to hide that love. During sleepovers, I’d sometimes sneak away like a tip-toeing vampire to catch whatever scary flick was on TV while my friends played video games. Kids like me — we related more to Trick ‘r Treat’s disparaged souls. With a dash of Rhonda’s (Samm Todd) loneliness and a sprinkle of Laurie’s (Anna Paquin) late bloomer-ism, I was a bubbling mix of the film’s characters who find themselves swirling in a cauldron of self-doubt. Lost. Confused. In search of understanding. Halloween was the one time I didn’t feel like a creature hunted by an angry mob of pitchforks.
No one would dare come after him like that, but Sam shares an unspoken bond with us outcasts. The mischievous representative of Halloween is not so much a malicious entity as he is a welcoming guide down the path to embracing the parts of ourselves that others perceive as “weird.” He doesn’t create the creatures which roam Warren Valley, Ohio, nor does he intervene in the choices that the characters make. Sam only appears to both above-mentioned women after they have chosen to embrace who they are by silencing the human monsters who mistake their differences as weaknesses. In each case, Sam doesn’t utter a word. His button-eyed stare is enough. It’s a look of approval that reassures our characters of what they already know in their subconscious: there’s nothing wrong with being different. Their adoration of all things spooky is what makes them special.
Some of us are afraid to expose that part of ourselves to others. Part of the magic of Halloween is that it’s an excuse to strip off the human costume which hides who we are and shout it proudly. What we choose to wear is an expression of who we are underneath our flesh and bones, the stitched fabric of our souls. In Sam’s case, he’s an ancient spirit as old as the earth itself. Underneath his mask is a haggard face cut with wrinkles and eyes hollowed out like Jack-o’-lanterns. Yet, armed with a lollipop and dressed in fall-infused footie pajamas, he presents himself as youthful. He refuses to “grow up” or be anything but the childish soul he is. Every Halloween, we do the same by embracing that eternal trick-or-treater deep down. It’s when the kid inside is most alive. We can be witches, werewolves, whatever we want, and no one gets to tell us to “act normal.”
There are of course those in the film and in life who are the types that mutter “I hate Halloween” as they blow out a Jack-o’-lantern’s candle. The unfortunate truth is that while most adults may have once felt wonder during this time of year, that flame fizzles out with age. In Trick ‘r Treat, the human villains are people who refuse to respect the importance of the holiday for the rest of us. One of them is Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), whose battle with Sam is especially poignant because it’s a literal representation of our inner child versus the grumpy old farts who tell us to “grow up.” Though it may appear otherwise at first, Sam doesn’t intend to destroy Kreeg. Sometimes we need a good scare to remember what matters. Sam’s intent is to remind the bitter man of the kid inside him which he turned his back on long ago during that fateful school bus massacre.
Dougherty’s creation may not be “real,” but his impact on our reality is indisputable. Despite only a few minutes of screen time, Sam’s become an icon for the childish glee over the season. Short he may be, but he’s bigger than Santa Claus for anyone who claims Halloween as their favorite holiday. When we look at Sam, we see a reflection of the monster kid that dwells inside all of us. He’s in every trick-or-treater’s mischievous laugh, every glowing Jack-o’-lantern, every howl on the wind. As long as he’s around, no one can ever put out the Halloween spirit you and I cherish.
Be safe this All Hallows Eve, stay spooky, and remember to always check your candy. 🩸
Matt is a writer and wannabe werewolf who began his love of horror at the ripe old age of 3 with Carpenter’s Christine. He has a horror podcast called Killer Horror Critic which he does with his wonderful wife and has previously been published on Bloody Disgusting, Shudder’s The Bite, and Daily Grindhouse. You can also find more of his reviews and ramblings at his blog, KillerHorrorCritic.com.
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