Tradition is a complicated thing in an increasingly COVID world. Like many dads I had planned to take my son around our neighbourhood this Halloween, diligently supervising as he collected candy. Passing out candy at our own home. Binging on whatever was left over. This, of course, has all changed for the betterment of public health. Still, one tradition our family will keep is the annual rewatch of the Halloween cult classic Trick ‘r Treat.
Modelled after anthology horror comics, Trick ‘r Treat is a tantalizing meld of real seasonal lore and unrepentant appreciation for the spooky holiday. With a story interwoven across several simultaneous Halloween night tales, it hits a seasonal sweet spot no other film has for me. It’s the reason I follow Michael Dougherty’s career so closely. You should watch it. Actually, you probably should have years ago so I wouldn’t still be pining for a Trick ‘r Treat 2.
Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead is a (surprise!) horror anthology comic and is the closest we may ever get to a true sequel. From the imagination of the film’s creator, this four-part comic book miniseries takes a different approach by jumping across Halloween’s history. Featuring writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields, Marc Andreyko and artists Fiona Staples, Stephen Byrne, Stuart Sayger, and Zid, each of the tales has a distinctly different vibe but the same spirit.
That spirit is Sam, the same mysterious child trick-or-treater from the film. Perhaps the definition of “spoopy,” this masked cutie in orange footie pajamas is featured to some extent in all four of Days of the Dead’s tales. He is the personification of Samhain, the Gaelic holiday we now know as Halloween. His role is to enforce “the rules” of the festival, and to Sam, tradition is everything.
The first tale, titled “Seed,” features superb art from Fiona Staples of Saga fame and is set in 1640 Ireland. Soldiers are capturing, torturing, and murdering pagans, supposedly because they brought about the plague with their devil worship. The harvest moon has created paranoia of unholy gods and child sacrifice — all lies spread by evil men committing atrocities in the name of God. One soldier, Thomas, takes pity upon a “sorceress” in captivity. Brigid opens his eyes to the men around him, and they make a genuine connection before it all goes to hell. I won’t spoil the plot because its conclusion is absolutely chilling.
Part two, titled “Corn Maiden,” skips ahead to 1853. Shifting to the new world, the focus is now on terrible men in the midwest doing terrible things to Native Americans. Stephen Byrne’s art in this chapter is probably my favorite. The mysticism of natives contrasts the greedful coldness of the invaders, keen to take land by any means necessary. As with the previous tale, an outsider comes to understand the customs of others until tragedy strikes. Unlike Seed, however, justice is carried out in a spectacular manner.
The third tale in this anthology, “Echoes,” stuck with me the least. The setting is 1955 LA and I could not understand what was happening through most of it. Stuart Sayger’s art is muddy and Guy Major’s colours are too dark and dour. It felt reminiscent of reading IDW’s terrible Silent Hill comics. I’m burying the lead though. The plot follows a film noir PI named Perkins who is trying to track down a missing woman named Beth. The Echo Park Devil is responsible for a rash of disappearance in LA and the cops are overloaded. Because the PI is an alcoholic it’s hard to tell what is and is not happening throughout his search. Magic is heavily featured as well, making it all the more difficult to trust the narrator. The conclusion leaves you with a “Oh, okay…” kind of feeling.
The final act, fittingly titled “Monster Mash,” ties into the framing sequence of the first issue. An old man tells his granddaughter of a Halloween story from his youth. One where he and his best friend, the son of an abusive preacher, dawn masks to blend in with the real monsters attacking their small town. With exceptionally detailed art by Zid, this last story leans the most into the fun of Halloween and the consequences of not following the night’s rules. The twist at the very end is a chef’s kiss moment and does a good job tying all four parts together while underscoring the importance of respecting tradition.
I was unsure of what I was getting into when I picked up Days of the Dead. I hadn’t read any of the Trick ‘r Treat comics and was concerned they’d be a watered-down rehash of the beloved film. It’s a bit uneven, but the way this anthology pays tribute to Samhain feels right. It also helps that Sam’s adorable head pops up throughout the tales. If you’re looking for a Halloween read, Days of the Dead is more of a treat than a trick.