Director: Bob Balaban
Writer: George A. Romero
Cast: Barnard Hughes, I.M. Hobson, Max Wright, Joe Ponazecki, Knowl Johnson, Brenda Currin, Eddie Jones, Patrick Wilcox, Eevin Hartsough, Nancy Ellen Sutherland, Jessica Carroll, Joshua Miller, Frances Chaney, Bill McNulty, Ed French, and Paul Sparer
Composers: Donald Rubinstein and Erica Lindsay
Air Date: 10/29/1983
A goofy old miser known as Gideon Hackles (Barnard Hughes) maintains his enormous wealth by keeping the residents of a rural town perpetually indebted to him. Every year on Halloween, Gideon offers trick-or-treaters an opportunity to find and collect their parents’ IOU cards; but with a twist: in order to succeed at Gideon’s malevolent game, the town’s children must travel through an elaborately decorated house of horrors wherein the debt notes are hidden. This year, however, the sadistic scrooge finds out that he’s not the only one who enjoys playing pranks on others.
An atmospheric pilot, “Trick or Treat” serves as a testament to the fact that George A. Romero’s creative genius could, on rare occasions, extend beyond his contributions to the zombie genre. Though marred by a nonsensical twist ending, this episode balances dark humor and frightening situations in such a way that will appeal to Tales from the Darkside fans.
Whereas the grouchy old man in season two’s “Halloween Candy” despises the title holiday because it interferes with his desire to be left alone, Gideon appears to relish Halloween for giving him an excuse to torment impressionable youngsters with his macabre creations. Despite his cruel and abusive tendencies, Gideon succeeds in becoming a maniacally funny character due to the lighthearted manner with which Barnard Hughes played his part.
Also praiseworthy, the interior of Gideon’s haunted house showcases a variety of gruesome animatronic devices alongside eerie sound effects, thereby establishing an appropriate tone to complement the supernatural elements contained in Romero’s climax. On that note, a chilling finale is made additionally impactful by an assortment of remarkably detailed make-up effects, which lend credibility to an otherwise fantastic and inexplicable ending.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
It should be noted that Gideon’s fate will satisfy audiences with a compelling sense of justice. That being said, “Trick or Treat” provides no logical reason to explain why actual witches and demons decide to turn the tables on Gideon following another round of Halloween antics (if supernatural entities were always present in Gideon’s home, then a prior hint should have been included to indicate as much).
“Trick or Treat” puts a unique—albeit demented—spin on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, specifically by placing Gideon/Scrooge in a holiday-oriented situation that forces him to confront his selfish and downright wicked behavior. Instead of redeeming himself by sharing his fortune with the townspeople, however, Gideon proves to be a true scoundrel even when confronted with everlasting torture. While the twist ending in this case seems to come out of nowhere, Gideon’s fate nonetheless allows for an unpredictable deviation from the subject matter that likely inspired it while forgoing themes of repentance in favor of punishment; but never to the detriment of Romero’s intended morality lesson.
“Trick or Treat” is a worthy, if occasionally disjointed, introduction to the most bizarre anthology series of the 1980s. Fans of Dickens’ classic novel in particular may enjoy this offering for its mean-spirited approach to the source material. Viewers with a sick sense of humor will likewise be amused by the Gideon character, whose high jinks often resemble those of Eustace Bagge from Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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