If all goes well, this will be the first of a “Screen Slashers” column I will do once a month. In each one, I will pick a film that features a serial killer or mass murderer and describe the infamous, historical figures they may or may not have been based on. I’m doing this because I love psychopaths and want more excuses to talk about them. Researching which sickos inspired by favorite fictional sickos happens to be a hobby of mine, so why not also write about it? I thought about doing Michael Myers from Halloween since the holiday itself is just around the corner, but I already did a breakdown of Myers about a year ago when I wrote for Hidden Remote and I didn’t feel like doing it again. You can read it here if you want. That being said, I decided on Trick ‘r Treat instead.
Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology horror film released in 2007 that tells five different stories set on Halloween night. They are connected through the presence of Samhain, the literal embodiment of All Hallows Eve, watching over the night. The film deals with the “rules” of Halloween that must be followed, rules that are largely forgotten as respect for the holiday has been thrown out the window. One of the characters observed throughout the film is Steven Wilkins. He may honor the holiday but he’s got a much different problem, his backyard “stinks like a dead whore.”
Despite the presence of the demonically adorable Samhain, the true villains of Trick ‘r Treat are the people. Specifically Mr. Kreeg and Steven Wilkins. Kreeg is responsible for a school bus massacre that, from what I’ve gathered, is not based on real-life events. It was actually inspired by “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” special. So, Steven Wilkins it is. The school principal with a smelly backyard filled with bones.
Played by Dylan Baker, who also co-wrote the script with director Michael Dougherty, Wilkins is a charming local man who happens to be a serial killer. His targets of choice appear to be anyone of convenience, in this case, a few trick-or-treaters and a frightened young woman at a parade. There is a possibility that Wilkins is based on either John Wayne Gacy or Andrei Chikatilo, two sadistic serial killers that primarily targeted children while presenting themselves as “respectable” members of their communities.
Most people already know the name Gacy thanks to the many films and biographies about him. He worked as “Pogo the Clown” at children’s events and would often lure them over while still in costume, prompting him to be known as the “Killer Clown”. Meaning, don’t blame Stephen King for killing the clown industry, Pennywise didn’t come around until eight years after Gacy’s arrest. He was put to death on May 10, 1994, for torturing, raping, and murdering an estimated 33 boys. Burying their bodies in the crawl space of his house. Despite the high body count, hardly anyone suspected Gacy of anything, even though he was arrested and convicted of sexual assault in 1968, and then two more times in 1971. His final arrest was in 1978. To put it bluntly, it really shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise that he was a serial killing rapist. I can’t speak for the family, but how did they not know there were bodies in the house? According to his sister, the house always smelled a bit musty but apparently, no one thought enough to question it. “When [he and his second wife] moved in, there was always this kind of musty smell,” she [Karen Gacy] says. “In later years, he kept saying that there was water standing under the house and he was treating it with lime [and] that’s what the mold smell was.”
Though greatly diluted, Steven Wilkins of Trick ‘r Treat shares many similarities with Gacy including killing children, having a child of his own, and burying bodies on his property. In particular, the cheerful creepiness emitting from the character feels very Gacy.
Another killer that could have gone into Wilkins’s creation is Andrei Chikatilo, “The Rostov Ripper” or “Red Ripper” who sexually assaulted, murdered, and mutilated at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990 in Russia. Chikatilo’s crimes, although sexual in nature, were primarily motivated by rage. He was just a walking flesh suit filled with hate and resentment.
Chikatilo grew up during WWII and was forced to witness the horrors of war at a very young age. He lived through the Nazi occupation of Ukraine that forced his family into underground hideouts. His father was at war, leaving just him and his mother, sometimes completely homeless. It’s been theorized that Chikatilo’s mother had been raped by a German soldier sometime during the war as she suddenly got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. A rape that many believed Chikatilo had witnessed.
Naturally, Chikatilo grew up to have a great deal of emotional and psychological issues. To the point where murder and violence became therapeutic for him, a way to purge the rage. He didn’t seem to have a preference regarding gender, or even age, which is unusual among pedophiles, and often serial killers in general, suggesting he likely chose children because of his own stunted mentality, and for convenience. Anything alive would do.
This is exactly the case with Steven Wilkins who doesn’t pick and chose an exact target but simply killed anyone he might get ahold of.
Death by candy
Death by candy becomes one of Wilkins’s methods of murder, which fits right into the Halloween theme. As mentioned above, one of the running themes of Trick ‘r Treat is honoring the “rules” of Halloween, including checking for tampered candy. Anyone who has ever trick-or-treated knows this rule and remembers how annoying it was. We all remember our parents demanding we hand over our buckets and pillowcases of goodies that we spent all night collecting so that they could check it for open wrappers, because according to them and the news, there was always some wacko just waiting to put arsenic or razor blades into your Snickers.
This is actually one of my personal issues with the holiday, or with the misconceptions of it. The way so many people continue to associate it with violence, murder, and Devil crap.
Parents worry. It’s part of being a parent, but everyone seems to go a bit overboard about Halloween. It’s a Kentucky Fried Mouse situation, a story no one has experienced firsthand but they know a guy who knows a guy who knew someone that it happened to. Despite all the stories about poisoned candy, there’s only been one recorded case of it actually happening, and it wasn’t random at all.
In 1974, a man named Ronald Clark O’Bryan poisoned several Pixy Stixs with potassium cyanide that he distributed to five children, including his own son and daughter. After the other children went home, O’Bryan’s son Timothy asked to eat some of his candy before bed, unfortunately choosing the Pixy Stix. He died less than an hour later. It turns out that the O’Bryan family was drowning in debt and Ronald had murdered his son in order to collect the life insurance policy. He’d hoped to collect the policy on his daughter as well but after what happened to Timothy, all candy was confiscated by the unknowing mother.
This is primarily where the myth of tampered candy comes from and it was exactly what the pearl-clutching fake Christians crying Devil needed to “prove” their case about the evils of Halloween. A study published in “Threatened Children” by Joel Best in 1993 found no credible accusations of poisoned candy to happen before or after the O’Bryan case. To this day, Best continues looking for cases and has yet to find any.
Early versions of this myth occurred in the form of pranks. Older teens would supposedly insert harmless things in candy or hand out items other than treats to shock children. In Best’s book, he describes how in the early 1950s, some people would heat pennies on skillets then dump them in children’s hands. As for lethal objects such as razor blades being pushed through candy wrappers, roughly 100 cases have been reported since 1958 with over 95% of them turning out to be fake. The ones which turned out to be true were all harmless.
There’s an amazing book by David J. Skal called “Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween” that explores the candy myth in-depth.
This just in, this year’s candy fear is cannabis! Police are warning parents about candy masquerading as edibles in states where marijuana is legal.