Michael Dougherty Talks TRICK ‘R TREAT, The Upcoming Fan Screening, His Fascination with Halloween and More

     October 27, 2013

trick r treat michael dougherty slice

LA-based fans of the cult hit Trick ‘r Treat have an exciting opportunity to catch a one night only screening of the film on Monday, the 28th, as the final feature in this year’s BeyondFest. Director Michael Dougherty and actors Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, and Quinn Lord, who played the film’s iconic character Sam, will be on hand to answer fan questions in a panel moderated by Seth Green. Best of all, the screening comes just in time to kick off Halloween week. However, if you’re a fan of the film and not a Los Angeles local, don’t despair! Legendary is bringing the fun to you with a national live stream of both the film’s screening and the subsequent Q&A via their Facebook page.  If you’re not familiar with the film I can’t encourage you enough to tune in, give it a watch, and get into the Halloween spirit.

In celebration of the screening I recently hopped on the phone for an exclusive interview with Dougherty. He talked about the satisfaction of seeing the film grow into a cult phenomenon, having an opportunity to watch it with an audience, the possibility of a sequel, what he loves about Halloween, his lifelong fascination with the holiday, structuring an anthology, how he pitches the film to new viewers, and a lot more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.

trick-r-treat-posterI know for myself and my friends Trick ‘r Treat has become firmly engrained in our Halloween tradition even though it only came out a few years ago. It’s a must watch every year. I’ve had Sam as my phone wallpaper since the first of the month. What does it mean to you that people have embrace your film with that kind of passion?

DOUGHERTY: It means the world. You know the film sort of had a long, strange journey and there were times- because what you’re telling me was always the intent. That was the dream. That was the goal, to make it sort of a perennial film for people to watch the same way that they watch Carpenter’s film every October. Or the same way we watch A Christmas Story around Christmas. There are some movies you watch to sort of get into the Holiday spirit. That was always the intent, but there were periods where I didn’t know if that was going to be successful or not. So to see years after making it, and four years after releasing it, to see that its actually happening is a dream come true. To me that’s more important than anything else. To me its not about how much money it makes or awards or anything like that. My goal is always to make a movie that people remember and continue to watch.

As you mentioned the film definitely went through a difficult process of getting out into the public. After having to watch it sit on the shelf for years and seeing it miss a theatrical release, do you feel better about that all in retrospect now that it’s become such a cult hit?

DOUGHERTY: Yeah, it kind of makes the whole thing worth it. It does. Who knows, had we had the more traditional path where we’re released on 2000 screens on a weekend…who knows? Maybe it would have gone fine, but I think this sort of underground, subversive route that the film took obviously worked out and I think its what the movie needed. Not that it was intentional, but I feel like it needed to be that kind of film.

There is something about the horror community, when something gets held back we just get ravenous to see it.

DOUGHERTY: Yeah, I like the horror community because of that. They’re subversive. They question things. If something is held back from them, especially if they’ve heard that its good, they seek it out.

Since the film missed a theatrical run, do you get the opportunity to watch the film with an audience often? Is the sort of fan screening you’re doing on Monday something you enjoy doing?

trick r treatDOUGHERTY: I love it, yeah. Funny enough it happens every year. Even the first- we were initially supposed to come out October 2007 and obviously that didn’t happen and it was a huge bummer, but even in December 2007 Harry Knowles, who runs Aint it Cool News, he was the first one who said I heard your movie is actually good and I’d like to screen it at my film festival in Austin. So he held the first public screening of it, which was nerve wracking because it was a 24-hour film festival where Harry locks hundreds of people inside a movie theater to watch 24 hours worth of movies straight. He doesn’t tell them what the line up is and its like a mix of classic films, his personal favorites and films that haven’t come out yet. And he said, “You’re film is going to be last. You’re going to close this 24-hour film festival.” And I was thinking, “You’re crazy! After 24 hours people are going to bleary eyed and if the movies not good they’re only going to come down harder on it.” He just said, “Trust me.”

And that was the screening that kind of turned everything around, because they loved it. I was there for the whole time and Ill never forget standing outside, finally seeing sunlight, and everyone just kind of saying, “We really love your movie.” and it just kind of snowballed from there, really. The reviews online started popping up and then other film festivals started asking if they could screen it. So before we knew it, for the next couple years before the dvd release, we were taking it around the world, screening it in London and Spain, all over the US. And every screening felt like it got bigger and bigger up until we did a screening at Comic-Con and that was like 4000 people. There was something really natural about it because you knew that it was solely because of word of mouth. It wasn’t like they were watching a bunch of TV commercials or seeing product placement with McDonalds or anything like that. It was a natural groundswell of fandom.

trick r treatMost of my friends are horror enthusiasts so they are familiar with Trick ‘r Treat and love it, but whenever the opportunity comes up, it’s one of my favorite movies to show to someone who hasn’t heard of it. It’s just so fun. I’m curious what your pitch is for people who haven’t heard of the film yet.

DOUGHERTY: Pulp Fiction meets Halloween [laughs] if you want to use that sort of crass, simplistic way of pitching a film. It kind of sums it up, you know? It’s four stories on Halloween night. Yeah, that tends to sum it up quickly.

Nice, I can see how that works. It is an anthology film, but you did a great job of interconnecting the stories in clever ways that all make sense, and that you notice more of with repeated viewings. What was your process like of forming that sort of connective tissue of the film?

DOUGHERTY: It’s really fun because the stories were initially written completely separate from each other. Two of them were written in film school as homework assignments and then the other two stories I did sometime around 2000. It was a very traditional anthology, the first draft was, because there wasn’t a lot of cross over between the stories. This was a story about a bunch of kids going down to a haunted rock quarry, this was a story about a guy trying to bury a kid in the back yard, and this was a story of an old man dealing with a trick-or-treater, but only after I had them I started to realize that character A could be a next door neighbor of character B and what if the trick-or-treater showed up on the doorstep of this guy. And it kept happening. I kept finding these different elements, different threads and linking them together. Some were more obvious, some were really subtle to the point where, like you said, people start to notice things they never noticed the first couple times they watched it. Its just fun. I like rewarding people for paying attention. Its almost when you watch Airplane or Naked Gun, as odd as it sounds, every now and then you notice some gag in the background that you may not have picked up on before. As a kid I loved that and I thought it would be fun to do in a horror film.

trick r treatDo you have a favorite segment to watch and was there a favorite of yours when you shot it?

DOUGHERTY: That’s a hard one. I get that question a lot. They’re all like kids and I love them all for different reasons, but there’s something special about anytime Sam would show up, because that’s my little guy [laughs]. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t look forward to going to work. It was like, “Today I get to throw a bus over a cliff. Awesome, okay.” Then the next day I’m standing around a campfire with werewolves. But there was something really fun about directing Sam.

The film is an anthology with lots of good characters, but Sam does sort of emerge as the spirit animal of the film. Where did that character come from?

DOUGHERTY: He came from some dark corner of my mind [laughs]. He too was born in college. It started off as an animated short that was done very old school, I mean every frame of the film was drawn by hand, not touched by a computer once. Every background painted by hand. I wanted to make a short about- I really wanted to create an icon for Halloween, because I always felt like Halloween didn’t have one. Christmas had Santa, Easter has the bunny and every holiday has something, Valentines day has the cherub, but Halloween just sort of had this menagerie of different creatures. You had witches and black cats, vampires and whatnot, there wasn’t one. Even Michael Meyers, as awesome as he was, he was for the most part a slasher. There was something missing from Michael Meyers’s personality. He was completely terrifying, but I felt the spirit of Halloween would be someone playful and mischievous, because lets face it, as creepy as Halloween is its also really fun.

trick r treat michael doughertyThere’s a sort of an innocence that balances out the terrifying aspects of it, so I felt the character should embody that. So I thought, well if there was a spirit of Halloween he would probably walk around looking like a kid so he could wander the streets and blend in, but underneath the costume there would be something more sinister. So he started off as an animated short like 3 minutes long. Even that short film, it kept going, it kept showing up at film festivals. TV showed it. SyFy showed it. So I just felt like there was something special bout the character and I just kept playing with the idea of turning him into a film. So I added him to previous stories that I mentioned, just having little cameo appearances.

Was it difficult for you to get that sense out of a child actor? Because he does go from being a vicious little hell beast at one moment to being really adorable at the next.

DOUGHERTY: [Laughs] That was surprisingly easy. We auditioned a lot of kids and Quinn Lord came in and just blew our socks off. He captured that perfectly. He looks like a little angel, but then he could turn on this sort of demonic gremlin inside himself. I’ll never forget when his parents showed up on set and said, “Thanks a lot. He’s never breaking character even when he’s at home.” He would go home and continue to hide under beds or leap out from behind doors, stuff like that. So I think it was just sort of part of his personality.

It seems that no matter who you are, how old you are, or where you’re from the film just connects with everyone and they go, “Yes, this is Halloween!” How did you pick the elements that you would include and know which ones would resonate with a broad audience?

DOUGHERTY: I love the holiday. It’s nothing but pure love. I’ve studied its history since I was a kid. I think about it more than I probably should [laughs]. I’m the guy who’s really sad on November 1st because the clock starts over again. So when it came to making the movie I guess I had a really good sense innately of what it was that makes Halloween really great. In that it is a holiday for everybody now. When I was a kid I felt like it was mostly for kids, maybe that’s just the way it always is when you’re a kid, but I think now more than ever it’s for grown ups too. When I was a kid I don’t think there were quite as many sexy adult costumes and we definitely didn’t have all these Spirit Halloween stores that pop up every October. So I really wanted to make sure we touched upon a lot of icons and moments that everyone was familiar with.

trick r treat posterEveryone has gone trick or treating, everyone carves a jack o lantern with their parents. If you really look at the stories they sort of focus on what Halloween is like at different stages of your life. There’s a father-son story between the dad and his five year old kid. There’s the twelve to thirteen year old kids who are clearly sort of trick or treating for the first time with out the supervision of parents, which I think is another right of passage. There’s so much trouble that you get into when you do that. Then there’s the twenty-somethings who use Halloween for sex. It’s like, “Okay, tonight I want to get drunk, go out and find someone to hook up with.” That’s the werewolf story. Then there’s the twilight years. What’s Halloween like when you’re older and maybe you’ve sort of given up on the holiday and you don’t want to be bothered? That became the Brian Cox story.

You’ve talked about the possibility of a sequel before, but it’s been a while since the film’s DVD release. Is that something that’s still possible or has that idea been laid to rest?

DOUGHERTY: Right now I’m just not thinking about it too much. I feel like the dust is still settling on this movie. It’s been out for a bit, but only now are people discovering it in the mainstream. It would be a dream to do another one and I think that was definitely the idea when we did the first one, but right now its just not a priority. I do hear the fans. I definitely hear the fans screaming for one.

Yes, please!


Before I have to let you go, what are your must watch Halloween movies?

DOUGHERTY: Halloween, obviously. Then its like a weird mishmash. The Exorcist always comes back, because actually there’s a scene set on Halloween in the movie. Rosemary’s Baby– all the classics. The Omen, Poltergeist. I think Halloween does a good job as far as weeding out the weak in terms of what horror movies are worth watching or not. All the classic horror films.

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