The second time it was for Trick ‘r Treat and lemme tell you, it was cold. January in Vancouver is not a pleasant experience, but I guess I should’ve assumed that since it is, after all, Canada. Luckily the set visit was more than worth dealing with low temperatures for though, because Trick ‘r Treat looks like it’s going to be a horror film we remember a long time from now.
“Halloween has such a rich history going back hundreds of years, but you never really see that in horror movies. “ director Michael Dougherty explained during our interview on set, which are my sentiments exactly. When we first got to the production offices the walls were lined with conceptual drawings for all the characters that we’ll be seeing in film and they all just had a fantastic, Norman Rockwell meets Tim Burton sensibility to them. It really gave me hope for a movie that, in all honesty, didn’t seem like a big deal when it was first announced.
So what is Trick ‘r Treat about anyway? Well, to put it simply; “The whole thing takes place on this one block in middle American where, one night a year, everything goes wrong. “ as Production Designer Mark Freeborn put it to us, and that’s a damn good explanation. Taking place over the course of Halloween night, we’re taken through four separate scenarios that involve residents of a small town in Ohio. The idea was one that had been floating around in director Dougerty’s brain for about 10 years before it finally made it to celluloid.
“I do Christmas cards and Halloween cards every year and, piece by piece, most of that artwork has made it into the film. “ he told us. He also revealed that most of the art filling the production offices had been inspired by the likes of Edward Gorey, Charles Adams and Tim Burton. How’s that for an eclectic mix?
At the heart of all the aforementioned artwork is one character that we saw over and over again, and indeed was the only image on the (very, very cool) concept posters they had; The pajama-clad, burlap sack-headed Sam, who in the film is played by 7-year-old Quinn Lord. It’s unlikely we’ll ever seen Quinn’s actual face, because underneath that burlap sack is something not quite human.
Dougherty related a story to me from when Quinn auditioned for the role, which is what helped him land it no questions asked; “His audition blew me away He has this weird mixture of adult sensibilities in the body of this sever year old kid. I loved him so much that I really wanted to give him more to do during the audition, I didn’t want him to walk out the door without having more to do, so I turned to the casting director and said “what else can we get him to do?” and all of a sudden Quinn piped up and said “excuse me, do you want me to show you what I think Sam would do?” and he made this face and put on this voice, crouched down and said “goooood kitty”, pretending like he was petting a cat. Then he snatches the cat’s tail, picks it up and starts dragging it away. The moment he did that I said “that’s Sam!””
How will Sam come across on the big screen? I only saw one scene they were filming with him a few times over, but it was definitely creepy as hell.
Trick ‘r Treat takes four separate stories that happen to the residents of this small down during one Halloween night and integrates them together in a way we’ve seen before in films like Pulp Fiction or Go, but never in a horror movie. “When I moved to LA in 2000 everyone was pushing me to sit down and write a screenplay” Dougherty explained regarding how the story and structure came about. “I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to be one of the Starbucks writers, you know? I finally caved in, but I felt like I cheated because I just took four of these Halloween-themed short stories I had and said. “look it’s my screenplay! Then I realized that the screenplay would get better if I started tying all the characters and events together, so that they’re really cohesive; like so you can see the same event twice from different perspectives.”
A simple but brilliant idea for a good horror yarn and it’s kind of amazing no one’s ever tried it before. The plots for all four have been online for a while, but the actual meaning behind them has not. “One of the stories is very much about the Halloween of your childhood, dealing with your parents, not being old enough to trick or treat necessarily,” producer Alex Garcia explained during our tour of the set tour, “Another is the Halloween of adolescence where you’re probably too old to be tick or treating but you’re out anyway; you may get into trouble, you may not. The next is the Halloween of your 20s and 30s when it’s very much about sex, then we get into the Halloween of Mr. Kreeg (played by veteran Brian Cox), the old man who hates the holidays.”
Once we were done in the production offices we were ushered over the actual set itself, which was built inside one of the buildings on the Lionsgate lot in Vancouver. Aside from a massive spread of any kind of food you could want (seriously, how does anyone stay in shape when they’re making a movie?), we saw both a fully realized mine shaft that figures prominently into one of Trick ‘r Treat’s scenarios, as well as the re-created back of Mr. Kreeg’s house and his neighbor’s Stven, played by Dylan Baker. The two couldn’t be more different; Kreeg’s is unkempt and in a serious state of disrepair, Steven’s is perfectly manicured to the point of obsession.
The task of creating such facades came down to Production Designer Mark Freeborn, whose recent work includes the Black Christmas remake and Final Destination 3. “I had just come off another picture that was not a lot of fun.” Mark told explained about how he got involved. “When I read the script I just thought it was great; it had enough irony and darkness in it that it would make it a lot of fun. Because Mike and I had the same kind of visual sense and he’s familiar with my work (he’s a fan of a lot of stuff I’d done in the past) we had some common ground there. I knew that I could get a lot creatively out of this show. “
Especially impressive was the home of Mr. Kreeg; the detail of the set inside the old codger’s house was precise, though Freeborn insists that he didn’t get into minutia when putting the set together; “I’ve always been of the mindset that you don’t need to overdress to sell the concept, so we let the texture of the walls carry the film.” he continued “Personally I like creative stuff, I like creating the Kreeg house, that sort of thing. If it ain’t challenging it ain’t fun”
Challenges were also plentiful, always the case when you’re trying to duplicate a fall setting in the middle of winter. “We got hit with a massive snowstorm so we decided to build a bunch of the stuff on stage, which we were originally not planning to do, “ producer Alex Garcia related to us. “There was part of a story that took place in a forest and we were going to film in a big park here in Vancouver. Thank God we decided to build it instead because three days after we started to shoot on stage, a huge windstorm came through, the biggest they ever had, that leveled every tree in the park! “ That’s really fate smiling down on your production, don’t you think?
Even more so when you consider that director Dougherty decided to break one of big rules of filmmaking on his very first feature: Never work with kids. “You know kids can’t shoot more than 8 hours, but nothing’s really different than any other show. “ stunt coordinator Ernie Jackson told us. “We have time to rehearse which is when I can make the decision if it’s going to be the kid or a stuntman.
“It’s just difficult with the issues of size, “ he continued. “In this last sequence this creature jumps off the ceiling and lands on Mr. Kreeg, and at that point that’s where we might put in (young stuntman) Austin Dunn because he’s smaller so the size relation is there. But we make the decision in rehearsal when and where we’re going to put in child.”
Don’t worry, though, even though they were well-looked after on set, the kids don’t get off that easy on screen; “The film does have some lighter aspects with kids and all that, but I think we kill 14-15 kids in this, so it’s definitely not a PG-13 movie. “ Dougherty revealed. No matter how odd the marketing may be when Warner Bros. starts in with it in full swing, just keep in mind that Trick ‘r Treat is going to be have a very serious R-rating attached to it “There’s no way this movie can be PG-13 unless you took the movie apart and made it an hour long. “ Mike said with a hint of glee.
Though the look and feel of Trick ‘r Treat may be unlike what we’ve seen before, at least what we saw of it was, how are they going to really make us remember the movie? I asked special effects man Bob Comer if there was ever any pressure to do something horror fans haven’t seen before. “I think there’s an obsession in today’s film industry with pushing the limits, more blood more gore, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. “ he confided. “I think the idea is to stay within the story and make whatever you do really well. I think Michael’s story is very interesting, he’s written it well especially compared to a lot of the genre today, which seems to be about cutting bodies up with no humor; too cold, too flat. It’s voyeurism. I think Michael’s movie’s got a great story and humor.”
But that sure doesn’t mean Trick ‘r Treat will be without it’s sick moments, as Comer went on to explain; “We had a really interesting puke break that was very challenging, “ he told us with a wicked grin. “We wanted to do something akin to The Exorcist puke scene, which was done through a combination of mechanics and prosthetics, but we had neither the time nor the funds to work on something so extensive, so we had to come up with a complicated but cheap way of doing projectile vomiting. We only had about four hours and we were split up in four areas of our shop working on it and ended up with about 50 gallons of brown puke all over the floor!” Fake or not, that is just nasty. But it was all worthwhile; “With about 10 or 15 minutes left we finally found the right way of doing it and took it to set that night. Michael shot and loved it so much that he shot it over and over again. So I’m sure it’ll be in the movie! “
Projectile vomiting, werewolves (designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, no less), monsters, demonic children wearing spooky burlap sacks over their heads, all done with smile and a love for all things Halloween; yeah, I’d say Trick’ r Treat is one we’ll be keeping a very close eyeball on between now and it’s October release date.
Huge thanks to Warner Bros. for getting us out to set and especially to all the great folks we talked to while there; they’re the ones that make these movies what they are and they never seem to get the credit they deserve. We greatly appreciate all the hard work that goes into a movie like this, with such a big idea and such a limited budget, and hope the end results speak for themselves!
Needless to say we’ll have a lot more Trick ‘r Treat goodies for you in the coming months so stick around!
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