Exclusive Interview with Trick 'r Treat Writer/Director Michael Dougherty
Michael Dougherty gave us something good to eat with his feature directorial debut, Trick 'r Treat. While several horror movies have been situated on or around the holiday of Halloween (John Carpenter's Halloween itself of course...
...plus a few using the razor blade in the apple trick like Night of the Demons or the costume as a disguise like House of 1000 Corpses), none ever quite used the notorious date to its full potential until Trick ‘r Treat debuted in 2008. Trick 'r Treat is an expertly sewn bit of witch stitchery, blending four freaky fables together like a creepy cloak of subterfuge and shock.
Exploiting the myriad of superstitions surrounding the holiday, we follow an eerie imp called Sam. He’s a diminutive demon, slight and about the height of a six-year-old child, but with a great, rounded pumpkin-shaped head that's draped with a burlap mask. Sam goes out every Halloween, armed with candy. Yes, armed… to harm! If you've never seen anyone brutally stabbed with a half-eaten lollipop, that is reason alone to watch Trick 'r Treat. And now you can!
Trick 'r Treat is showing on the big screen this month. Legendary Pictures has partnered with Beyond Fest for a one-night only theatrical screening of the movie - which stars Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, Leslie Bibb and Brian Cox - at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on October 28. The screening will be followed by a panel that will include Dougherty along with several members of the cast. Both the showing of the film and the panel will be live streamed nationally on Legendary’s Facebook page.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Michael to see what’s up with this special event and to pick his brain on favorite Halloween costumes.
SW: Hi, Michael! So good to talk to you again. Of course, I have seen your excellent film, but would you just recap a little bit of what the plot is, for people who haven’t been so lucky yet?
MD: Sure. It’s four interwoven stories all set in the same small town on Halloween night. I guess the really crafty way of describing it is “Pulp Fiction meets Halloween.” (laughter) But, you know, it’s really about how all these characters experience sort of the strange events of the holiday in different ways.
Q: Wow, it’s funny that you should mention Pulp Fiction because my Halloween costume this year is going to be Mia Wallace with the hypodermic needle, bloody nose, and the whole bit. So what’s your costume going to be this year?
MD: I am still trying to figure it out, to be honest with you. Last year I went as Magneto.
Q: Ah, perfect! [Note: Michael wrote the script for X-Men 2] (laughter.)
MD: It was ‘Party Magneto’ to describe it.
Q: I loved seeing Trick ‘r Treat on the big screen, even though it never played beyond festivals (a travesty!)… That is how it should be seen. So tell me, as the filmmaker, how do you feel about the fact it’s a cult classic?
MD: If it’s a theatrical release where you know your movie does okay and then it disappears in a couple weeks, that’s not great either… versus this very slow but steady build and a natural following that grows with it. I would do the same thing all over again. I think there are a lot of theatrical films that come out and they make their money and sort of just disappear, but longevity [is] key. I think true love is a lot harder to achieve for a film, especially if it didn’t have the support from the studio.
Q: It’s a good film to begin with, that’s why it’s building as a modern classic legend, but what do you think about the psychology of an audience -- especially genre and horror audiences -- who feel like, ‘Oh if the studio won’t let me see this, then it must be something that I have to see, no matter what!’
MD: Yeah. I think fans love that. And the horror audience especially I think gets that. They are the ones that if someone says don’t go inside the creepy old house (laughter), they are the ones to go in the creepy old house. And there is something inherently mischievous and rebellious and fun about horror fans. And so yeah, when some studio says, 'We are not going to release this; this is too much,' they are like, 'No, we want it, and we are going to find it. You can’t stop us.' (laughter) I think it’s been that sort of fervent dedication that has kept the movie going. And I am so appreciative of it. And I think it’s the online websites and geek blogger world especially [that] really rallied around it at a point when I couldn’t have been at a lower point with the movie. And they really just kept it real.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your own relationship with the film, and how this movie has sort of helped shape you over the years from the beginning to now?
MD: I have definitely learned a value of patience (laughter). You know I’ve definitely... it sort of taught me to think about the bigger game, you know, that it’s not just about opening weekend and how the only care is of opening weekend. I learned that it’s more about quality than quantity in terms of the amount of film that you do. It's matured me a lot and it definitely helped me realize the kinds of stories I want to tell and the movies that I want to make. I had a really great time making these big tent pole superhero movies, but I think there is something really more interesting and more rewarding about doing these smaller, obviously more personal film. I mean Trick ‘r Treat is definitely a more personal film for me of stuff that I generally love. So it’s really refined me both as a filmmaker and just as a person.
Q: You know, I have to say out of the dozens and dozens of set visits I have been on over my career, yours stands out as one of the more memorable -- mainly because of the obvious care and love you had for Trick ‘r Treat. You had your office upstairs from the sets, with that bulletin board mood wall with all of your fall leaves and your candy wrappers and fabric samples pinned to it… and it’s very evocative of the film’s ultimate atmospheric feel. Can you talk a little bit about your initial inspiration to make Trick ‘r Treat look the way it does?
MD: Yeah. I mean, to me this is the best time of year, hands down. It doesn’t mean just Halloween -- it means October. To me the month is Halloween, it’s not just a night, the night is a culmination of the entire season, and there is something I think that is apparently magical and mysterious and fun about this time of year. Out of all the holidays it’s the one where you get to... I feel like the fun, creative, mischievous side of everyone comes out a little bit more. Whereas Christmas, it’s all about family and being nice and donating to charity and gifts and all that jazz, and for Halloween you get to cut loose. You know I like to say it’s the one night out of the year where people get to wear costumes so they can be themselves. And I find it so fitting and ironic. There is something really, really special about this time of year. I just wanted to make a movie that I felt captured that.
Q: You definitely did. So, I was reading the press release here and I am a little unclear exactly what the release is because when I saw it, it was on the big screen; it was at Screamfest, and it was packed to the rafters… so was that the only other theatrical look at the film?
MD: Well, this is the only one that is Legendary. The other one was Screamfest in 2008 and presented to other film festivals is different. This is the one Legendary is hosting.
Q: And you will be at the Beyond Fest, which is beyond fantastic! I have been to a couple of the screenings there already this month. The Egyptian Theater is perfect for this; can you talk a little about what people can look forward to on the 28th?
MD: Yeah, it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be fun (laughter). Legendary sort of filled me in on some of the stuff they have planned, and even that sort of ancient Egyptian style courtyard is going to be part of the environment. So it might get transformed from ancient Egypt to more of a Halloween kind of festival. And then we have the cast coming in for the whole event. Both the film and the Q&A afterwards will be streamed on Legendary’s Facebook page. So even if you’re not in L.A. it will be great for people to participate and watch from home. There are going to be a lot of really cool, fun surprises throughout the night.
THE STORY OF TRICK 'R TREAT
Although never released in theaters, Trick 'r Treat became a cult classic through its release on DVD, digital platforms, and extensive play in festivals. Additionally, the film received rave reviews for its originality and ambition. The passage of time has not diminished the fan fervor for this horror classic, which continues to achieve a life of its own with each new technology but has never been seen in theaters – until now.
Dougherty’s story takes place in a small Ohio town on All Hallows' Eve, where four interwoven tales - including a high school principal who moonlights as a vicious serial killer, a college-age virgin who's saving herself for that special someone, a woman whose hatred of Halloween is only exceeded by her husband's love of the mischievous holiday, and a callous group of teens who carry out an unforgivably cruel prank – deliver the kind of chills that can only occur on the darkest day of the year.
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