Trick ‘r Treat began as a humble independent horror movie that boasted an impressive cast for its size. Through work of mouth and continual buzz, it has become one of the go-to movies for Halloween, and will even be the focus of a 24 hour marathon on FearNet. On October 28th, Legendary Pictures is presenting a screening and Q&A with the cast and crew at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood to close out the American Cinematheque’s month-long Beyond Fest, and the event will also be broadcast live on Legendary’s Facebook page. We spoke to Trick ‘r Treat‘s writer-director, Michael Dougherty, about what it’s like to create a new holiday staple.
NERDIST: You had made this movie and it’s a very slick, very produced good looking film, I was very curious — what happened when the movie got delivered? It got such a weird delay in release.
MICHAEL DOUGHERTY: It’s a weird movie, let’s be honest. It’s a weird fucking movie. It is a horror comedy anthology, which is sort of a sub-genre of horror which nobody had explored or taken seriously since the ‘80s. Horror at the time, even when I first wrote the script in 2001, it was going against the grain, because back then, everyone was making Scream knock offs. It was all about I Know What You Did Last Summer or Scream 1 through 3 or what have you, and people read the script and said, “Oh, there’re vampires, werewolves and zombies; this stuff is old school. Who wants to see any of that shit?” That’s literally the feedback I would get from the studios, and now, here we are where vampires, zombies, and werewolves are everywhere. When we made it, it was all about torture porn — everyone wanted Saw, everyone wanted Hostel, and a somewhat brightly colored, somewhat cute and creepy horror movie was hard for the studios to wrap their head around. So it had a very different past, but I don’t regret it, I think it was the best path for it; otherwise, we might not be having this conversation. If it had come out mainstream, typical 2,500-screen release, it might have come and gone in a week or two, and that would have been it. Maybe you would find it on home video, but who knows? This sort of natural underground path, I think that created a desire for this film and a buzz for this film that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
N: One of my favorite elements of the movie is that you’ve made this great anthology. It’s up there with The Twilight Zone, the film, and Creepshow, and Tales from the Crypt comes to mind when you think of it. One of the things that I’ve always appreciated is that you created a film which had elements from things like Keeping Up with the Joneses, there are elements of all of these; it’s almost like if a nightmare happened in the 50’s sitcom era… does that make sense?
MD: To me it’s like a Halloween special gone horribly wrong.
N: Yes, it’s very much one of those things where you feel like you’ve gotten to know these characters and you’re not sure where from, and then you find out some dark thing about them. What was the inspiration behind wanting to do that kind of characterization where everybody pretty much has two identities? Is there any kind of significance to that?
MD: I mean, it’s the nature of the holiday itself. I always like to say that Halloween is the one night of the year when people dress up in costumes so they can finally be themselves. Telling stories of duality where a character is A but turns out to be B or even then C, that’s always intrigued me, and Halloween is the perfect opportunity to discover that. I’ve gone out to Halloween parties and whatnot, and suddenly you see that person from the office that you thought was the quiet guy from accounting and he’s wearing a giant robot suit he put together in his garage — it’ll make you see someone in a whole light. Like this person is really cool now because you see his creative side, and to me, that’s what Halloween is really about. Letting loose, peeling back the layers of your own personality, whether it is as simple as dressing up in a costume and becoming something different for a night — maybe into something more you than you.
N: Looking back at the film, balancing horror and comedy is very rough, because a lot of the time the comedy doesn’t come from the horror, but that doesn’t seem like the case for the movie — a lot of the comedy does come from the genuine scares but the twists you take on them. Is that just your natural sense of humor, or was that something you wanted to — infectious is the word I would use — is that what you totally wanted?
MD: Yeah, that’s my sense of humor. I grew up reading the The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, watching The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock was obviously a very big inspiration — talk about a guy who understood the balance between horror and humor — he’s the master for a reason. I was watching The Birds last weekend, and there’s that scene where the bird is attacking the birthday party. That scene is hilarious — he attacks children twice in that film, like, thousands of birds come down to peck the eyes out of small children. He’s almost daring you to giggle a little bit, and to me, horror and comedy are very close cousins. I actually have a hard time with horror that isn’t willing to be a little bit funny, horror that takes itself so seriously that it’s all about being pretty and dark and that’s the kind of the horror that tries too hard. Even, look at Halloween, clearly Michael Myers has a sense of humor based in the way he booby traps the house where you discover these bodies. Freddie Krueger, amazing sense of humor — look at the way he fucks people’s mind. The Exorcist, Poltergeist – it’s funny, they’re willing to have this sick sense of humor to them. I think it’s a nice release valve, because when you let the audience laugh a little, you let them get comfortable, they’ll let their guard down, and then you can scare the shit out of them for real. To me, it’s a necessary ingredient for a good horror movie to have a dash of humor. Even The Shining, come on! It’s funny! The twin girls? It’s a riot.
N: Many years have gone by and this film has really started to not just capture an audience but everybody loves it, and FearNet is doing a 24 hour marathon of it. How do you react to that? How does it feel to be the filmmaker whose film goes from limited release to being celebrated on a channel for 24 hours once a year? Not many directors can say that they’ve had that consistently happen to them.
MD: It means the world; there’s nothing like it. It’s one thing where a movie has a giant marketing machine behind it which most movies do — even indies are vying for award season, the tadpoles are vying for the $200,000 domestic mark. Those movies had a lot of support behind them, and in a lot of ways, their notoriety is paid for, where as this film is home grown and organic, and I know that if a person saw it and loved it, chances are it’s because some friend told them to watch it, and, you know, it’s spreading by word of mouth, and you know that love is genuine. I think that sort of embrace seems more natural than a film that had its logo and characters plastered on every bus sign and billboard across the country.
N: If you could program this movie into a movie marathon triple feature or double feature, what movie would you like to program with it?
MD: I would say Halloween, and maybe if it was a triple feature, maybe Nightmare Before Christmas or Changeling. My personal favorite to introduce to people is Changeling — not the Angelina Jolie movie, the George C. Scott 1981 haunted house movie.