Trick ‘r Treat is the little horror movie that could. Despite never getting a major theatrical release, until now, some fifteen years later, it has become a spooky season classic. It’s right up there with John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Nightmare Before Christmas. And the film’s icon, Sam, has as much merch these days as Freddy and Jason. We got the chance to chat with Trick ‘r Treat‘s writer/director Mike Dougherty on its long-awaited theatrical rollout, a potential sequel, and enduring legacy.
Nerdist: Trick ‘r Treat is finally getting a wide theatrical rollout after fifteen years. Did you think it would always happen some day, or did this release take you by surprise?
Mike Dougherty: It definitely took me by surprise. I guess in the back of my mind, I always sort of always hoped something like this would happen, but it’s never a sure thing. I remember getting the bad news back in 2008 that we were just sending it to home video. Of course, I was heartbroken, because we were still holding out hope maybe it would get a theatrical release. It sort of felt like a nail in the coffin anyway.
After being sad about it for a while, I remember I sat down, and I just made this really long list of all the sort of things I hoped the movie would become outside of this setback. I’ve got to say, everything has just come to pass. Everything on the list has slowly just started to happen over the past 15 years, with the theatrical release being one of them.
Trick ‘r Treat really deals with what Halloween as a holiday means to us at different stages in life. When you’re a kid, when you’re a young adult, when you’re old. Is there an aspect of the holiday in that regard you didn’t really get to or have time for in the movie, or didn’t feel you could devote as much screentime to?
Dougherty: Not off the top of my head. It’s a really good question, and that was intentional, to sort of show how the holiday is celebrated at different points in our lives. There are things that I still want to explore. I am fascinated with how the holiday is celebrated in different places. A Halloween celebration in New York City is very different than some parts of Ohio, very different from Los Angeles or New Orleans. Every geographic region sort of brings its own flare to the holiday. That and the way it’s been celebrated differently over the years in different decades and time periods. That’s definitely something I’d love to explore more.
You mentioned Ohio just now. And I believe you’re from there. There are a lot of horror classics that seem to take place in Ohio, like Elm Street, Silence of the Lambs, and Scream 2. And let’s not forget, Jeffrey Dahmer’s from there. So why is Ohio such a perfect setting for horror stories, do you think?
Dougherty: I mean, have you been there? (laughs) Ohio, I think, is just the sort of typical Midwestern, all-American state. I think it has a lot of great aspects that make it very American, and a lot of sort of dark things simmering under its surface as well. It couldn’t be more normal in both good and bad ways. So I think if anything, that’s sort of the reason why it fascinates us, especially horror authors, and I think even R. L. Stine’s from Ohio too. It just seems so normal and just almost mundane on the surface, which I think instinctively, we know tends to hide something much more sinister.
So Sam in the movie was played by a young kid, Quinn Lord. Did you ever consider a little person to play the role, or was it always the plan for him to be a little kid in a costume?
Dougherty: Definitely always imagined it would be a kid because kids, they move differently. They have a sort of puppy dog floppy way that they just move away versus a little person, which looks very much like a little person. We did use a little person for certain shots, and stunts, and things like that because we didn’t want to put a kid in danger, but overall, 90% of it is Quinn. That was important too. I was adamant that Sam look and move like a kid.
Speaking of Sam, there’s been a ton of Trick ‘r Treat merch in the intervening 15 years. We see it everywhere now. Do you have a favorite piece of oddball Sam merch that’s just a “I can’t believe they made this, but I’m glad they made this” kind of a thing?
Dougherty: God, there’s so many. I mean, it’s fun because you get to watch the licensing partners take the ball, and run with it, and just see what they come up with. I get approval over everything, so I see. Everything comes into my inbox at one point or another. Probably basically the one that really makes me smile is the… It’s a Spirit Halloween Sam dog costume. You can torture your dog by dressing him up as Sam. And I’ve seen some people post their dogs with it, which is sort of outwardly hilarious.
You co-wrote X2, which remains one of the best superhero movies ever made. Trick ‘r Treat has a link to it obviously, because Anna Paquin and Brian Cox are in it. Did you discuss Trick ‘r Treat with them as far back as X2, or did their joining the cast all happen much later?
Dougherty: I mean, I wasn’t even thinking of Trick ‘r Treat when I worked on X-Men. I think at that point, yeah, it was still in development at a different studio at the time. So it was really just sort of a glimmer in my eye, and I wasn’t really thinking about casting or anything. The idea to cast them only came up as Legendary bought the script and it became more of a real possibility because, obviously, it’s nice to be able to cast your friends into things as long as they’re right for the role. It just became a no-brainer.
There’s been some Trick ‘r Treat comics, and I think they’re getting collected now into an omnibus format, which is great. Since comics are sort of part of the DNA of the movie, because it’s in the opening and closing credits, the comics panels, do you think the franchise has a bigger comics future?
Dougherty: I think it could easily. The movie itself was very much inspired by old horror comics. At a point in my life when I felt like I was outgrowing DC and Marvel. So I started to read old horror comics that my dad gave to me. Creepy and Eerie are really notable ones. Also, in the ’90s, there was a great run of Hellraiser comics. Those really opened my eyes to how awesome comic format is and it’s not exclusive to just superheroes. So I think so. I could easily see us publishing another Trick ‘r Treat graphic novel every year, really. It also lets you tell stories that are unhampered by movie budgets.
Trick ‘r Treat started its life as an animated short that you did in college, called Season’s Greetings. Do you ever think of making new Trick ‘r Treat shorts, like other animated things in a similar vein?
Dougherty: Yeah, I’d love that. I would love to do that. I’d even open up the door to bringing in other filmmakers to do shorts, whether it be animation or live-action. I just think it’d be fun. I mean, obviously, we’re talking about a sequel right now, and I think animation for maybe a Halloween special. It could be just really nuts in terms of formats and styles, expand the mythology, and Sam as a character. I think it would be separate from whatever deep little path that we’ve done before. It’s fun to sort of imagine an annual Halloween special. It might be a half-hour. It might be an hour, but something that could be more irreverent.
We were at the Trick ‘r Treat Beyond Fest screening recently, and I know you mentioned that you’ll never reveal Sam’s origin story, which we highly agree with. I think you said that you always think that it ruins it for horror movie monsters. Do you think that there’s a character where the origin didn’t ruin it? Because we sort of think there’s one exception to that, and it’s Freddy Krueger, but I think it’s the only one.
Dougherty: I think Freddy works, but at the same time, we never saw it [the origin], I guess. I think Freddy’s origin is an exception because it only made him scarier. To know who he was, this serial killer who went around killing kids and was eventually beheaded by justice, only added to his mystery and his power. But I think a mistake they made was they kept explaining it. They kept adding more layers like, “Oh, he also made a deal with these three dream demons.” It’s one thing to create a fun, mysterious origin for a character, but I feel like a lot of studios over the years have sort of overthought it.
They just start adding too much to the point of it being layered with all the layers. Like with the Halloween stuff [in Halloween 5 and 6] where it’s like cults, and the curse, and these tattoos. I was like, “What the f*** are you talking about?” With Sam, there are definitely aspects of his lore and his mythology that we could expand on, and I hope to in terms of how he comes back year after year, where he goes to, and things like that, but I would never do any sort of flashback to ancient Ireland and show some kid being sacrificed and throw him to a pumpkin creature. That would just ruin his mystique.
We know you said at the Beyond Fest screening that the sequel’s in active development, and I know you probably can’t talk much more about it. But we’ve got to ask this; given the success of American Horror Story and its anthology format, would you ever consider bringing back some of the same actors from the original, but just in different roles?
Dougherty: No, because I feel like that’s very much American Horror Story’s approach and style. I’d rather stay consistent. If I’m bringing cast members back, it would be in the same roles, not that that’s currently a plan within the piece. To me, it would throw me off. I do like it in American Horror Story. I think it works for them, but it’d also feel like we’re just ripping them off if we did that.
Final question: Who is your favorite kid from the School Bus Massacre story?
Dougherty: Ooh, good question. That’s a really, really good question. I don’t know if I have one. I’m looking at [a picture of them] right now. It might be Buddha head, because that particular mask was actually a gift that was given to me by my family. Honestly, I love them all. It’s a really hard choice. They’ve really started to develop their own following, which I never imagined happening, but Chuckles the Clown Girl is now a Funko Pop!, and Spirit Halloween has started to manufacture their masks and costumes too, so I’m happy that they’re finally getting some love alongside Sam.
Well, we definitely can’t wait for the inevitable follow-up. Or whatever form Trick ‘r Treat takes next.
Dougherty: Thanks. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s all about patience and persistence.
Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.