Legendary Entertainment has announced a special screening of Trick ‘r Treat at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles on October 28th. If you can’t make it to that screening, the whole thing – both movie and a short Q&A, will be live-streamed across Facebook on Legendary Entertainment’s profile page. In preparation for this event, we wanted to interview Michael Dougherty, director and creator of the now-seminal Halloween cult film.
Q) Trick ‘r Treat has, to many people, become just as important and as seminal a holiday film for Halloween as A Christmas Story is for the Christmas season. Did at any point during production – writing, filming, editing – did you realize that you had made something that would achieve that status?
Well, it was such a long process. I think that was always the dream, for the film to become that but obviously the film had such a strange journey that I questioned whether that would be the case or not. To see it finally on that path means a lot to me – its very satisfying
Q) Were there any additional Halloween night rules you were going to add into the movie but didn’t get the chance?
Umm, no. I felt like we had a good set of rules to start with – whether or not that ends, well see. I always felt like those are the four basic rules that I remembered from my childhood. Not that they were ever solidified in stone anywhere but they seemed to cover cover all the bases.
Q) What was the reason behind the film not having a general, theatrical release – instead being pushed back two years and sent straight-to-video?
I think the studio got cold feet. I think it was a lot of different factors. It’s such an unconventional horror films. When it comes to horror movies made by studios, they tend play it safe and this is a film which went against all the trends. The first trend it wasn’t was a Scream knock off with five attractive twenty somethings and an unseen killer. We had Scream, Urban Legends, Final Destination, etc. when studios read the original script in 2000/2001 they said this had vampires werewolves and zombies – no one wants to see that. Ten years later thats all we have. Then when we made the film, the trend was all torture porn. This film comes a long which is a weird horror comedy anthology that celebrates this holiday we love and has this sort of mischievous personality. I think the marketing people looked at it and said we just don’t know how to handle this. Instead of the studio handling it, they threw it to DVD. Smartly, Legendary Entertainment were the people that discovered the script, fought for it to get made and to get a teatrical release, etc. When they lost that battle, they wanted to take this to a more sleeper, undergound route. They sent copies out to festivals and conventions, building word of mouth slowly and organizally. All their attempts to plead with Warner Bros. simply fell on deaf ears. (editors note: Boo, Warner Bros!)
Q) My sister is just as huge a fan of the film as I am and she wanted me to ask you, and I quote, “Why the hell did you make Lil’ Sam so damn adorable and was it always your intention for people to root for Sam or did you originally want him to be more ominous?”
Both! I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. To me, it was important to create a character for the film that embodied everything the holiday was about. It’s not purely scary, there is an innocence about it. It’s fun, creepy, and adorable. We dress our children up as monsters and send them out to get candy in the darkness. We tell them to break the first rulle of childhood – don’t take candy from strangers. We tell them it’s okay, go up to houses with corpses and rubber limbs hanging from the trees. It’s a bizarre holiday that is always about contrasts. I felt Sam should embody that contrast. He should be cute, but creepy.
I think a good example can be found in these Sam toys right now – these action figures and plush dolls. I sent the plush doll to my 2 year old nephew. He is too young to know about what Halloween is really about or even who Sam is in the movie, but my Sister sent me a message saying he was really scared of it at first but now he loves it. That is the perfect reaction you want people to have towards him. You would hang and party with him but would always be watching your back. I look at gremlins from the film Gremlins and I think they’re kind of cute but they are monsters.
So I think that we created a horror icon that’s not about being gross or bloody or bad-ass. You can have these contrasts. Even the aliens in Alien are a good example – there is an elegance or beauty to them. I would even put Pinhead from Hellraiser in that category – there is something regal about him.
Q) In one of the short films you created, Sam has decomposed into pumpkin guts and, in others, he seems to exist all year-long at other holidays. What officially happens to Sam during the rest of the year?
Um, i think his mythology needs to be explored more. I am still figuring that out in my head. There is probably a little bit of both versions. I like that he is ever present in some form or another and he reveals himself when he needs to. I also think that in creating a horror character you don’t want to give too much away. The less you know the better. We didn’t know where the Alien came from until Prometheus.
(At this point, Michael and I move into a geeky tirade, that I will spare you from, about Alien, Aliens, and the Dark Horse comics based on that I.P. Michael says that Aliens is his favorite film, we talk about the Aliens figures we have in our respective offices. Geeks really rule the world right now.)
Q) The inevitable question, of course, has there been any news on the Trick ‘r Treat 2 development front?
No, no official movement. When i first thought out the idea my dream was to do one movie at least every other year. I think if we did one every year we would overstay our welcome. At least every other year is the way to go. However, I feel like the first film’s journey has been such a long process that we are just enjoying the reception its getting. So, I would say no immediate plans but I wouldnt mind it!
Q) It would seem obvious that Halloween is a big holiday for you and yours. How are you celebrating it this year?
Im pretty traditional – pumpkin carving parties, a full cemetary in the front yard. We invite friends over on Halloween night and will watch scary movies and spend a few hours scaring children as they come to the door. Those were always the best houses when I was a kid, the ones where the neighbors went all out and scared the crap out of you. I want to give kids that fun yet terrifying experience.
Q) Do you ever go to haunted houses and attractions and, if so, have you hit any of them this season?
Oh yeah! I actually had the trip of a lifetime last weekend. Thomas Tull from Legendary flew myself and Guillermo Del Toro out to PA to check out a couple! One was in Pittsburgh and the other in Philadelphia. They were the Scare House and the Easterns State Penitentiary. It was amazing, they were both fantastic. It was especially great to visit them with Del Toro. It was like some weird dream – being in a prison with Del Toro – did that really happen? It was the trip of a lifetime and great to be around people who “get” the holiday and enjoy it. The haunted houses were scary without being oppressive.
Los Angeles has so much this time of year – Disneyland, Six Flags, Knotts Berry Farm, Universal Studios – everyone has a haunted event and there are so many that is sometimes too stressful to hit them all. L.A. is becoming the Halloween capital. Multiple costume shops, every store brings their Halloween merchandise out. All the art house movie theaters are showing nothing but horror films. I have been to a lot of cities and there is just something in their air in L.A. during Halloween.
Q) Do you find yourself religiously-sticking to the rules of Halloween night? If not, which do you usually break?
I think the rules we created are there because those are the ones i stick to – even as kid, I never blew out my jack o lantern – it felt sacrilegious, The candle should go out on its own.
Q) What do you think of the horror film genre? Is it moving in the right direction?
Well, it changes all the time, it’s a constantly evolving genre. It’s a good time for horror because it’s everywhere – tv, film, etc. At the same time, its weird and sad that the only film released this month was a remake. We got Carrie everyone, that’s it. How do the studios not take advantage of the month and release a horror film that “kills it”? In some ways, we are in a golden era for horror. The Conjuring came along and made over a 100 million dollars when tent pole films were crashing all over the place. The Blumhouse films have micro-budgets and did the same thing. Clearly horror is big and it doesn’t cost a lot to produce. The only thing I wish we had was more variety. As much as we are getting, there is still a tendency to stick to the trends. Found footage, remakes, and haunted house movies are all over. We do get some variety but there are multitudes of the same trends. One vampire show isn’t good enough – we need four or five. How many shows or movies do we need where some doe eyed girl has to choose between a vampire and werewolf? The anthology format forces you to be original – you can’t recycle. you can’t write a horror anthology tv series and i think thats what we need more of – lets just slow down on the remakes, guys. I don’t have anything against them [remakes] in principle as there are some really good ones – but I think they [remakes] should be the exception, not the rule.
Peter Jackson put it best when he said that when he grew up, they were inspired by Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and old sci-fi serials. That then led to Star Wars, for example. For his generation, it wasnt about remaking them, it was about being inspired by them and crafting what was influenced by them and was original. George Lucas didn’t make Buck Rogers, he made Star Wars. I think that’s what we need to focus on more – lets be honest it’s [remakes are] lazy.
Q) Is there anything you would like to plug or give a shot out to right now?
Not really, it’s all about the screening on the 28th at the Egyptian. If there you can’t see it there you can on Facebook because the whole event is being streamed live.
We would like to thank both Michael Dougherty and Legendary for making this interview possible!