With co-writing credits on X-Men 2 and Superman Returns on his CV, now Michael Dougherty's making his directorial debut with an anthology of criss-crossing tales linked together by Halloween. As Trick 'R Treat hits DVD today, just in time for this weekend's scary festivities, we chat with Dougherty about spooking it up.
Was there anything in particular that inspired you to make the movie? Were you trying to hark back to a certain type of horror film, perhaps?
I've been obsessed with Halloween and horror movies since I was a kid, especially the "fun house" kind of monster movies where you had an equal share of laughs and scares. Creepshow is obviously a good example, but I'd add Evil Dead, Gremlins and even Poltergeist to that list. We don't get too many movies like that anymore, so I purposely wrote Trick ‘R Treat to help fill that void.
Why did you choose to go down the Pulp Fiction-style multiple story route?
The first draft of the script was more of a traditional anthology with one story following the other, but over time I started to intertwine the stories and their characters. It made things more interesting to see a seemingly minor character from Story A wind up as the villain in Story B, or vice versa. It kept things alive and was also the perfect format for a Halloween movie. It's a big night for me, and whenever I'm at a party or parade, I can't help but wonder what all these different costumed people are experiencing, or how many lives or moments are criss-crossing in weird ways.
The film has picked up lots of positive buzz online. Do you think this is the sort of movie that will thrive on good word of mouth?
Yeah, the word of mouth has been fantastic. Despite not having a major theatrical release or massive marketing budget, the DVD is doing extremely well, and I give full credit to our insane facebook/twitter/texting/myspace era. When the movie hit shelves in the states, it popped into Amazon's Top 3 - doing just as well Transformers 2, Star Trek, Up and other tentpoles, and then quickly became hard to find at stores or even online shops. It still blows my mind. Between our roadshow screenings and great reviews from online journalists, word of mouth has spread like wildfire, and I'm grateful that it's good.
Was there any particular inspiration for nasty burlap pumpkin mask-wearing trick or treater Sam?
When I started digging into the history of the holiday I realized that unlike Christmas, Valentine's Day, or Easter, Halloween didn't have a singular mascot character. It had a lot of familiar characters like witches, ghosts, or vampires, but not a main icon who really represented the holiday properly. Michael Myers was around, but as much as I loved Halloween, he didn't capture the fun, mischievous side of the holiday. He was just terrifying. I wanted a character that was both cute and creepy, and that lead me to Sam.
Sam first popped up in an animated short I did while at NYU called "Season's Greetings". I figured that if Halloween really did have a guardian, he probably wouldn't be some giant hulking demon with fiery eyes and bat wings, he'd just look like a kid - a slightly offbeat kid in dirty pyjamas and mask. Something innocent yet intimidating. It's a disguise that easily lets him roam door to door, making sure we're obeying all the customs and traditions of Halloween.
Sam eventually became my personal Frankenstein creature. After the animated short and early drafts of the script, he kept popping up in my artwork, almost as if he was nagging me to get Trick ‘R Treat made. I hope he's happy now since fans seem to be adopting him as their own.
Are there any particular bases you need to hit when creating a horror baddie?
I'm not sure if there's a secret list of ingredients to creating a horror baddie, but I think it does have to be an organic process. The moment you purposely set out to create the next Michael, Jason, or Freddy, you'll probably fail because people will see right through it. Other than that, I'm not really sure...maybe a snazzy outfit, a fun weapon, and a theme song?
Obviously Anna Paquin’s very much in the public eye now thanks to True Blood. Do you see that as a happy coincidence for your film?
It's a very happy coincidence especially since I love that show to death. So much so that it's hard not to turn into a slobbering fanboy and pick Anna's brain for spoilers whenever I see her. We definitely lucked out since True Blood is similar to Trick ‘R Treat in that it's quirky, offbeat, and doesn't take itself too seriously. So toss in some vampires and a dash of other supernatural creatures and we probably share a decent sized fanbase. They also shot the True Blood pilot at WB while we were cutting Trick ‘R Treat, so it was odd to stare at Anna on my monitor all day with blood dripping from her neck, and then visit her on set where the exactly same thing was going on. Plus she was blonde, which was really weird.
According to IMDb, you were born on Halloween. Is this true, and if so, is Halloween is in your blood?
No, I was actually born on October 28th. My mother hates the holiday and jokes that she purposely squeezed me out to avoid being born on Halloween. Close enough for me.
What’s up next for you? Do you want to make a Trick ‘R Treat 2?
I'm not sure about Trick ‘R Treat 2 yet. We still need to see how this one does, but so far so good, and hopefully it will become a perennial title that people seek out every October. The original concept was to do one every other year, with each film telling a new set of stories that could intertwine with previous instalments, but the one consistent character would be Sam. I definitely have some new ideas and characters that I'd love to develop, even if it's just as a series of annual graphic novels. At the same time I wouldn't mind leaving the film alone. Sequels are difficult and rarely capture the magic of the originals, especially horror sequels. We'll see.
I've definitely been bitten by the directing bug though. It's more stressful and exhausting than screenwriting, but the adrenaline rush you get day to day is fantastic. There's just nothing like it. Unfortunately I can't really talk about the next project much yet. It's not a horror movie, but it involves more monsters. They're just a lot bigger...