'Trick 'r Treat' Turns 15-ish: Writer-Director Michael Dougherty Reflects on the Halloween Cult Classic

Earlier this month I had the geeky pleasure of attending a screening of Trick 'r Treat at the Landmark Westwood, part of Scary Perri's Horror Series, hosted by Collider's Perri Nemiroff. The film, starring Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and Dylan Baker, was released to little fanfare in the late 00s but has grown a strong fanbase over the years. Sam, the mysterious, child-like figure who acts as the narrative thread throughout the movie's four distinct storylines, has become a popular Halloween mascot, popping up in costume shops and holiday decorations throughout the past decade. 

The movie infamously went through development hell and experienced a bizarre and sporadic theatrical release, starting with a 2007 screening at Harry Knowles's Butt-Numb-a-Thon film festival in Austin and continuing at other events like LA's Screamfest, where I saw the movie for the first time in 2008. (It finally came out on DVD and Blu-ray in 2009.) Why it never received proper distribution from Warner Bros. has been debated and discussed ever since.

After the screening, journalist Perri Nemiroff sat down with the film's writer-director, Michael Dougherty (Superman Returns, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), for a Q&A that covered lots of behind-the-scenes tidbits while attempting to satisfy fan speculation about its sequel.

Warning: the following contains plot spoilers.

1. Trick 'r Treat was intended to be an anthology. "In the original draft," Dougherty said, "the stories were completely self-contained...There weren't even that many overlapping, intertwining moments, because what I had done was take four short stories I had written in college and sort of mashed them up...The original was much more of a traditional anthology."

2. Sam was originally a cartoon. The movie's central villain started as a character in an animated short Dougherty created called Season's Greetings. "All hand-drawn, old-school, cell animation. No computers were involved." For the movie, he "sprinkled him in, like the Cryptkeeper." 

3. The rock quarry story originally took place in a cemetery. "The original ending was: you found out that the group of kids lured the one girl to the cemetery to play Ghost in the Graveyard," Dougherty explained, "only to find out that they lured here there because she was actually dead and she forgot that she was dead. It's not a terrible twist, but this was coming on the heels of The Sixth Sense and The Others, and so I realized that the twist of 'Surprise! You're really dead!' was sort of a trope at that point."

4. The werewolf pack wasn't originally all-female. "It was a co-ed pack, male and female," the writer-director revealed. "But I thought it would be way more interesting...because you never see female werewolves, hardly ever, you know, outside of like Ginger Snaps. Female werewolves are just an anomaly."

5. Dougherty wasn't originally attached to direct. Stan Winston, Tobe Hooper, George Romero, and Halloween helmer himself John Carpenter were all in the running to take on each of the movie's four vignettes. Carpenter needed some convincing though. "I had to go to The Egyptian, and he was doing a screening of The Thing," Dougherty recalls, "and we had the same agent, and the agent said, 'Okay, well, you have to go meet with Carpenter while the movie's running and talk to him about your script. And I'm just trembling, terrified. It's like 'Go meet with God and convince him to work with you.'" 

6. Dead on Arrival: Dougherty eventually assembled "the Avengers of horror directors, and nobody in town wanted to buy it. Like every studio passed on it. Not every studio, but I remember one key note we got was, 'Nobody wants to see vampires, werewolves, or zombies because they're too old-fashioned.'"

7. The Dawn of a New Halloween Icon. "I just got back from Salem, Massachusetts for the first time," Dougherty said, "and I'm walking around and talking to somebody on the phone, and I turn around and I see Michael Myers and Sam get out of a car together and then hold hands along down the down the street."

8. Sam Unmasked! The writer-director described the figure's scary face as "a mashup between a pumpkin and a baby skull. Baby skulls are so cute!"

9. No one knows Sam's origin story. When asked if Sam is immortal (Could anything kill him?), the director wouldn't answer. "Leaning towards immortal," he finally said. "Actually one thing I'll give you: I like to think that...in my mind, he dies every November 1, but with the help of certain others, certain seeds or guts are retained so that he grows back every October."

10. Get on the bus! Two versions of the shortbus in the Halloween School Bus Massacre storyline were used. An actual bus was shot driving into the rock quarry and going over the cliff, but a miniature was used in the seamless shot in which the bus appears to sink in the water. "That miniature is on display at the Mystic Museum in Burbank if you want to see it," Dougherty offered. 

11. Rain, rain, go away: Shooting the movie in Vancouver in late fall and early winter, its wettest season, was a challenge, especially when the script called for a sunny autumn day during the School Bus Massacre vignette, but some unexpected magic happened. "Out of the blue," Dougherty remembers, "the skies cleared, the sun came out, and we got to shoot everything. And then I called 'cut,' and it started raining again."

12. Brian Cox had one request for his character. The Succession actor asked that he physically resemble the filmmaker who introduced Michael Myers to the world. "He saw it (the movie), rightfully, as sort of in the tradition of Halloween, like he knew that there would be no Trick 'r Treat if it wasn't for John Carpenter. So I think he wanted to pay tribute to the master, so he went off to work with a make-up artist to come up with a hook nose and a scar and scraggily hair and all of that. And then he learned to regret it because it took him hours to apply all that stuff, and so when we finally wrapped him, he literally reached up and started ripping the fake skin off of his face saying 'Never again! Never again!' 

13. The sequel is...on its way? "What I'll say is this," Dougherty started. "The sequel is in active development with Legendary. I'll go so far as to say that we have several drafts of a script. I brought back the same storyboard artist...and a good stack of concept art as well. So, it's inching along. Hoping to talk to Legendary. They've been wonderful, like great collaborators, but so much of it is timing, and as you know, we just got out of a strike, so the next step, fingers crossed, would be looking at budget, scheduling, and all the rest. But we have a really, really great script for a sequel."



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