How 'Trick 'r Treat' became an underdog Halloween fave
05:00 AM, Oct 28, 2013
He may not have the psycho theatricality of Freddy Krueger or the unstoppable homicidal streak of Jason Voorhees, yet Sam, the masked mischief-maker from Trick ‘r Treat, has found his way into the Halloween hall of fame.
And Trick ‘r Treat itself, the 2009 horror comedy anthology written and directed by Michael Dougherty, has found a way into the pantheon of scary movies, too impressive for an underdog of a film that had little studio support and didn’t even make it to the big screen for a proper release.
The film closes Beyond Fest, but Legendary Entertainment is giving out a treat for the movie’s fans and those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. Beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 PT Monday, the Legendary Facebook page hosts an online screening of Trick ‘r Treat plus a live Q&A from Los Angeles’ Egyptian Theatre that includes Dougherty as well as cast members Brian Cox and Dylan Baker.
“Even the biggest movies, the tentpoles or the award films, they tend to just start to fade away,” Dougherty says. “Making a film that people truly love where they’re watching it over and over again every year, they’re dressing up as your character, they’re tattooing the character on their arm, that doesn’t happen with most movies. It’s a really nice experience.”
Like anthology movies of the 1980s such as Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt, Trick ‘r Treat weaves together four interconnected stories of Halloween, two of which Dougherty wrote in film school, that capture different aspects of the holiday.
One story features a murderous school principal (Baker) who buries his victims in his back yard in what Dougherty calls his mini-Hitchcock film “Norman Bates meets Norman Rockwell,” he says. That shares screen time with another short about kids journeying to a rock quarry to investigate the urban legend of a schoolbus massacre, which was an homage to both The Goonies and Charlie Brown comic strips.
“The kids in that story originally were all named after Peanuts characters there was Sally, Lucy, what have you but Warner Bros. put the kibosh on that really quick,” Dougherty says.
There’s also a tale of young women, including a virgin (Anna Paquin), being stalked by a guy on Halloween night with a twist and the movie’s wrapped up with a crotchety man (Cox) who hates the holiday and runs afoul of the devious Sam, seemingly a trick-or-treater with a costume or orange pajamas and a burlap sack over his head. (Of course, he is something far more sinister.)
Warner Bros. was slated to release Trick ‘r Treat theatrically in October 2007 but pulled it right before because “they didn’t know what to make of it,” Dougherty says.
“At the time, everybody was making torture porn it was all about Hostel and Saw 1 through a million, and most studios follow horror trends, they don’t make them. And this was just a really weird creature for them.”
Legendary found the project initially and co-financed it, and the company snuck Trick ‘r Treat into several film festivals so it “became this very unconventional slow burn,” the director says.
It finally debuted on Blu-ray and DVD in October 2009, and it became part of a new generation of films, horror and otherwise, that went the on-demand or home-video route and showed they weren’t completely reliant upon the traditional theatrical distribution model, according to Dougherty.
“It just goes to show that if you make something good, it will find its audience,” he says. “How it gets out there is kind of irrelevant.”
Even though the movie never won an Academy Award, having Sam rise to icon status might as well be a horror Oscar for Dougherty. In some circles, the little guy’s just as cherished as Leatherface, Freddy, Jason, Ghostface and Chucky.
There’s some nuance to him, too. Sam’s a mythological figure and spirit of Halloween who exacts revenge on anyone who messes with its traditions, yet is playful in a mischievous way and is completely supernatural but could pass for human when walking around your neighborhood.
“There have been many attempts over the years to create the next horror icon and there’s been many attempts to do that in a very crass and commercial way, to force it on people,” Dougherty explains.
“It has to come from the heart and it’s up to the audiences at the end of the day as to when they’re going to nominate your character as the next horror icon.”
Dougherty originally thought it’d be cool to do a new Trick ‘r Treat every year, but for now he’s still “just letting the dust settle on the first one,” he says. A screenwriter on the first X-Men sequel and Superman Returns, he is working now on scripts one a sci-fi story, another with horror elements and directing films with “a playful, dark Amblin feel.”
More immediate, though, is his annual Halloween project around his house, involving resurrecting a graveyard in his front yard and hosting multiple punpkin-carving parties.
“I’m not the most social creature, honestly, but it definitely makes me more outgoing,” says Dougherty, a lifelong Halloween devotee.
He used to have large-scale shindigs, too, but now he just has some pals over and hands out a variety of black robes and masks so they can channel their inner Sam.
“My neighborhood is bombarded with hundreds of trick-or-treaters, and they hit my house of course because I’m the guy with the corpses hanging from the trees,” Dougherty says. “We’ll dress up and just scare the crap out of kids.
“It’s the one night of the year where it’s allowed. The parents get this weird sadistic glee of watching their kids screaming any other day of the year you get your teeth knocked out.”