New York City is my beloved home sweet home, but right now, I’m very jealous of anyone living in the Los Angeles area because on Monday, October 28th, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat will screen at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
After hitting a slew of film festivals and playing theatrically in New York and Los Angeles in October of 2009, Trick ‘r Treat has become a cherished cult classic. The film is a horror anthology comprised of four Halloween-themed storylines and one now iconic little villain, Sam, a tiny trick-or-treater with something else on his agenda besides collecting candy.
Not only will Legendary Pictures close out Beyond Fest with a screening of Trick ‘r Treat, but the company has also arranged a cast and crew panel featuring Dougherty and stars Dylan Baker (Spider-Man 2), Anna Paquin (True Blood), Leslie Bibb (Hell Baby) and Brian Cox (RED). Even better, for those of you who don’t reside in LA, all isn’t lost because Legendary will also broadcast the entire event live on their Facebook page.
Abating the disappointment of not being able to catch the event in the flesh further is the fact that Screen Rant got the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane with Dougherty and discuss casting Sam, hurling a bus over a cliff, and more. Check out our full chat with the Trick ‘r Treat writer-director below and, whether you’re in Los Angeles or not, catch the screening and Q&A on October 28th right here on Legendry’s Facebook page.
Warning: If you haven’t seen Trick ‘r Treat, there are some plot spoilers below.
I loved this movie on the first watch, but grew to love and appreciate it more and more the more I watched it. Did you consider the film’s re-watch value while you were making it?
Michael Dougherty: Yeah, that was the intent, actually. I purposely layered stuff throughout the movie to kind of reward you for paying attention. So, whether you’re tracking the journey of a candy bar from one person to the next or the journey of a jack-o’-lantern from one person to the next, or keeping an eye on the background, you’ll see certain things play out with repeat viewings. I love doing that.
What about the timelessness of the material? You shot this in 2006 I believe, but the material doesn’t feel dated in the least. Was that deliberate?
Yeah, I like to take the approach of making things purposely timeless by avoiding certain technology, avoiding slang. If you’re gonna use source music, use something that you know is gonna have classic appeal. It’s easier to make a movie dated by using too much pop culture or using too much contemporary technology, and by avoiding a lot of that stuff, I think you give yourself the advantage of giving it that timeless feel.
What sparked the idea for the film? Was there any one particular character or scenario that kicked the whole thing off for you?
It was Sam. [Laughs] It always goes back to Sam. The original inspiration is that I am obsessed with Halloween as a cultural event, as a holiday, as a weirdly dark ancient holiday with genuinely sinister, strange roots, and that all got embodied in Sam. He was part of an animated short film that I did at NYU way back in 1996, which was completely hand drawn and painted, you know, old school animation style. And even back then, I remember working on the short thinking it would be neat if I could turn this character into a feature film some day. But of course back then I figured that was just a pipe dream. But yeah, Sam was the origin point and he just continued to kind of pop up over the years in my greeting cards, I’m working on a script he’d show up in the margins, so he’s been with me for a very long time.
What exactly is Sam? Even after many viewings, you can’t pinpoint his origins or even what type of creature he can be classified as.
I think that’s the fun thing about him. I think when it comes to making a movie monster, ambiguity is actually a good thing. We don’t know what Michael Myers really is. He’s not just a psychopath, he can take 20 bullets and get back up. Same thing with Jason, Pinhead. The more you explain about your creature, the less mystery you have and then he’s less frightening. And I’ve kind of enjoyed hearing about people’s interpretations and theories about who and what he is. But, you can sum him up very simply; he’s the spirit of Halloween incarnate.
What about casting the role of Sam? How do you audition someone for that kind of part?
It was hilarious! We had kids come in and there was no dialogue for him obviously, so I was sort of looking for body language, physical presence and just being able to take direction. We saw a lot of really good kids, but one kid came in named Quinn Lord and, you know, I had kids pretend to hide under a bed, pretend you’re jumping up to scare someone. Quinn did really great and then goes, ‘I have another idea for you.’ I say, ‘Okay, what is that?’ He goes, ‘It’s Sam and his kitten.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, show me Sam and his kitten.’ And he turned into like this little monster with this little voice. I wonder if we still have the audition actually. And he started like snarling and hissing and going, ‘Nice kitty,’ and he pretended to grab the cat and pick it up and walk away with it. It was it. That was the character. There was something so innocent and sinister about it at the same time, it just captured it. We all just looked at each other in the room and that’s the kid.
How was it getting a performance like that and then having to cover Quinn’s face with a mask?
He did great! He wore a full-on animatronic foam rubber latex mask and then on top of that he would wear the burlap mask at times, and he did phenomenal. I think he was only eight or nine at the time. He was a really, really rare trooper.
How’d his parents handle all of this? When you cast a kid, you’re casting the parents in a way, too.
Oh, they loved it. They would show up on set and tell me, ‘Yeah, he never breaks character at home. Thanks a lot.’ [Laughs]
What about the kids on the bus? Do you just go up to actors and say, ‘I’ve got this great role for you, but we’re not gonna see your face?’
[Laughs] Kind of. That one was really interesting too because some of the school bus kids in their zombie form, they were missing limbs and things like that, so we actually went and auditioned a lot of different people who were physically disfigured. We had amputees, we had a lot of really interesting people come in. They were awesome and they didn’t mind. They actually formed their own little community, like a tight-knit group of school bus kids hanging out all the time.
What about the assortment of masks in that scene? Was there any trial and error or mixing and matching to find the right ones?
Yeah, lots of that. I would almost sort of audition the masks. We kind of pinpointed the ones that we knew we wanted, but would have the actors come in, wear different masks, swap them around, see how they looked together as a group. But design is really important to me. It’s not just a matter of throwing scary stuff together. I come from an animation and illustration background, so the overall color scheme and design of them, and how they work together was really important.
You’ve got this really long take where the masks pop up and the water is bubbling up around them. It may sound simple, but how was it choreographing that on set?
We had a really, really good special effects guy named Bob Comer who was excellent at rigging these things and timing them with the camera. That whole sequence was a combination old school effects and new school. We had a miniature for the image of the bus actually sinking in the water, but for the first half of the shot where the bus goes over the cliff, that was a full-sized actual school bus that we threw over a cliff. And so we married a live-action, full-sized school bus with a miniature school bus sinking into the water with a digital matte painting in the background. And then for the shot that you’re talking about with the masks, we had the masks weighted underneath the water and the special effects guys would just trigger the masks to float up with the bubbles when the camera would pass over certain areas. It was beautifully timed.
I’ve always envisioned this as a relatively low budget production, but now that you tell me you threw a real school bus over a cliff, it makes me wonder. What budget range were you working with to make something like that happen?
It was $12 million. It’s still very cheap by Hollywood comparisons.
Are there any other really outrageous tactics you used to make something look real to the audience?
The vomit scene, that was an experience. We had gallons of fake, edible blood mixed with actual chocolate with chunky bits of stuff in it. It was all about trying to achieve the right consistency. And I think that was like the second day of shooting which was hilarious.
Is that all done with a tube?
We had a tube rigged behind him and then depending on what side we were shooting him from, we would move the tube and then we would digitally remove the tube if it ever showed up in our shot.
Good thing for that, but at some points some of that stuff is actually dribbling out of his mouth and I just can’t stop thinking about what he must be tasting!
[Laughs] He said it actually tasted kind of good!
Where there any segments or characters that you came up with that didn’t make it into the film?
We had another kid in the rock quarry school bus sequence. Originally all the kids were named after the Peanuts. At one point it was Patty and Lucy, we didn’t have Linus, but Chuck, and it was just a not-so-subtle nod to Peanuts. So there was ghost named Franklin.
And now, I’ve got to ask because it seems like a no-brainer; why haven’t we seen a Trick ‘r Treat 2?
I know, I know. That’s just something that maybe – I don’t know. I’m just not thinking about [it] that much right now. I’m still sort of getting over this movie and still kind of enjoying the way it’s grown over the years and am really psyched for the screening on the 28th because I think that’ll be a really great way to introduce it to a whole new audience. But yeah, if there’s enough momentum down the road, who knows?
What about Sam? Have you done anything new with him recently, even if it’s just for fun in your free time?
Yeah, he still pops up in my scripts, he still pops up in the margins. We did a bunch of shorts with FEARnet last year because they’re showing the movie on a 24 hour loop on Halloween. It’s like their third year doing it. So we made a whole bunch of sort of little promos where Sam invaded other holidays. We did Easter, Father’s Day, back to school, Christmas. They’re out there. They’re on FEARnet’s YouTube page. They’re like mini sequels.
To wrap up, because you clearly know how to celebrate Halloween, what do you have planned for the holiday this year?
I’m going to scare the crap out of trick-or-treaters. It’s become a tradition. I’ve had a lot of parties in the past and I’ve just sort of had to put those on hold for now because they’re just so much work, but I’d like to have a very small-ish get-together. My neighborhood is bombarded by hundreds of trick-or-treaters, so my whole front yard becomes a cemetery that they have to walk through to get their candy. It’s fun to make their Halloween memorable.
There will be a few surprises and announcements at the pre-Halloween screening so stay tuned into Screen Rant for more on Trick ‘r Treat!
Trick ‘r Treat is available to own on DVD, Blu-ray and digitally.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.