For the next week we’re partnering with FEARnet to celebrate Trick 'r Treat, one of the best anthology horror films of all time. FEARnet is going to be showing Trick 'r Treat for 24 straight hours on Halloween, making it the ideal choice to keep on when you’re entertaining trick or treaters, your costume party guests or the vengeful dead. The Trick ‘r Treat 24-Hour Marathon starts Thursday, October 31 at 6AM ET.
Note: this interview took place just a few hours before Legendary and Dougherty announced the sequel to Trick 'r Treat!
Happy birthday! You have quite a celebration planned tonight with the screening at Beyond Fest. Can you talk a little bit about what’s in store?
Thank you! I’m still collecting my breath, it’s kind of amazing. I mean, it’s really neat. Legendary called up and said that they have obviously been paying attention to all the fans who have been supporting Trick ‘r Treat over the years and they thought, well, why not give it a great homecoming, put on an official screening at the Egyptian, which is probably one of my all-time favorite venues. Ever since I started living in L.A., it’s the theatre that you always rely on to resurrect a lot of classic films. So we’re having the screening there, and they’re decorating the courtyard and bringing the cast back together. It has a really fun vibe to it, and then they said, oh, we’re going to do it on the 28th, so it’s kind of doubling as an unofficial birthday celebration, too.
Tell us about the conceptualization of the film and Sam as a character.
I grew up just loving Halloween, period. It was close to my birthday, which I think makes it a little extra special, but I clearly remember the day where I learned about what Halloween was – and as a kid, that just blows your mind. But I remember the neighbor kids next door – I was probably only three or four at the time – but I remember them knocking on my door, and they were all wearing costumes, and I was so confused and amazed. And they were kind of wearing those plastic, shitty Star Wars costumes they used to make back in the ‘70s, and they were basically just plastic jumpers with a plastic mask that was impossible to see or breathe out of, and my parents just quickly explained, “Oh this is Halloween, you can dress up as whatever character you want and get candy,” and I was just so happy about this idea. It felt like a holiday that was almost designed for kids, only to then get older and realize that Halloween goes back thousands of years and it’s an actual pagan holiday with some very dark origins. And as I got older, I thought, “Well, this is some really great fodder for a horror film.” Obviously we have John Carpenter’s movie, which was massively inspiring and one of my all-time favorites, but what I felt was missing was sort of a companion piece to Carpenter’s film which really delved into the ancient legends and the lore, but also something that embodied the fun and mischievous sides of the holiday, which is where Sam came from. To me, Sam isn’t entirely creepy, he isn’t entirely cute, he’s kind of somewhere in the middle. And I thought it’s that kind of personality that really goes well with the holiday, because the holiday really is this sort of contrast of ideas.
Yeah, Trick ‘r Treat really filled a vacuum for horror fans who just love the spirit and the imagery and the tone of Halloween. What was your approach for capturing the spirit of the holiday so perfectly?
I feel like I’ve just been absorbing the holiday so much as I’ve grown up. I went from being a little kid who trick or treats, then I worked in a costume shop for like three years in high school, so obviously the holiday was really important to that store, but I’ve just kind of been a connoisseur of the holiday. I feel like I’ve really tried to pinpoint what it is that we all respond to in the different ages. If you look at the film, it kind of embodies what Halloween is like to different age groups. You have the five-year-old kid who’s carving the jack-o-lantern with his dad, you’ve got the twelve-year-olds who are out trick or treating without their parents and turning into little assholes who want to pull pranks. But then there’s the twenty-something girls where Halloween and sex start to get intertwined, and you have the Ebenezer Scrooge kind of character who’s given up on the holiday. And I felt like the anthology format sort of lent itself to exploring what Halloween means to different groups of people.
For the first couple of years Trick ‘r Treat was nearly impossible to find – now it’s like the Christmas Story of Halloween, with a 24-hour-marathon every year and fan screenings and tattoos and costumes – did you always suspect it had the potential for this sort of cult following?
I crossed my fingers and wished for it. I never expected it to be this overwhelmingly positive, I guess. I felt it had the potential, but you just never know how a film’s going to be received, and I definitely didn’t expect it when we sort of hit the speed bumps that we did along the way. But at the same time, there was always part of me that believed that it was going to happen. But again, I never imagined galleries of people with tattoos of Sam on their bodies. [laughs] That one caught me off guard. And I think it’s the rise of social media and Video On Demand, and all these sort of alternative methods of sharing a movie with each other that really allowed it to take off, and that’s been fantastic. You can just type in “Trick ‘r Treat” on Deviant Art or Tumblr or Instagram or whatever and then be flooded with literally hundreds of different people who have made their own costumes, who have drawn their own artwork or gotten tattoos. That’s the kind of stuff a filmmaker dreams of.
Horror anthologies are often really great or really terrible. What do you think makes a great horror anthology?
Balance, definitely. I think the stories have to work well together and they have to work well apart. You know, the anthologies that we love, every story is a little bit different than the other. And I was very intent on doing that with Trick ‘r Treat, trying to make sure that yes, they all had Halloween as the common thread, and the characters sort of crisscross over into each other’s stories, but each one is different in terms of the kind of horror story it is. Like I look at the Dylan Baker story as being a miniature Hitchcock film. It’s just a very simple tale of a guy trying to bury a body in his backyard and the sort of obstacles he experiences along the way. And that one definitely has a little bit more slapstick to it. Then the story with the kids going trick or treating, that’s more of a classic ghost story, complete with the flashback and the story being told amongst the kids. And then something like the story with Sam and Brian Cox was meant to be just a very straightforward horror piece – you know, there’s something in the house, and it’s hunting you. It relies much more on suspense than anything else.
You talked about this a little – you fit in a lot of great Halloween standards in the first film, with the bah humbug character and the girls in sexy costumes and the poisoned candy. If you were to do a sequel, are there any sort of standard Halloween tropes that didn’t make it in the first film that you’d like to include?
Yeah, there’s a long list of Halloween icons that we haven’t gotten around to yet. You know, I wanted to have a story set in a pumpkin patch, and didn’t get to do it, or cornfields. Witches, ghosts, the list goes on and on of things that are really iconic for the holiday, but we could only fit so much in the first film, so if we’re lucky enough to get a second film, maybe we can start to expand that a little bit.
What was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?
As a kid, I had a pretty classic skeleton costume that, for whatever reason I still have fond memories of. Probably because it was my first one. But it was a very simple thing that my mom made, which probably had something else to do with it.
What plans do you have for Sam in the future?
Well, I think Sam’s going to take a break for a little bit. I’m that guy who’s still a bit down on November 1st because that month-long culmination of monsters and witches has to go away for a year. I’m still just blown away by how much the film continues to grow year after year, whereas most movies have the opposite trajectory. Most movies come out and there’s a big splash for a week or two if you’re lucky, and then they just sort of stay away until they plateau on DVD. This film continues to grow year after year, and so I’m still sort of taking that in. And then eventually I’ll sit down with Sam again and we’ll plot out another adventure.
I know I'm not alone in feeling thrilled that "eventually" is more like "nowish" - although no release date has been confirmed, the sequel is definitely happening, and I'm happy to wait as long as necessary to get the second chapter Sam so richly deserves!