‘Trick ‘R Treat’ director Michael Dougherty on cult horror, Halloween

Oct. 28, 2013 | 6:01 p.m.
A scene from "Trick 'R Treat." (Legendary)

A scene from “Trick ‘R Treat.” (Legendary)

The 2007 Halloween anthology “Trick ‘R Treat” is one of those underground cinematic favorites that has earned a more sizable following with each passing year, and on Monday, the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood plays host to a sold-out screening of the movie, followed by a Q&A with actors Dylan Baker and Brian Cox and the film’s writer-director, Michael Dougherty.

Fans without tickets to the event can watch a live stream on Legendary Pictures’ Facebook page.

Hero Complex caught up recently with Dougherty, who also wrote the screenplays for Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” sequel “X2″ and superhero outing “Superman Returns,” to chat about “Trick ‘R Treat’s” cult status and why it’s attained the longevity that it has.

Hero Complex: “Trick ‘R Treat” has become a Halloween standard. This year, FearNet is even playing the movie around the clock. What was your reaction to the news of the marathon?

Michael Dougherty: I was shocked. I mean, there’s only a few movies that they ever do that with. You have “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and oddly enough “King Kong,” which when I was a kid was shown all day long. To have that kind of reward, that means more to me than any sort of gold statue or $200 million box-office milestone. To have your movie embraced and loved like that — that’s a dream.

HC: What makes a good cult film?

MD: I think it’s different for every cult film. I think what makes this movie work is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It goes against the popular horror trends. It was written at the time of all of the “Scream” knockoffs, “I Know what You did Last Summer” and “Urban Legend” — all about five pretty teenagers all getting killed off one by one in creative ways. When I first wrote it, the studios said, “Oh, this has werewolves and vampires and zombies. It’s so old-fashioned. nobody wants to see that stuff.” Flash forward 10 years later, it’s everywhere you look. Vampires, werewolves and zombies.

Michael Dougherty (Courtesy of Michael dougherty)

Michael Dougherty (Courtesy of Michael Dougherty)

HC: How has the cult success of “Trick ‘R Treat” affected you?

MD: It’s insanely satisfying and rewarding because this film did have such a difficult path and it was such an underdog. It makes it harder for me because it’s an extremely personal film, as weird as that might sound when talking about a horror film. This wasn’t just some project developed by the studio and I was hired on to direct it. This started off as an animated short back in 1996 that I did. I’d always wanted to make the next great Halloween movie because I grew up watching [John] Carpenter’s film [“Halloween”] on repeat when I was a kid. I felt like it needed a companion piece that was a bit lighter because that’s such a straight-on suspense/slasher film. To me, Halloween was always meant to be sort of playful and mischievous and darkly comical.

It was just so many ups and downs [making “Trick ‘R Treat”] that it started to get me down and make me a bit cynical about the industry. But it’s great now because the film has had this really cool slow burn, unlike most movies which just fade after a year. This has had the opposite trajectory, where more and more people are discovering it and telling their friends and they have parties to get together to watch it. It’s like passing around “The Ring” tape. Most films — the tentpoles and the awards films — they come out, have their moment and make their money, then they settle into life on the home video shelf. To make a film that people revisit year after year — that’s harder to accomplish, I think, than all the other sort of measurements of success.

HC: What are your thoughts on contemporary horror?

MD: I think we’re in a horror renaissance. Between all the films that come out and the stuff that we have on TV, I think that no matter what kind of horror you like, you’ll find. If you want your darker, harder, edgier stuff, it’s there. If you want your more tongue-in-cheek, playful stuff, you’ve got “True Blood.” “American Horror Story” is doing a great job of slowly opening people up to the idea that a horror TV show can reboot itself each season, and there’s some great international stuff coming out of Japan and out of Korea. My only hesitation is that it’s still about following trends versus coming up with new stuff, so it’s still dominated by a lot of copycats.  Whether it’s found footage or remakes or vampires/werewolves/zombies, it’s still getting a little bit repetitive. I think we can do better in terms of shaking it up a bit.

That’s why I want to bring the anthology back. They’re a good shot of creative ideas. There was a golden era of anthologies during the “Twilight Zone” era, but also in the ’80s when we had “Twilight Zone,” “Amazing Stories,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Tales From the Darkside,” “Tales From the Crypt” … the list goes on and on. I think that was a better time for writers, producers, directors and actors because it was a chance to just be original. Whereas if we keep sticking to the same trend, there is that danger that horror could implode again.

– Jevon Phillips

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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