Born just days before Halloween, filmmaker Michael Dougherty has always had an affinity for the spooky holiday. After breaking into the business by co-writing X2: X-Men United, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary and Superman Returns with Dan Harris, Michael Dougherty set out on his own to make his directorial debut with the horror anthology Trick 'r Treat, long before the format was back en vogue. Despite getting rave reviews from the festival circuit in 2007 and 2008, Warner Bros. decided to forgo a theatrical release, instead debuting it on DVD back in 2009. It became an immediate cult classic, with some starting annual traditions of watching Trick 'r Treat every year on October 31.
Trick 'r Treat tells four separate stories, all set on Halloween night in the same town, as it's revealed how each of these completely different characters' stories are connected to one another. Lurking in the shadows for each of these tales is Sam, a tiny creature that somewhat resembles a young boy, although he has a bizarre burlap sack covering his face. As these stories unfold, Sam is there to protect the customs and traditions of Halloween, by any means necessary.
The filmmaker revealed at Comic Con 2013 that Trick 'r Treat 2 is happening, although the project was placed on the back burner after he took on Krampus, which hits theaters December 4. While we haven't heard much about it over the past two years, Michael Dougherty reiterated last month that the follow-up is still happening, although it still could be quite some time before it hits theaters. Thankfully, fans of the now-infamous Sam have something to tide them over, with the wonderful graphic novel Trick 'r Treat: Days of the Dead, which the filmmaker co-wrote with Marc Andreyko and his Krampus co-writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields.
Like the original movie, the graphic novel consists of four stories, all set on Halloween, but they all take place in completely different time periods. The first story centers on old-world lovers whose romance takes a chilling turn, and the second follows Western pioneers who discover the dark side of the frontier. The third chilling tale takes place in 1950s Los Angeles for a tale of pure horror noir, while the final story goes into the heart of small-town America to see some pranksters taught a lesson they'll never forget. I recently had a chance to speak with Michael Dougherty about the graphic novel, which is currently available now, the original movie, Trick 'r Treat 2, Krampus his return to the superhero genre in X-Men: Apocalypse and much more. Take a look at our conversation below.
I remember when I first saw the original movie, the way that these stories are connected reminded me of Pulp Fiction, in a way. On the title page of the Pulp Fiction script, it says "Three stories about one story." Did Pulp Fiction have any type of influence regarding how you had these stories connected to each other, or were you more inspired by the classic horror anthologies?
Michael Dougherty: No, it wasn't really Pulp Fiction that inspired the structure. Originally, the structure of the first film was much more traditional. It was really like Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow, in that it was one story after the other. It was just through cutting the film that we realized that format, as charming and beloved as it is, it made this film feel really slow. Every time a story starts, and finishes, and then another one starts, your brain has to reset. By intercutting all of the stories, it creating a better pace. Actually, I take that back, I'm sorry. There were drafts of the script, before we shot, that did have the intertwining story aspect. I almost forgot that. The major decision though was after we were editing, when we decided on that structure.
Right now, horror anthologies are much more popular than they were when Trick 'r Treat came out. Did pitching that format prove to be difficult on some level, or was the studio on board with that?
Michael Dougherty: Yeah, it's funny how that works out. At the time when I was trying to get it going, the anthology format was dead. Nobody wanted to touch it with a 10-foot pole. It was considered old-fashioned. I did try to get it going as a TV project, and years as a film project. I had dozens of doors slammed in my face, and was told time and time again that anthologies don't work. Finally getting to make it and have it succeed, proves all those people were wrong, and that feels great, and now anthologies are becoming a fad again. I think I just read on Friday about Amazing Stories getting resurrected. So, I can't help but think we played some sort of part in that.
As far as the individual ideas for each story, were these all kernels of ideas you had for different projects, or did you come up with them as relating to Sam?
Michael Dougherty: Initially, I had taken two short stories I had written in college, the Anna Paquin werewolf story and Dylan Baker's story about burying the body in the backyard. Those were both short stories in college. When I decided to turn it into a feature spec script, I then wrote an additional two stories, took all four of them, and started intertwining them.
Moving on to the graphic novel, I had the chance to read this and I was a big fan of this as well. Around what time had you thought of putting this together in this format?
Michael Dougherty: It was shortly after we announced the Trick 'r Treat sequel. Legendary expressed interest in really expanding the myth and the back story of the Trick 'r Treat universe. They asked if I had any interest in the graphic novel format, and the answer was a very quick yes. I grew up reading horror comics, in addition to superhero comics, and the first film was very much inspired by those creepy and eerie DC Comics of yesteryear, so it seemed really appropriate to go full circle and craft a new batch of stories, with that format in mind.
In the movie, the stories are all the same day in the same town, but here you have completely different time periods and settings for each story. Was that important for you to show how Sam has been there, throughout the ages?
Michael Dougherty: Yeah. The films are low to moderate budget, so you can only get away with a certain scale and scope of story, in the movies. In the comics, you don't have those limitations. You can hop around from 17th Century Ireland to 1950s Los Angeles, without spending a dime (Laughs). It was an opportunity to peel back the layers of the myth we are trying to create, and really show how far back the holiday goes. But, again, without revealing too much about Sam himself. I wanted to make sure that Sam remained in the shadows as much as possible, and it was really about these other characters experiencing what really happens on Halloween, and then occasionally crossing paths with Sam. But I didn't want to make the mistake of revealing too much about the character himself.
All of these stories are fascinating, by I personally was drawn the most to Corn Maiden. I saw there are several different iterations of this Corn Maiden legend in a bunch of different Indian tribes. What drew you to that character, and telling a different version of that story?
Michael Dougherty: I found it fascinating that a Native American myth could fall so easily into the Halloween holiday. There was a character that seemed to sort of fit within that same folklore magic that Halloween also represents. Part of what the story represents is also the common thread that magic plays in a lot of different belief systems, and Halloween representing that magic. For the sake of the story, showing how these two characters, who seem to come from very different worlds, have very similar belief systems. To me, that's really why the Corn Maiden ended up in the novel.
You co-wrote the graphic novel with Marc Andreyko and his Krampus co-writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields. Can you talk about how the writing process for a graphic novel like this differs from putting a screenplay together?
Michael Dougherty: It was more fun. I think it's always more fun to go trick-or-treating with friends. It doesn't take as much work to write as partners. It's sort of like having a workout buddy, everybody keeps each other in shape and motivated. It's just always more fun to collaborate, whether it be making a film or writing or what have you, it's just a good excuse to hang out with friends and play along with monsters.
Each of these stories has a very different look and style of drawing. Was it tricky to find a way to draw these four separate stories that varied from one story to the next?
Michael Dougherty: No, that was the fun of it. Again, it's sort of paying homage to the horror comics of yesteryear. Something that always struck me as a kid, when I read those, is how different they looked, that each artist brought a style that worked with each particular story. I just thought, why not see what artists best fit each story and each character. I just find it more interesting than one artist throughout the book.
I saw in the announcement for the graphic novel that this may actually tie in to the movie sequel. Is there anything you can say about that? Will there be some sort of connection between these stories and what we'll see in Trick 'r Treat 2?
Michael Dougherty: Ideally, yes. There will be some loose threads and ties to these books, as well as the first film. It's nothing that you have to read the books in order to enjoy the sequel. I think that would be a mistake, but if you have read the book, it will only enrich the experience you're having while watching the movie.
You also have a Krampus graphic novel coming out. Does it tie in to the movie in a similar way as this project?
Michael Dougherty: It's similar to the Trick 'r Treat book. You don't have to read the Krampus book to enjoy the film, it just simply helps to fill in some blanks. The Krampus movie really focuses on one family's experiences with the character, and the havoc that he brings, whereas the comic book shows what happened to other people who live in that town. Because, really, it's the whole town that's seized by Krampus and his minions. So the book shows you the same event, from the point of view of other characters in the same town.
You came back into the X-Men world to write X-Men: Apocalypse with Dan and Bryan. Can you talk about what that experience was like, working on what might be one of the final X-Men movies?
Michael Dougherty: I don't think Fox will ever stop making X-Men movies (Laughs), as long as people keep showing up to see them.
The final one in this series, I meant.
Michael Dougherty: Yeah, we'll see. It definitely leaves you in a place for stories. It definitely sets you up with more stories. But going back to X-Men is fantastic. Working on X-Men movies makes you feel like one of the X-Men, because it's such a massive team effort, and everyone who works on the films brings something special and unique them, in the same way that, in the X-Men universe, everyone has a different power that helps out on a mission. It's a very similar situation. (Director) Bryan was very gracious in bringing back Dan Harris, myself, and then asking us to work with Simon Kinberg, who has really been carrying the X-Men torch for the past couple of years. He really assembled a new team. He's sort of the Professor X of the group, I feel, and together, we help shape the story for X-Men: Apocalypse. It's so great. It's a different set of muscles, when you work on an X-Men film, compared to writing and directing Krampus or Trick 'r Treat. It's a different set of characters. It's a lot of fun and it's a lot of hard work, but it's very rewarding, because you really feel like you're part of a well-oiled machine.
Were you on set at all for any rewrites during the production?
Michael Dougherty: No, I was in Krampus land the whole time. I visited X-Men: Days of Future Past when they shot that one, but on X-Men: Apocalypse, the schedules didn't allow it, unfortunately. I was dying to go, but by the time they finished shooting, I was in the editing room in my movie, so it didn't work out.
You say in the introduction to the graphic novel that you hope to move forward with Trick 'r Treat 2. Is there anything in place yet for that, or at you kind of at the whim of the studio at this point?
Michael Dougherty: I think we're at the whim of Sam (Laughs). The Trick 'r Treat 2 script has yet to be written, so there's no set timeline, and I don't think anybody wants to rush it. As much as people are chomping at the bit for a sequel, I don't think anybody wants a bad sequel. This is something that we want to get right, and that means not rushing it.
Is there anything else you have in development that you can talk about
Michael Dougherty: Nothing else at the moment. It's just been all eyes on Krampus, for the past two years. Pretty much, my life is Christmas, Halloween and X-Men, which is a pretty great combination (Laughs). You can't go wrong when your life consists of mutants and monsters. You've done well.
Michael Dougherty's graphic novel Trick 'r Treat: Days of the Dead is currently available now through Legendary Comics, with his new film Krampus hitting theaters on December 4. The graphic novel Krampus: Shadow of Saint Nicholas will be released November 24, also via Legendary Comics, both of which could make the perfect stocking stuffer for the horror fan on your list. Be sure to stay tuned for more on Trick 'r Treat 2 and Krampus.