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These Weird Four Seasons of Halloween

October 14th, 2009 · 8 Comments

Trick 'r Treat, 2009 poster Trick 'r Treat DVD

Trick ‘r Treat (2009)
Written by Michael Dougherty
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Produced by Legendary Pictures/ Bad Hat Harry Productions
Running time: 82 minutes

So, What’s This About?
In “Warren Valley, Ohio” on Halloween Night, a Yuppie couple (Leslie Bibb, Tahmoh Penikett) are paid a visit by a demonic trick ‘r treater with a burlap sack for a head. In the first of four tongue-in-cheek horror tales to follow, a junior high school principal (Dylan Baker) poisons an obnoxious candy seeker and attempts to dispose of the body before his young son finds out. Three sexually aggressive party seekers (Lauren Lee Smith, Moneca Delain, Rochelle Aytes) get separated from their more precocious friend Laurie (Anna Paquin). Costumed as Little Red Riding Hood, she soon draws the attention of a psycho killer dressed in black.

Four adolescent trick ‘r treaters (Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Alberto Ghisi, Jean-Luc Bilodeau) let an outcast named Rhonda (Samm Todd) join their expedition to the local quarry. The trick ‘r treaters intend to make an offering of eight pumpkins to the eight children who as legend has it were driven off the quarry by a homicidal bus driver; their ceremony does not go as planned. Finally, the reclusive Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox) wants to be left alone on Halloween, but receives a visit from the burlap headed trick ‘r treater, who’s been wandering in and out of all the stories. The imp seems to have retribution on its mind for All Hallow’s Eve.

Trick 'r Treat, 2009

Who Made It?

Michael Dougherty was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. He attended New York University, graduating in 1996 from Tisch School of the Arts. Dougherty spent three years toiling on Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues, while an animated short he’d written and directed titled Season’s Greetings made it to television. Director Bryan Singer read a spec script Dougherty had written titled Trick ‘r Treat — expanding the character and themes from Dougherty’s short — and introduced him to aspiring filmmaker and screenwriter Dan Harris. After moving to L.A. independent of each other, the duo won jobs writing X2 (2003) and Superman Returns (2006) for Singer.

Championed by late makeup effects maestro Stan Winston — originally slated to produce the film — Trick ‘r Treat was developed by Legendary Pictures, the Burbank based production company behind Superman Returns, Lady In the Water and 300, co-financing and co-producing in partnership with Warner Bros. Bryan Singer of Bad Hat Harry Productions came on board as a producer in the fall of 2006 and was present on the set of Doughtery’s live action directing debut in Vancouver. Despite overwhelmingly positive word of mouth, Warner Bros. backed away from giving Trick ‘r Treat a theatrical release, finally rolling it out on DVD in October 2009.

Trick 'r Treat, 2009, Lauren Lee Smith, Moneca Delain, Rochelle Aytes

How’d They Do It?

Seasons Greetings
(1996) was a 4-minute, hand drawn and hand colored short film, which writer-director Michael Dougherty spent nine months drawing with pencils and paper at NYU. Each frame was colored with magic markers instead of paint with fellow film students helping him color many of the cels. The short — about a trick ‘r treater with a burlap sack for a head being menaced by a stalker — was broadcast on MTV’s Cartoon Sushi and Sci-Fi Channel and played a few film festivals. As Dougherty brainstormed ideas for short films or short stories he noticed they all ended up being about Halloween.

Dougherty recalled, “So I started thinking, well how neat would it be to put them all together into one movie and I guess it was kind of my way of cheating and saying here’s, look, here’s my feature film screenplay, it’s an anthology movie. But then they also started interweaving and it became one movie, just with a lot of characters whose lives start intersecting. I realized I could take this character and make him the next door neighbor of that character and make these trick-or-treaters show up at the door of this guy and so it all ended up coming together. And Sam became a character that wandered though all of their stories.”

Trick 'r Treat, 2009

He continued, “The first story is really just about a father and a son and introducing the son to the holiday and its traditions. The next one, it’s a group of kids who are between ages 12 and 15 and it’s when you break away from your parents and you’re walking around the town by yourself trick-or-treating. And then the next one, you’re in your twenties and the holiday becomes about nothing but partying and having sex and trying to find the hottest costume possible. The fourth one is the twilight years, when you’re old and alone and celebrating the holiday by yourself, which hopefully none of us end up like, but it’s kind of these weird four seasons of Halloween in a sense.”

Dougherty’s spec script — Trick ‘r Treat — became his calling card to meeting the director of The Usual Suspects and X-Men, Bryan Singer, in 2000. After working with his writing partner Dan Harris on drafts of X2 and Superman Returns, executive producers Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and William Fay of Legendary Pictures were prepared to give Dougherty a shot making the transition from screenwriter to director of Trick ‘r Treat. Dougherty revealed, “I think the transition was made easier by the fact that Bryan Singer always had me and my writing partner Dan Harris on set throughout X2 and throughout Superman Returns and it’s interesting to realize how much I picked up just from osmosis.”

Trick 'r Treat, 2009, Anna Paquin

Dougherty added, “In terms of preparing, interacting with the crew, knowing how to set up a shot, getting your coverage, etc. I think I’m blessed in that I’ve had Bryan to show me the ropes as well as my writing partner Dan who directed a feature film a few years ago called Imaginary Heroes. They’ve both been available to give me pointers and tips and help me out. As well as Alex Garcia; he’s been on the set of Bryan’s movies and produced his TV projects. It’s been good, but I definitely know that those two movies, Superman Returns and X2 were basically boot camp. I’d be twenty times more terrified doing this if I hadn’t been on set for 131 days on each of those two movies.”

With Bryan Singer and Alex Garcia of Bad Hat Harry Productions as producers, Trick ‘r Treat commenced filming November 2006 in Vancouver. Singer was reportedly on set throughout the film’s nine-week shoot. Also working with Dougherty was NYU alum Breehn Burns, who’d come on board as a concept artist and would also design the film’s comic book panel title sequence. Of Burns, Dougherty added, “He referred me to a storyboard guy named Simeon Wilkins, who’s a young guy who has an amazing resume. He worked on The Ring, Monster House, he just finished Beowulf for Bob Zemeckis, and we click really well too.”

Trick 'r Treat, 2009

Scheduled for release October 2007, Halloween came and went without Warner Bros. giving audiences Trick ‘r Treat. Legendary Pictures screened it December 2007 at the annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin, Texas, an invitation-only film festival hosted by the architect of Ain’t It Cool News, Harry Knowles. Avid dispatches from film geeks who’d seen the movie would trickle through the popular website for the next two years. “Massawyrm”: “Horror fans are going to have a ton of fun with this and I fully expect this to take its rightful place as the holiday classic that gets pulled out every year, much the same way Halloween was for many of us in our youth. It is a film very much about the holiday and its spirit, and it captures that wonderfully.”

Warner Bros. began to license Trick ‘r Treat T-shirts, graphic novels and action figures, but the studio was at a loss over how to market the movie. Dougherty mused, “I remember having a conversation with, you know, an executive who shall remain nameless about this, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s a horror movie.’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ He goes, ‘Well, we’ll target the Saw and the Hostel demographic.’ And I said, ‘No, no, no, that’s not them.’ ‘Well but they’re the horror audience.’ ‘No, they’re not this horror audience.’ Horror itself isn’t just a genre. There’s so many subgenres to it, just like there’s so many types of comedy. You have your Wayans Brothers comedies and you have your Judd Apatow comedies. Very different audiences. And so, sometimes it can be difficult to try to explain horror as a genre to people.”

Trick 'r Treat, 2009, Brett Kelly, Dylan Baker

Despite successful screenings at Screamfest L.A. in October 2008, Comic Con in July 2009 and recently at L.A.’s New Beverly Cinema, Warner Bros. shuttled Trick ‘r Treat onto Video On Demand and DVD in October 2009. Reviewers were effusive with praise. Bill Gibron, Pop Matters: “Almost too clever for its own good, Trick ‘r Treat is a really good film. In fact, it’s so unusual in its practical F/X approach and retro direct to video charms that a second viewing is definitely needed before confirming its almost masterpiece status.” Alex Billington, First Showing.Net: “There hasn’t been a horror movie this original and this inventive since Wes Craven brought us Scream in 1996. I guess it only took twelve years to finally find the next great horror franchise.”

Commenting on his film’s winding road to release, Dougherty suggested it was caught between two business models, one dying out, the other taking its baby steps. “We’re reaching a day and age where the generation of kids growing up expect to have the option of going to the theater or watching a movie at home. I think that window is going to close completely, soon. But I think, in the meantime, I think it’s smart for distributors to look at that limited-release fan demand method of distribution.” He added, “Why not try to open it in two cities and let the fans post on Facebook or send out tweets about getting it in their hometown? I really wish we could have tried that model with Trick ‘r Treat, but by the time the decision had been made it was too late.”

Trick 'r Treat, 2009, Brian Cox

Should I Care?
Here’s a movie stoked by such an outpouring of love from its target demographic that I’m left to ponder whether I even saw the same film the fanboys did. Trick ‘r Treat isn’t really for people who read reviews, it’s for the people who love those movies that aren’t screened for critics. It’s also blatantly the work of a first time screenwriter and director. At 82 minutes with credits, Doughtery gets in a hurry introducing too many characters without giving us a reason to care about a single one. Some of his ideas are sketchy and poorly executed. Burlap head — referred to as “Sam” in the credits for reasons that are never explained — never makes the leap from doodle to compelling screen creep.

There’s a segment here — the film’s best — about 13-year-olds trick ‘r treating that recalls those Saturday afternoon, kids on a mission movies I grew up with like The Goonies or The Monster Squad. That’s nice, and so is Breehn Burns’ gorgeous title sequence with comic book panels illustrated with scenes from the movie flipping by. Douglas Pipes supplements this with a fantastic musical score that easily surpasses anything Danny Elfman has composed in 16 years. Trick ‘r Treat isn’t a bad movie. I can name 10 recent horror movies that were a lot worse. But if this is destined to become a Halloween standard, I’ll be watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Trick 'r Treat, 2009, Alberto Ghisi, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce

Where’d You Get All of This?
Superman Returns Writers Ride a Wave of Success” By Torquin Hedd. Moving Pictures Magazine, July 2006

“Quartet are in for Treat By Pamela McClintock. Variety, 9 November 2006

Trick ‘r Treat: Writer/Director Michael Dougherty, On Set in Vancouver, BC Canada”, 11 January 2007

“Director on what the long-delayed release has meant for Trick ‘r Treat By Patrick Lee. Sci-Fi Wire, 28 July 2009

“Q&A: Trick ‘r Treat writer-director Michael Dougherty” Heat Vision Blog. The Hollywood Reporter, 8 October 2009

Trick ‘r Treat. DVD audio commentary with Michael Dougherty. Warner Home Video (2009)

Tags: Beasts and monsters · Black comedy · Coming of age · Cult favorite · Dreams and visions · Psycho killer · Small town · Woman in jeopardy

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Moviezzz // Oct 15, 2009 at 7:46 am

    “Here’s a movie stoked by such an outpouring of love from its target demographic that I’m left to ponder whether I even saw the same film the fanboys did. Trick ‘r Treat isn’t really for people who read reviews, it’s for the people who love those movies that aren’t screened for critics. ”

    Thank you Joe!

    I got this from Netflix a couple weeks back, gave up on it pretty early on and returned it. I didn’t care for it (and I LOVED the similar CREEPSHOW).

    I thought maybe I should give it another shot due to all the online raves. But it looks like we felt the same way about it.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Oct 15, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Jim: I’m a big fan of Creepshow as well and feel like there’s always room for another interpretation. The problem with Trick ‘r Treat isn’t a lack of originality, but a lack of execution. The whole movie just feels sketchy to me. It’s better than Van Helsing and probably better than Scream, but in the end, that’s a faint praise. Thanks for commenting!

  • 3 Josh // Apr 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Could not disagree more with your insipid, stupid review . It reads more like some smack from a prejudiced, old fruit running at the mouth more than anything actually intelligent, especially writing that the people who “love” this movie are people who don’t read reviews. Seriously, shut up! Maybe they don’t pay attention or take seriously failed wannabes trying to make some slam on somebody actually successful. This movie was far better than the original “Creepshow.” As far as it introducing characters quickly, “Gee, Gomer . . . Do ya thunk that might be because he had 30 minutes or less to tell 4 stories . . ? Please shut up & quit commenting to your own articles to act like somebody else actually agrees with your stupidity! Lame and completely surface level review by a dumb bitch that understands nothing of this genre!

  • 4 Al // Jun 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    I completely agree with Josh this was a very clever and fun movie. I loved the jokes and found the script very amusing. The original review is totally off.

  • 5 Gary // Dec 2, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I could not agree with Al and Josh anymore. This movie had so much more then you could analyze by eye. The amount of people who actually read reviews are low. Why? I don’t read them because I don’t want to be lead away from a great movie because someone doesn’t know what a great movie is. Reviewers like you have no business saying a word about such good movies. You just stomped words together and hope people believe you.

  • 6 Renee // Mar 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    I absolutely love this movie! It has so many different twist and turns that keep you interested. I am a fan of all horror movies but this is definitely on the top of my long list. I recommend that those who haven’t or just don’t care to watch the whole movie try to watch it…you will not be disappointed.

  • 7 Samantha // Jun 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    This review seems like you didn’t even try to pay attention to the movie. You mention that it’s never explained why “Burlap Head” is called Sam. If you watch the cartoons it’s because his full name is Sam Hain the god of Halloween. It’s a clever, funny, all around good movie and I’m sorry it ever had to put up with you watching it.

  • 8 merrick way // Sep 29, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    This movie is not for a person or family to watch year round. Its a movie you pop in and enjoy in the month of October it brings you to a small town full of Halloween spirit. It keeps true to the traditions of the holiday. Its simply brilliant and keeps alive the euphoric feeling of not knowing if there are evil things out there. It is the best Halloween movie since Halloween with Michael Myers. I love it… you people need to look past it being a movie and look at it as a way to show your kids the meaning of the holiday

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