The dream came true on October 28th, 2013 at Los Angeles’s Egyptian Theater, where the 2013 Beyond Fest was being held. Trick ‘r Treat (2007) was appropriately closing out the evening, but the viewing began with a Q&A session including director Michael Dougherty, producer Bryan Singer, actors Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, Quinn Lord, Jean-Luc Bilodeau and host Seth Green. While a reunion between these actors and filmmakers was special, the real magic came when Sam, the famous character/holiday mascot from Dougherty’s film, came on stage delivering a message for Dougherty to make a sequel, which was echoed by Legendary Pictures producer Thomas Tull. An already raucous crowd amplified their applause when a banner for Trick ‘r Treat 2 appeared on the screen behind the panel.
A Trick ‘r Treat sequel hasn’t been the only project on Dougherty’s mind since that night. His new film Krampus, another holiday-themed horror film about the titular mythical figure who punishes misbehaving children on Christmas, releases on December 4th later this year. From the outside looking in, it seems that both Krampus and Trick ‘r Treat 2 are destined to find a dedicated audience. That potential success, however, is all due to the struggles Dougherty and co. had to endure to make sure Trick ‘r Treat became what it is today; an unlikely cult classic oft-celebrated as one of the greatest, if not the greatest Halloween film of all time.
If you ask Dougherty if he expected the film to experience such a high level of popularity, he would surely tell you, ‘No.’ In an interview with Complex, he said that “it was always kind of the intent or at least the hope, that this is what the movie would become. It’s exceeded my expectations, though.” Given the film’s path to success, it likely exceeded the expectations of all who didn’t have the fortune of exposure to it before its straight-to-DVD release date, which is mostly everyone. If the film is so highly revered, how did it get to be in this particular position in the first place?
Before Trick ‘r Treat’s October 2009 DVD/Blu-ray release, anyone lucky enough would have seen it at various festivals and other screenings, which makes the fact that it was set for a wide theatrical release a little saddening. Warner Brothers had it set for such a release in October 2007, but for whatever reason, they decided to push back its release date, and then eventually took the film away from the public eye completely. The film had promotional images, a one-sheet, and an official trailer, yet they felt that it was best to give up on a film that people had already heard about, and were anticipating thanks to positive press from sites like Bloody Disgusting.
Now, we may never know exactly why Warner Brothers decided to turn the other cheek at Dougherty’s film, but there are a couple of reasonable possibilities. According to USA Today, Dougherty believes that the studio “pulled it right before [the release date] because ‘they didn’t know what to make of it.’” The film is told through an anthological narrative in the style of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), encompassing four different stories that are all tied together by the film’s conclusion. It is entirely possible that, at one point or another, Warner Brothers just didn’t know how they could sell an anthological film to the public, so they thought it would be best to do without. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Dougherty confessed that when the script was first written at the beginning of the 2000s, part of the feedback studios gave him was that its anthological format made it “old-fashioned.”
A second possibility is that Warner Brothers wanted to avoid a horror film competition they might have lost. The only other horror films released in October 2007 were graphic novel adaptation 30 Days of Night and Saw IV, both of which were released a week within one another. 30 Days of Night opened October 19th and grossed just under $16 million, making it the number one film at the box office that weekend. Meanwhile, because the Saw franchise had at this point firmly established a new Halloween ‘tradition,’ for lack of a better word, Saw IV opened with just under $32 million and immediately took over the top spot. Between the success of these two films and potentially not knowing how to properly sell Trick ‘r Treat, Warner Brothers may have reasonably believed that it was in their best interest to tuck their tails and run.
In spite of any probable motives the studio had, what’s unfortunate is that Warner Brother’s ultimate decision to shelve the film entirely had more than just one consequence. Of course, there was the trouble of building up the film essentially through word of mouth only. In addition to some one-off screenings, Trick ‘r Treat made appearances at the Austin Butt-Numb-A-Thon (for its premiere), Screamfest, Fantasia, and Toronto After Dark, just to name a few. According to IMDB, however, most of its festival appearances were in 2009 and came after a DVD/Blu-ray release was announced. In fact, its one appearance in 2007 was at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon in Austin, it’s only screenings in 2008 were in the first half of October, and then following screenings next came in July 2009, after the official announcement. So for nearly two years, the film had to survive from word of mouth, and only when the announcement came could hype once again interact with mass anticipation.
Even with a DVD/Blu-ray release announcement, the film still had to overcome another obstacle. Steven Renkovish of Examiner.com is right to point out that “there is a stigma attached to straight-to-DVD fare.” The immediate assumption is that if a studio didn’t have enough confidence to push for a theatrical release, then the film must not have any redeeming value. While much of what comes out straight-to-DVD doesn’t stand up to snuff, many agreed that Trick ‘r Treat would be one of the few exceptions.
The stigma, however, isn’t something to ignore because so relatively few people were able to see the film before the DVD/Blu-ray announcement. Varying degrees of exposure could have still led to a large contingent of people writing it off before seeing a single frame. Luckily, the frustration with Warner Brothers from horror fans and general fans of the film potentially caused disillusionment with the realities of a film as a business. During Trick ‘r Treat’s time on Warner Brothers’ shelf, Lionsgate’s lack of support for cult favorite Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) and its sudden dumping of The Midnight Meat Train (2008) into dollar theaters shortly before it was set for a limited release would have caused fans to reject the stigma entirely.
Now, of course, there will always be detractors, and there was a handful of them for this film. But given the film’s long-awaited release and the hype that accompanied it, it is understandable that the film could never satisfy everyone’s expectations. Regardless, with the home video release, and its being released on VOD platforms like Amazon and iTunes, Trick ‘r Treat finally found the loving audience that it deserved. In fact, according to Wired, it has sold at least “some 550,00 copies on DVD.” The film had a troubled track to stardom, but none of that seems to mind Dougherty. Through this “backward” process, Dougherty says the film “became forbidden fruit,” prompting amazing horror fans to “actively [start seeking] it out.”
Trick ‘r Treat is a hard film to dislike, and not only because of its unfortunate history. Dougherty crafted a film that truly captures the essence of Halloween from the perspective of every age group, and the mise-en-scène feels like an organic small town Halloween celebration rather than mere set decoration. To say that his film is deserving of annual viewing, every October is an understatement. Now is the time of year when you start prepping yourself to watch this film, because unless you have other plans, I can’t imagine a better way to spend your Halloween. Have some fun, stay safe, and remember, don’t watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, because “Charlie Brown’s an asshole.”