Given that director Michael Dougherty is the man who brought us both 2009’s beloved, Halloween-set terror tale Trick ‘r Treat and last year’s horror hit Krampus, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to discover the filmmaker enjoys unnerving young visitors to his home in the tenth month of the year. “When I scare people on Halloween, especially children, it’s like a spectator sport at my house,” says Dougherty. “I like to say that kids have to earn the candy. Last year, I think I solved California’s drought by watering my lawn with the tears of children. That’s how intense it was.”
This year Dougherty can add to his demented decor one of his own creations. The Trick ‘r Treat character Sam — a diminutive maniac whose head is covered with a burlap sack — is becoming a very special kind of Halloween accessory, thanks to the company AtmosFX, which specializes in making affordable and easy-to-use, hologram-style “digital decorations.”
“You can display a digital decoration on your front window and entertain trick-or-treaters, or your neighbors. You could use your TV set as a prop and turn it into a scary animated portrait,” says AtmosFX co-founder Peter Reichert of the high-end animation visual effect. “The gist of it is to bring that wild experience that you might have at Disney’s Haunted Mansion and allow the everyday decorator to do it.”
So, how exactly did Dougherty team up with Reichert and his fellow AtmosFX founder, Pete Williams? “Every year, I decorate my yard, and I like to go all out, and I like to spice it up a little bit more each year,” says the director. “I was trying to replicate the effect that you see at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. It’s an old theater effect called Pepper’s Ghost that creates the illusion of what looks like a holographic ghost. I figured that there must be some sort of modern way of doing this, using projector technology, and so I got together with some friends, and I made some ghosts of my own, and projected them into windows. But I wanted something new, and so I looked online to see if anybody else was making these modern-day Pepper’s Ghost effects, and I found this company which had a whole line of these amazing effects you could project into windows, and doorways, and create holographic ghosts. I bought some, and I was using them, and then, when I finally clicked on the ‘About’ section of the website, only then did I realize that the company was founded by two old friends of mine from back when I was an animator in New York. It was just one of those weird coincidences. I reached out to them, and we reconnected, and started brainstorming. I said, ‘Why don’t we get together and do some of our own decorations and maybe we can ask Legendary [Entertainment] if we can use the Sam character from Trick ‘r Treat?’ It all took off from there.”
One of the Sam-featuring decorations finds the character responding to a neighborhood bully who attempts to trick-or-treat without an adequate costume. In another, Dougherty’s creation turns the tables on an old curmudgeon who steals candy from neighborhood kids.
“There’s a number of vignettes where Sam basically interacts with people and enforces his rules of how to properly respect Halloween,” explains Reichert.
“Each one is like a little short film, where you get to watch Sam murder somebody in your house,” adds Dougherty enthusiastically. “That’s the gist of it. It’s him murdering people on Halloween — as a decoration!”
This development in the Trick ‘r Treat story is the latest sign that the film, which never received a proper theatrical release, has achieved the status of a cult classic.
“I love it,” says Dougherty of the plaudits which now regularly fly in the direction of his anthology film, whose stars include Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, and Anna Paquin. “It’s an honor. It’s a rarity that a film which took the path that it took managed to become a cult whatever-you-want-to-call-it — I hesitate to use the word classic, but you understand what I mean. It’s just rare to have a film that people really rally around like this. I’m touched.”
Indeed, the filmmaker says a Trick ‘r Treat sequel may well be in his future. “The sequel to Trick ‘r Treat is definitely one [project] that I’m working on, as well as few other things, that I can’t really talk about yet. But they all involve monsters!”
The director says he will be using the Sam-featuring digital decorations himself, albeit not without some reservations. “It just feels a little too self-congratulatory,” he admits. “But, at the the same time, it seems like a missed opportunity not to!”
The Sam digital decoration will be available as a high-definition digital download at the end of September, exclusively at AtmosFX.com. The decoration features horror content and is not suitable for small children.
You can see the trailer for Trick ‘r Treat, below.