October 20, 2010 | By

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The 2009 release of Trick ‘R Treat (2008) is notable because it finally allows horror fans to see and hear the film and music of writer/director Michael Dougherty, and composer Douglas Pipes.

To film music fans, Pipes is best-known for Monster House (2006), a witty and lyrical score that captured the right tone of what it’s like to be drawn to a creepy presence even though it could very well eat you alive.

Monster House was ostensibly about a home transformed into the physical vengeance tool of a wronged woman, with total disregard if the souls swallowed up were kids, adults, or seniors. Of course, there was a simple rule you had to follow to avoid being physically usurped: stay off the damn property. You could look at it safely from the sidewalk (public property), but don’t do it for too long…

That fascination with, hesitation and need to touch the dangerous ground and do some exploring is what Pipes’ music nailed, and it’s that deft combination in an orchestral environment that made him ideal for Trick ‘R Treat.

Michael Dougherty’s first foray into film was the animated short Season’s Greetings (1996), which introduced a nascent version of Sam, the physical symbol of Halloween in Trick ‘R Treat. The filmmaker was also involved in the writing of X2(2003) and Superman Returns (2006) for director Bryan Singer, as well Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), the second sequel in the horror franchise.

Trick ‘R Treat is Dougherty’s directorial debut, and while the film’s production and long period in limbo are addressed in the film review (as well as an extensive spread in Rue Morgue’s 2009 Halloween issue), our Q&A with Dougherty and Pipes focuses on the music, and why the score and film will slowly age into small seasonal classics in coming years.



Mark R. Hasan: As a first-time director, Michael, it’s obviously exciting to select the key people with which you’re going to be working, and I wonder if you could describe some of the steps you took in searching for a film composer, in terms of your own research, and what made you decide on Douglas?

Michael Dougherty: Well, I’m a pretty big collector of film scores (it’s been that way since I was a kid), so I have a pretty big library in my head of the type of sound that I’m looking for, and even when I was writing the screenplay, there was a whole list of different composers and soundtracks that I was listening to draw inspiration. When it came time to actually find somebody, it was difficult, because we were a low budget film; there were a lot of names that we just flat-out knew we couldn’t afford.

As as luck would have it, I think it was the day we officially got greenlit (it was summer ’06). I sat down to watch Monster House, and when that score started, I knew [Douglas] was the guy because it had a sense of fun to it; it was foreboding, because it was a scary kid’s movie (but it wasn’t too scary); and most importantly, it had melody and it had themes, which were really important for me in Trick ‘R Treat, because I wanted the film to harken back to eighties horror movies.

I knew he was the right guy because he was a young, up-and-comer like me; we were both willing to go above and beyond to get it right, and we both had something to prove.

MRH: I wonder if Douglas can provide some brief details on his intro into film scoring because he’s still fairly new to movies, and I think like Michael, I was really impressed with Monster House because it had a great deal of lyricism, and it was a really fun score.

Douglas Pipes: I grew up in a family of musicians, and being a musician I kind of got introduced to film scoring from someone who’d come to me when I was playing music… It was a student filmmaker who had made a $100,000 film, and I scored that one and a couple of others after it, but I realized that I wasn’t the composer I wanted to be, so I stopped and went back to school and studied composition and orchestration.

Then as luck would have it, when I was in school [at UCLA] I met Gil Kenan and scored his project, and he was enough of a fighter to do the big bold step of bringing me on to score his first feature film [Monster House], which was a pretty amazing thing.

MRH: I guess that’s one of the most difficult challenges for a new director – to bring along people that he’s worked with in the past, and sometimes deal with a studios’ preference for a larger-name composer who may not be appropriate for that particular film.

Douglas Pipes: I think it’s just understanding that they have money and they don’t want to risk things, so it’s not easy for them to throw a bunch of money at something that hasn’t been proven. You get it; but on the other hand, there’s something to be said for bring emerging talent into the pool.

MRH: For myself, Trick ‘R Treat feels like a Grimm’s Halloween fable, and I wonder if both of you could articulate how you arrived at the score’s style, since there are so many stylistic and technological options for horror movies?

Michael Doughtery: Well, I think it was a conscious effort to go backwards a little bit but not go too far – we don’t want to get too caught up in making too much of an eighties horror film.

The initial goal of the film was to have a slightly nostalgic flavour. I initially wrote the script out of dissatisfaction with the horror films being created in the late nineties, because that was a point when we were just drowning in Scream knock-offs. I love Scream (1996), but success unfortunately gave birth to all the rip-offs of Scream, so every movie had a cast of twentysomethings on the poster in half profile staring at you, and as we were just drowning in these movies, I wanted to try and give rise to something else.

I grew up loving Tales from the CryptTales from the DarksideThe Twilight Zone, and old horror comics, so every element of the movie was meant to be slightly nostalgic for the holiday, for the horror genre, and I think with the score we wanted to make sure we retained that; it wouldn’t make sense to go and make this kind of Grimm’s fairy tale style of a horror movie, and stick a moody electronic Saw score on it.

The fairy tale atmosphere that I think you’re feeling – that was meant to be in it; it’s modern day folklore, modern day urban legends campfire stories. When I sat down with Douglas to talk about it, we definitely wanted to retain some of it. That’s why there are parts of the score which are very gentle; they’re like a lullaby at times, and that grew from my appreciation of a lot of Jerry Goldsmith stuff.

If you go back and look at Goldsmith’s scores for The Omen (1976) or Poltergeist (1982), he has absolutely terrifying cues in there, but to contrast that, he also has some very gentle, subtle, almost beautiful theme music in there. I think there was that contrast that made those scores powerful, and I knew they would be effective for this movie; it’s also a style that we just don’t see too much anymore. Modern horror scores are just obsessed with being moody-moody-creepy-dark-scary, and because there’s no lighter contrast, there’s no yin or yang, and it actually loses its potency.

MRH: I think for Trick ‘R Trick, Douglas’ music has an elegant, sweeping quality, and some subtle allusions to Bernard Herrmann, but there’s also a really lovely use of children’s voices, which is a nice tie-in to the children that died on the bus, as well as the overall nature of Halloween (that it’s primarily for kids), and the grim qualities that kids play with because the season offers things that are funny and frightening.

Douglas Pipes: Hopefully the score speaks to the Halloweens you’ve experienced throughout: from being a kid to being a young adult, and all the fun times you’ve had on Halloween; they’re so well presented in the film that the score makes sense of the experience.

MRH: The soundtrack album is quite long (it’s a good solid hour) and it’s nice to see a film where, as Michael mentioned, the composer basically had an entire film to play with.  There weren’t a lot of source songs that got in the way, which is one of the problems (and clichés) in some of the eighties films: you have music montages and the songs date the films, whereas Douglas’ music gives Trick R Trick a genuinely timeless quality because it’s not affected by music styles that have come and gone.

Douglas Pipes: I think that’s what in our earliest conversations we wanted the function of the music to do. It was that ‘Why can we watch Poltergeist and not know that it didn’t come out yesterday?’

Michael Doughtery: It’s funny about that because there are a lot of theatres in L.A. which will do these cool revival screenings. The Arc Light recently showed Poltergeist, and I’ll never forget this moment where I walk into Poltergeist, and it’s completely sold out – every seat is taken – and it’s six o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon or something… Just out of curiosity I walked across the hall to see how this big, giant, $180 million dollar summer tent-pole movie was doing (the movie shall remain nameless), and I walk in, and it’s the middle of the screening, and there’s like eight people there.

It’s not like Poltergeist was competing directly with it; it’s just clearly that film still has a following to this day, it has an appeal, and a big part of it is the score, because I’ve always heard that people were very nervous about that movie until Goldsmith wrote that score.

What movies being made now, what scores being written now, are going to have that same strength and that same appeal two decades from now?

MRH: One of the things Douglas was able to draw from was the extraordinary visual design in Trick ‘R Trick, and I imagine the striking compositions, editing, and tones gave him strong ideas, as well as such effective themes for the film.

Douglas Pipes: Absolutely. As one of the last players to come in on the process, [Michael’s] goal was to make a classic Halloween movie that people would pull out every Halloween.

The cinematography’s amazing, the set design’s amazing, the actors are great, the script is sharp, and then it comes down to the music. Again, with our conversations [we asked ourselves] ‘How do we make the music hold up to all these other fine elements?’ They were definitely inspirational. The colours of the orchestra make sense with all the autumnal colours, and the dark colours [are] something that the orchestra does so much better than electronic things.

MRH: My next-to-last question is just about the character of Sam – the child-figure who moves through the interconnected stories wearing a half cute/half chilling costume comprised of a burlap sack and worn-out red pajamas.

From a composer’s standpoint, I wonder if he one of the toughest characters to create a theme around, because he’s still somewhat ambiguous; you’re not sure if he’s a motif, if he instigates some of the events that happen, or if he’s kind of like a moral barometer who teaches people lessons when they don’t abide by the core seasonal rules.

Douglas Pipes: Yeah, I think something from all three, and I would say as kind of the protector of Halloween. His theme was luckily one of the first things that happened.

Michael Dougherty: Douglas just nailed it quickly, and it was just one of those ‘Aha! I’m so stupid! Why didn’t I think of that?’ moments, because he called me up on the phone in Vancouver (he was still in L.A.) and he kind of played it over the phone, and it was like capturing lightening in a bottle; it was so obvious.

In my mind, Sam is Halloween. He is the spirit of Halloween. He is the Great Pumpkin. If Linus would wait in the pumpkin patch long enough on the right night, that’s who he’d cross paths with (which would be interesting), but my whole goal with that character was to create the equivalent of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Leprechaun, the Cherub.

All these other holidays have identifiable quintessential mascots, and with Halloween we have witches and goblins and ghosts and vampires and lots of different characters and imagery, but there wasn’t one guy. I love Michael Myers in Halloween (1978), but I didn’t really consider him to be a proper mascot either, because he lacked the mischief and fun of the holiday. He’s just a dreadful grim reaper presence, and to me, a really good Halloween character has to abide by the various aspects of the holiday – the cute and the creepy and the scary and the funny –  so when Douglas came up with his musical theme, it was perfect. It’s the equivalent of hearing “Jingle Bells” when you see Santa Claus.

MRH: Lastly, is there a chance Sam might return in another film, if not some kind of multi-media venue with Douglas’ music?

Michael Dougherty: We’ll see. I’m not exactly dying to come up with a next one yet, having just finished this one. [The DVD] came out yesterday, and it’s selling really well, which I’m happy about. It’s selling just as well if not better than a lot of big movies that didn’t get theatrical releases.

I have ideas on how to continue the franchise, but I just need a break right now. I think it lends itself to more stories being told [and] it would be fantastic if you could put one out every Halloween or every other Halloween; maybe four stories done by another director, and I’m just producing or helping guide things along; or we do a graphic novel or only do short films.

Anything is possible, and I think Douglas would have to play a very large role in this.


. would like to thank Douglas Pipes and Michael Dougherty for speaking about Trick ‘R Treat, and Beth Krakower at CineMedia Promotions for facilitating this Q&A.

For more information on Trick ‘R Treat, visit the official website HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2009 by Mark R. Hasan


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

BR/DVD/Film:  Halloween (1978) —  Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) — Trick ‘R Treat (2008)


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