EJ Moreno chats with Michael Dougherty, director of horror hits like Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus, as well as the MonsterVerse sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters…
Michael Dougherty is a name many horror fans will recognize. From his impressive feature film debut Trick ‘r Treat to his Christmas horror outing Krampus, the director knows how to make fan-favorite films. That’s what makes Godzilla: King of the Monsters so delightful, it feels like a fan making a fan-favorite movie.
In speaking with Dougherty, he discusses his background with horror, what classic Godzilla movies stand out to him, and what scenes he loved. Dougherty also gives fans a little clue at how we can see a Trick ‘r Treat sequel sooner rather than later. Check out our one-on-one discussion here:
It really means a lot to speak with you, especially as a horror fan. You’re a big name in our community. Where did that love of horror start?
Michael Dougherty: I mean, since I was a kid. Looking back, one of my earliest memories was my first Halloween night. Don’t even remember what year it was, but I was young, around 3 or 4-years old. And I remember my next-door neighbor knocking on my front door and he was dressed as Darth Vader. I had no idea what was going on, and then my parents sort of explained to me that it’s Halloween, and I looked out my window to see my neighborhood filled with kids in costumes. My parents had already bought me a costume as a surprise, and that definitely opened the gateway into horror.
Then growing up in the ’80s, and that was just a golden age for the genre; both on TV and in theatres. I think as well all know, a lot of the characters and franchises we are making sequels to and rebooting started in the ’80s. So I was just part of that initial audience, and I’m inspired by trying to create the same kinds of horror and sci-fi films that inspired me as a kid.
I’m sure there was a lot of Godzilla during your upbringing, is there any specific movies you connected with the most? You can see a bit of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster all over King of the Monsters.
MD: Destroy All Monsters is a big one. Anytime you had multiple creatures on-screen, those movies tend to make a big impression on me as a kid. I was fascinated with the idea that numerous creatures have their own relationship and personalities and politics. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster is a big one as well. Don’t know if you remember the amazing scene where the creatures are literally talking to each other, and the twins are translating for the humans.
That was the first time that I understood that these creatures had thoughts and feelings. They debated with each other if they should help humans; Godzilla and Rodan basically saying, “fuck the humans, they are bullies to us, they are cruel to us.” I remember as a kid that was so poignant to me, to finally see hear the point-of-view from the creatures. That film in particular just really turned a corner from portraying these creatures as just monsters, and suddenly they are now living, breathing characters with thoughts and feelings. That always stuck with me.
That translates well to King of the Monsters, I believe. I remember hearing people talk about the acting in the movie and I’m like “but you didn’t mention Godzilla, who is the best actor in the movie!”
MD: (laughs) well, thank you very much for that. But also, it’s not just those movies either. Kong was a big influence as well. Actually all of the Kong movies, but the original was one of the first monster movies that even portrayed a monster in a sympathetic light.
I think the 1976 King Kong doesn’t get enough credit in that area. This might be blasphemous for a lot of film lovers, but in a lot of ways, that was the first time Kong was truly sympathetic. You really felt a connection between Kong and Jessica Lange’s character. I remember as a kid, genuinely crying when Kong dies because of her character clearly had affection for him by the end. Rather than the original 1933 version where Fay Wray is just looking to be rescued (laughs). She just wants out of there from beginning to end, she could care less whether King lives or dies. So the ’76 version of the film added a more poignant Beauty and the Beast-style relationship.
Again, it made an impression because it portrayed these monsters as sympathetic and that was something I always wanted to do if I was ever given the opportunity to make a giant monster movie.
Well, shifting now to your giant monster movie. King of Monsters is undoubtedly your biggest film in terms of scale and scope, is there an easy way to describe the difference between the shooting experience of that and let’s say something like Krampus?
Michael Dougherty: That’s a really good question. I would say that any time you make a film, it’s challenging and difficult and that time is painful. They were all those things in different ways. Trick ‘r Treat was my first film, so that was trial by fire. And sure, it’s smaller, but the emotional rollercoaster of making the films are the same. You still have the same anxieties, worries, pressures, and stresses.
Godzilla was definitely more challenging because it was a long road. That was over three years from the very beginning to release. So I had to really learn to pace myself, but the beauty of it was because I had made two monster movies before this one, I was sort of ready in a lot of ways. Krampus and Trick ‘r Treat are the perfect training grounds for dealing with ensemble casts, dealing with studio politics. So by Godzilla, I had a really great grasp on creature design, visual effects. All the practical challenges that come with making a monster movie.
You used and referenced so many classic kaiju in this film, was there one that you knew would be too obscure but you just had to pitch? Honestly, I think we all missed Gigan.
MD: (laughs) No, no. If I wanted to bring in Gigan or some of the other creatures, I’m sure the studio would have been enthusiastic if I could’ve justified it. But the creatures that we did use are the icons of the Toho universe. They feel like the Avengers or Justice League of Toho. So it felt like a natural choice to embrace them. And theoretically, if the universe should continue – which it is doing – you could then bring in the lesser-known creatures.
There was a moment where I wanted to bring in some of the other Toho monsters for that final coronation scene at the very end of the film. We could reveal Gigan, Biollante, and those guys but we just didn’t have the budget for it. So, I just embraced the challenge and introduced some original monsters, which is just as much part of the tradition. Instead of referencing or recycling, Toho has the tradition of always adding characters. Felt like a cool challenge to do the same.
Yes, you get to make your mark on the franchise as well by making your own characters.
In the Making Mothra featurette, you talk about the Titan stealing the movie a few times for you. Can you explain one of those scene-stealing moments for us? Even if it was on-set or something we saw in the final product.
MD: Oh, gosh.
I think most viewers all feel that first scene where she reveals herself is one of the best.
MD: Where she first emerges from the waterfall? Yeah, that’s probably it for a lot of different reasons. I remember getting the chills watching that even in the pre-visualization. That was one of the first pieces of previs that we did. The moment I saw her wings unfurl, even in the rough previs form, you just had that special feeling.
I think the combination of that revelation, along with the very gentle nod at to the twins. Which is interesting as not everyone catches it on initial viewing. Zhang Ziyi plays two characters in the film. Did you catch that?
I did the second time I saw the film. The first time I was like “wow, Zhang traveled far and looks really different now.” And the second time, I’m like “wait..hold on!”
MD: (laughs) Yeah, I think that particular Mothra moment stands out because of the first time seeing the wings and because of that little moment right there.
Though, I do really love it when she appears over the oil rig. I feel like that’s where we get to see her in full power. Like she’s the one who gets to dissipate the Ghidorah storm cloud. That’s where she truly feels like this angelic, divine Goddess who is the only one strong enough to counterattack what Ghidorah is doing.
Love that you paid that much respect to such a fan-favorite character.
MD: She was a challenge, but she was very worth it.
While I have you, I have to ask for myself and our readers: is there any update on Trick r Treat 2? I think your titan friends wouldn’t mind you taking a Halloween vacation.
Michael Dougherty: (laughs). Well, the state of Trick ‘r Treat is completely up to Legendary. Obviously, I got side-tracked by Krampus and Godzilla, ever since we announced it initially. But I think if enough people shout out to Legendary and demanded it, Trick ‘r Treat 2 might get resurrected. Until then, I can’t say.
Well, I’ll have the Flickering Myth readers politely send them letters, saying “hey, we all want this.” Thank you again for taking the time today, and it was lovely speaking with you.
MD: You too!
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is on Digital Download now and will be released on 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on October 14th.