Michael Dougherty Terrifyingly Twists Classic Myth With ‘Trick ‘r Treat’ and ‘Krampus’

As long as mankind has existed, myths and legends have shaped our beliefs about the world. Whether it’s in the stories we tell, from page to film to screen, or in our religions, they persist. And even though they change over the years, some elements remain – especially when it comes to the holidays we celebrate. Director Michael Doughtery understands the power these legends hold and explores their darker side throughout his filmography. It’s especially prominent in his directorial debut, Trick ‘r Treat and its follow-up Krampus.

‘Trick ‘r Treat’ & ‘Krampus’ Both Unravel Holiday Traditions

Both films unpack the traditions that surround Halloween and Christmas respectively, as well as what happens when people break those traditions. For Trick ‘r’ Treat, it’s three (or rather, four) simple rules: Wear a costume, never blow out a jack-o-lantern, hand out candy, and always check said candy. For Krampus, it’s what happens when someone who loves Christmas loses sight of that love. It’s certainly hard to hold onto that love when you have to spend time with family members that are rude and uncouth – especially in the case of Max Engel (Emjay Anthony), whose cousins torment him for still believing in Santa.

Both Films Revolve Around an All-powerful Mythical Figure

Both films also have a mythical figure at their center who acts as a judge, jury, and executioner. Trick ‘r’ Treat has the deceptively adorable Sam, who in his burlap sack mask and orange footie pajamas looks like any young trick-or-treater. However, there’s more to Sam than meets the eye. He throws eggs at a bully, he’s somehow able to decorate an entire house with Halloween paraphernalia, and he always turns up when the supernatural’s afoot. Soon, he attacks the miserly Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox) in his home and Kreeg learns the horrifying truth when he pulls off Sam’s mask: Sam isn’t human. Where his head should be is a wizened, snarling pumpkin-esque head – because he’s actually Samhain, the spirit of Halloween. And unluckily for Kreeg, Sam doesn’t take too kindly to those who break his rules.

In fact, Sam is present whenever someone breaks the Halloween traditions. The bully he eggs, Charlie (Brett Kelly), ends up gorging himself on candy offered to him by his principal Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker). But Charlie doesn’t check the candy, and it turns out to be poisoned as Wilkins is a serial killer. Charlie had also smashed several jack’o’lanterns before approaching the Wilkins house, and it’s quite ironic that Wilkins plans to turn his severed head into a jack’o’lantern. A similar fate befalls teenager Macy (Britt McKillip) and her friends when they visit a haunted quarry and she kicks a lit jack’o’lantern into the water. This leads to Macy and her friends being slaughtered by the undead survivors of the “Halloween School Bus Massacre”; only Rhonda (Samm Todd), a girl who they builled, manages to escape due to being surrounded by lit jack’o’lanterns.

Even Kreeg and Wilkins don’t escape the movie unscathed. Wilkins decides to take his serial killer act into the woods, dressing up as a vampire and haunting young women. When he targets his latest victim, Laurie (Anna Paquin), the tables turn on him – Laurie and her friends are werewolves, and Wilkins happens to be her first kill. (The fact that Laurie is dressed as Red Riding Hood is an extra layer of irony.) As for Kreeg, he turns out to be the bus driver behind the school bus massacre; this leads to the darkly satisfying ending where his victims find him and “treat” themselves to his innards.

In ‘Krampus,’ Losing Your Christmas Spirit Could Cost You Everything

As for Krampus, the titular beast is the mythic figure that winds up terrorizing the Engel family. Described as the “shadow of Saint Nicholas”, Krampus is described by Max’s grandmother Omi (Krista Sadler) as a malevolent force that haunts those who lose their Christmas spirit. And how does Omi know this? She witnessed Krampus’ wrath firsthand when in the thick of World War II, she prayed for her parents to go away when they berated her one Christmas. Krampus heard that wish and spirited them away. Not only does this story act as a chilling fairy tale – especially when it comes to the animation utilized for it – but it’s also a way for Omi to deal with losing her childhood and her heritage all in one fell swoop.

In the end, Max confronts Krampus and apologizes for losing his spirit – only for the beast to throw him into a hellish pit. He seemingly wakes up the next morning, unscathed, and goes to celebrate Christmas with his family. And all is well, until Max unwraps a present that contains Krampus’ iron bell. The ending gets even tripper from there, as it’s revealed that the family is trapped inside a snow globe in Krampus’ workshop. And it’s not the only one. Whether this is a dream or Krampus’ ironic punishment is unclear, but the message is simple: don’t take Christmas for granted.

Dougherty’s Fascination With Myth Continues

Dougherty’s fascination with myth even carried into his third film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Godzilla and his fellow Titans are terrifyingly beautiful. Mothra is shrouded in an eerie green glow, lighting crackles around King Ghidorah as he roars in triumph and Rodan lays waste to cities with a single beat of his wings. This was intentional on Dougherty’s part – he apparently wanted to put the “God in Godzilla”. And he succeeded, as by the end of the film the other Titans wind up bowing to Godzilla. Whether it’s the spirit of Halloween, the shadow of Saint Nicholas or the King of Monsters, Dougherty knows how to tap deep into man’s primal fears and deliver movies that feel larger than life.