For October 1st, I wanted to watch a movie for the first time, and so for nearly a year I have held on to today’s film, Trick or Treat (1986) and resisted the urge to watch it. I’m so glad I did. It turned out to be the perfect way to start October. I love the supernatural serial killer genre, but this one had something special to it. While Freddy needed you to sleep, Jason needed you to come to camp, and Michael Myers was devilishly picky about what zip code you live in, all Trick or Treat’s dastardly heavy metal killer needs is for you to WANT…TO… ROCK! What a terrible thing to have to fear, never rocking again. How would the world cope? We’ve been rocking and rolling for over fifty years now, and almost nothing goes better with Halloween and horror than rocking. There’s a reason every classic radio station ever programmed calls this month Rocktober, and that’s because it’s an unimaginative play on words. However, there is some truth to it. Would we really want to have to spend the month surrounded by ghouls, ghosts, and goblins while the gentle strains of Laurence Welk’s smaltzy waltzes float though the air. Wonderful, wonderful, my ass. If for no other reason Trick or Treatdeserves to kick off my 31 Days of Horror.
As the film kicks off, we are introduced to Eddie ‘Ragman’ Weinberger (Marc Price) an outcast metal kid who finds his only solace away from high school bullies in the music of Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), a metal god who came from the same town as Eddie. Unfortunately, the teenager finds his one ray of hope taken from him when the heavy metal singer dies in a hotel fire. Taking pity on Ragman, local D.J. Nuke (Gene Simmons) gives him a test pressing of Curr’s last single, but when Eddie plays it back, he discovers backward masking that contained messages to him. He blindly begins to follow the orders, and finds that some force is helping him get even with the bullies. However, when people’s lives start being endangered, Eddie wants out. Of course, it is too late by then and a reborn Sammi Curr and his lightning blasting guitar are wreaking havoc on his hometown. It’s up to Eddie and nice girl Leslie (Lisa Orgolini) to put a stop to all the rock!
The first thing I noticed as the film opened was that this was a directed by Charles Martin Smith. If the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, that’s ok. His face surely would. Known for roles like Toad in American Graffiti and Mark Shermin in Starman, Trick of Treat was Smith’s first time out at a director. Since the he has helmed films such as Air Bud, but let’s try and not hold that against him. Against the tide of pedestrian slasher fare that was de rigueur in the mid-80’s, Smith made an interesting little film. It has a good cast of characters, some really funny moments, and enough METAL to camp it up considerably. Sure, it runs a little light on the horror tip. At one point, I was readily waiting for a drill press to go though a bully’s noggin when instead it is cut off just in time. The focus here is not about guts and gore.
Instead Trick or Treat pokes at the “horror” of rock music that was being stirred up at the time by people like Tipper Gore and the PMRC. Sure as anything, they thought, rock and roll was going to drive ‘80’s youths over the edge to kill, rape, and commit suicide because of a hidden message in the music. (Looking back, I always think it is funny that they used Judas Priest as the example of a band with hidden demonic messages. The funny thing is there was a hidden message in Priest, but it had more to do with how gay Rob Halford is.) In Trick or Treat, the crimes of rock and roll that were being foisted on it by conservative groups were a real, live danger in the form of Sammi Curr. The rock god himself however was hardly scary as played by Tony Fields, a former Solid Gold dancer, who landed the part after Gene Simmons passed (preferring to channel Wolfman Jack in his role as Nuke the D.J.) Probably the least sinister part of the film is when Sammi comes back via a speaker to perform at the Halloween dance. Strutting and jiving like the lost member of Poison doesn’t conjure up much terror, but he does make up for it by wielding a guitar that can vaporize people.
As much fun as the plot is, the cast had to pull off the right tone to make it work, and I think they really did. Marc Price, better known as Skippy from Family Ties, stars here as metal kid Ragman, and combining a mixture of his better-known dorky character and the put upon metal kid who doesn’t fit in, he makes for an endearing hero. Also equally well played was the bully, Tim (Doug Savant), who would later go on to play Felicity Huffman’s husband on Desperate Housewives. Savant was no William Zabka, but he definitely convinced me that he was an utter and complete prick. Trick or Treat also boasts cameos from Ozzy Osborne, spoofing his own image as an anti-metal minister, and director Charles Martin Smith as the school principal. Eddie’s best friend Roger, played by Glen Morgan, would become a prolific writer and producer in genre film before directing the remake of Black Christmas in 2006. While many have attributed the metal soundtrack to various bands from Poison to Faster Pussycat, all of the tunes were actually performed by Fastway, a band featuring a former guitarist for Motorhead as well as Flogging Molly vocalist Dave King.
The truly terrifying thing about Trick or Treat is that it’s not widely available. Due to music licensing issues, it’s been off the racks for years with only a low quality DVD (which states that the movie stars Ozzy and Gene) exists though it is out of print. If you can get your hands on this one, you won’t be disappointed. For all the campy, cheesiness that the premise inspires in your brain, the real secret about Trick or Treat is that it’s actually a good film. What better way could I have chose to start the month? I hope you all come on back tomorrow for another dose of horror, and don’t forget to get those submissions for The Halloween Top 13: The Remake in before October 19th! Oh, and if you haven’t visited The Gentlemen’s Blog to Midnite Cinema, go on over there and check out my first piece, a review of the Ozploitation film Fair Game.