Trick or Treat (1986)
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Starring: Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Doug Savant, Elaine Joyce, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, Elise Richards, Ozzy Osbourne
1/2 (out of 4)
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Some people lost their minds in the 1980s. For example, you may have heard about the mass hysteria surrounding so-called “Satanic Ritual Abuse” which was kicked off by a book written by some Canadian psychiatrist called Michelle Remembers, and helped along by a criminal trial over supposed sexual abuse at a pre-school. (The book was discredited and the trial concluded at the end of the decade with no convictions and all charges dropped). The Reagan years were filled with reactionary, emotional politics that saw children as perpetually in danger from the evils of the world. Take rock music, the most visible target – the dismay over rock lyrics and heavy metal bands (where AC/DC was accused of being an acronym for “Anti-Christ, Devil’s Child” and KISS for “Knights in Satan’s Service”) reached a fever pitch leading to Tipper Gore founding the PMRC with Susan Baker, because of Prince’s song Darling Nikki of all things. Secret messages in the music – especially backmasking – came under scrutiny, and even though the Beatles did it, nothing made a good scapegoat like heavy metal bands. (Poor Led Zeppelin was even accused of it).
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat, a “heavy metal horror” film from the middle of the decade, touches on the themes of Satanic backmasking and corruption of the youth by rock’n’roll. Its first funny bit is to cast Marc Price as a loner high school metalhead named Eddie Weinbauer, who goes by the nickname Ragman – Price, you may recall, played Skippy, from Family Ties. Skippy was the nerdy milquetoast who had a crush on Mallory, so it’s an interesting choice to cast Price as the lead and as a headbanger, but in a way it works, since Eddie isn’t exactly assertive either, and is constantly bullied by the obviously-not-of-high-school-age jocks from Lakeridge High (Doug Savant playing the head asshole Tim, who almost drowns Eddie at a pool party). I don’t exactly recall metalheads being so wimpy, but then again I was the geek. (In addition, Price resembles a young Corey Haim here so much in voice and appearance it’s eerie.) Anyway, also in the cool kids group is Leslie (Lisa Orgolini), whom Eddie has a crush on and who is deep down a good girl. Eddie has one friend – the nerdy but down-to-earth Roger, played by Glen Morgan of all people (he directed the Willard remake, the Black Christmas remake, and produced many episodes of The X-Files and Millennium).
Newt Gingrich... you're next!
When Ragman’s favorite rock star Sammi Curr dies in a hotel fire, Eddie doesn’t seem to have much to live for, but then Eddie’s radio DJ friend Nuke (hey, whaddya know – it’s KISS co-founder Gene Simmons!) gives him Sammi’s final record as a gift, he discovers that it has peculiar properties, like sending him personal messages when he plays it backwards. The record gives Eddie clues on getting back at his tormentors, which succeeds well enough, leading up to a scene where Tim’s girlfriend (Elise Richards) puts on headphones and plays one of Sammi’s special tapes accidentally, resulting in an icky demon rape (when Eddie asks his special record what happened to her, it responds “cheap thrill”). Soon enough the backmasking leads to Sammi Curr’s resurrection as a rock’n’roll demon with a half-burned face, tight pants, and mullet hair. Apparently powered on electricity, Sammi can now travel at will through speakers, television sets, and shower radios. Even worse – Sammi pays a visit to Roger and forces him to play a song at the upcoming school Halloween party, while Nuke is scheduled to play Sammi’s final song over the airwaves at midnight. It results in Sammi Curr’s encore rock performance at the school gym, where he should have originally performed if the school faculty and parents weren’t so square. So it’s an opportunity, then, for a persecuted rock warrior and bullied high schooler to give everybody their comeuppance, with a little help from Lucifer, of course. The finale of the film sees Eddie, Roger, and Leslie running around, destroying electrical appliances with baseball bats, trying to send the metal demon guy back to hell.
Trick or Treat has fun with the political, anti-rock agenda of the time, and most of the time the satire works. There’s a funny scene with Eddie’s mom (Elaine Joyce) as she finally gets around to seeing what the hell he does in his room (peeking through his Megadeth albums and such) before accidentally hitting the button on his stereo, resulting in a heavy metal sonic assault. I like the metaphors of the guitar shooting lightning which vaporizes an eager concert crowd, and a hand coming from a speaker to grab a victim. It’s what the PMRC and old fashioned parents are afraid of – the music taking control of the youth. While some may have seen rock bands as a threat to the stability of the nuclear family, Trick or Treat sees them as the fatherly stand-in (Eddie’s dad is nowhere to be found; the nuclear family has already de-stabilized). The problem is that Eddie isn’t really “turned” as Arnie was in Christine, he’s just turned into the hero. A more interesting path might have been for Eddie to descend further into darker territory as he discovers newfound power, but instead the movie brings Sammi Curr front and center as the bad guy.
Another few points go to the cameo of Ozzy Osbourne as he shortens his hair, puts on a tie and sweater vest, and does his bit as an outraged TV preacher. Maybe turning Ozzy into a reverend, reading sexually suggestive lyrics in shock, is too easy, but I still got a kick out of it. I wish the ending of Trick or Treat was up to par, but truth be told the scenes of our heroes running away from Sammi and driverless cars become a bit monotonous. In addition, the demon is eventually disposed of a bit too easily, and despite a few bits of clever effects (a scene where Sammi grabs somebody out of the TV is the best one), it’s fairly gore-less. (If it wasn’t for Elise Richards’ brief nude/masturbation scene it might be PG-13 material.) The rock music is surprisingly tame as well – most of it is done by British outfit Fastway, and while it’s adequate as cheesy rock (think Dokken’s contribution to Dream Warriors) it’s really not that Satanic. As far as the concept of a demon running on electricity, Wes Craven would do much more with it in Shocker. In any case, Trick or Treat‘s title is a “trick” – this is barely a Halloween film at all – but it’s an amusing rock/80s nostalgia piece that will certainly play better with the 30-something crowd than anyone else. Rock on.
– Bill Gordon
Buy Trick or Treat on DVD
Buy the Trick Or Treat Soundtrack
Buy the book Satanic Panic by Jeffrey Victor
An autographed laserdisc of KISS Versus Phantom of the Park! Thanks!
Christine O’Donnell used to be into this.