Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Written by: Michael S. Murphey and Joel Soisson
Starring: Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Gene Simmons, and Glen Morgan
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“Demonic beasts? Whatever happened to the good old simple love song?”
Horror and rock’n’roll have often gone hand in hand. Many rock fans also like horror movies and vice versa. Many rock groups throughout history have based their looks and personas on gothic and horror imagery. Combining the two elements, one would think, would make for a perfect match made in Heaven…err…Hell I guess. The concept has been attempted a few times, with varying degrees of success and failure. Brian De Palma crafted a pure bred musical (Phantom of the Paradise) which combined the stories of Faust and Phantom of the Opera into a ‘modern’ 70s rock musical. Slumber Party Massacre 2 featured a killer with a giant guitar drill. The dismal early 80s slasher film Terror on Tour featured a killer wearing plenty of glitter and creepy clown face paint murdering roadies. Then of course, there is the action/horror hybrid based on the James O’Barr graphic novel, The Crow. Perhaps not the best, but definitely the cheesiest is 1986’s demonic masterpiece, Trick or Treat.
Eddie Weinbauer is your average high school nobody. He has only one friend (a nerd) and spends most of his day listening to music by his favorite musician, the heavy metal shock rocker, Sammi Curr (sort of a predecessor to Marylin Manson). The film opens with Eddie writing a heart felt fan letter to Curr about how unhappy his life is and how so many people push him around and don’t care. After mailing it, Eddie is treated to the worst news any fan could ever receive about an entertainer they care about…Sammi has died in a tragic fire. Looking for consolation, Eddie drops by the local radio station, where a DJ (played by Gene Simmons of KISS) gives him the last known, unreleased album recording of Curr. The DJ was ordered by Curr to play it on Halloween night, but being that Eddie is Curr’s number one fan, the DJ decides to give it to him as a keepsake. Eddie begins listening to the album, and notices all of the lyrics are backwards. Playing the record backward, he hears bizarre phrases spoken by a demonic voice. Soon, by playing the record backwards, Eddie suddenly has the power to enact revenge on those who have wronged him. But does he really want revenge at the price of harm and even death of those bullies? Eddie soon learns that in death, his hero is part of a greater evil than he will ever understand and that he wants no part of it. With each play of the album, Curr’s spirit gets stronger and strong. Can he be stopped once the whole town hears the album at midnight?
Trick or Treat is a fun film, especially if you enjoy 80s hair metal. It’s not an altogether successful film, in the scare department, but the filmmakers did come up with a somewhat compelling story. The horror of the film is more supernatural than anything. There really isn’t a visual boogeyman, until Sammi manifests himself much later in the film. Then the film goes from being Poltergeist meets Twisted Sister to Freddy Krueger meets Twisted Sister. Until then, most everything that happens to the victims is of the spirit/demonic nature. Giving Curr a few wisecracks to mouth off, I’m sure the filmmakers definitely wanted to ride the success of Freddy Krueger, as many late 80s horror villains did. I think if they’d tried to make the film a little more serious, they could’ve gotten a few more scares, especially with the concept of music played backwards. When you hear a song played backwards, it always sounds so dark and evil. They do get a bit of mileage out of the “rock is truly evil” message of the film, but they could’ve gotten even more by milking the whole “playing a song backwards with demonic words” stuff for more than they did. Over the years, numerous bands have been linked to supposed hidden messages in their music, so it was nice to see this urban legend finally played out for a horror film.
The fact that the lyrics to the rock songs often match up with the on-screen action give the film the slight feel of a musical. The rock songs of the soundtrack were provided by a group called Fastway. Never heard of them? I hadn’t either. Christopher Young (Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2) provided the instrumental score, although it is surely one of his most forgettable and barely used. It’s hard to tell much about the film’s cinematography, as the only DVD available is fullscreen only (obviously not the correct aspect ratio, as the boom mic drops down into frame during one of the scenes). There are a couple of interesting Easter eggs for horror fans in the film. If you look closely, when Eddie’s friend Roger’s TV goes berserk toward the end, you’ll see brief shots from two John Carpenter films (Escape From New York and The Fog). The filmmakers were obviously Carpenter fans, which puts them on my good side. The slick production values give it a more expensive feel than your usual low budget fare, especially for a film made in the mid-80s. The budget seemed to be decent, although you can’t see much of whatever they spent the money on. With little blood and gore, the only thing I see that they spent the budget on was the electricity effects, of which there are plenty.
Marc Price is a fairly likable lead, but comes across as a poor man’s Corey Haim. I think most audience members can identify with the picked-on-by-bullies outcast type to a degree. He didn’t really go on to have much of a career after this flick, though. He was in Killer Tomatoes Eat France! and I believe he was a contestant on Last Comic Standing once upon a time. Speaking of the bully, actor Doug Savant likewise comes across as a poor man’s William Zabka, but he has gone on to have a recurring role on TV’s Desperate Housewives. Famous X-Files TV writer Glen Morgan appears in an early acting role as Roger. Morgan would later go on to direct the remakes of Willard and Black Christmas. No stranger to the horror genre is special effects and make-up wizard Kevin Yagher, who also appears in a small role. However, the film is most famous for the small roles by KISS musician Gene Simmons (playing a radio DJ) and a slightly chubby Ozzy Osbourne (playing an uptight televangelist). The film’s sole topless scene features an actress who is the spitting image of Lori Loughlin (Aunt Becky from TV’s Full House). Seriously. She could pass for Loughlin’s twin, and for years, I actually believed it was Loughlin. It saddens me, however, to confirm that this actress (as far as I have been able to determine) is not Lori Loughlin. Not a bad nude scene, regardless.
The film has that great, over-the-top 80s hair metal vibe running throughout that makes it a bit of fun, but there’s just something missing. Despite the presence of Kevin Yagher as the FX man, there really isn’t a lot of blood or gore in the film. There was one halfway decent melted ear effect, though. The deaths are all pretty plain (and its in territory that Shocker would cover better a couple of years down the road). Though it is interesting to note that it predates both Shocker and The Horror Show as far as the whole “killer traveling through electricity” sub-genre is concerned. Despite the hard rock attitude, the film’s content feels pretty tame. It is low on scares and desperately low on gore. You have to wonder what audience the filmmakers were targeting. Maybe it was meant as a 90 minute commercial for Fastway, who knows? The film’s climactic Halloween dance sequence is sadly among its most laughable. Sequences like this really feel as if the film were meant for the high cheese factor and little else. Which is fine. It works that way, but it’s not the kind of horror movie that I’ll watch over and over. It’ll garner an occasional Halloween night viewing in my house, at best.
Trick or Treat isn’t a classic by any means whatsoever, but it serves as a harmless and charming look back at 80s metal. The villain sports tight leather pants, painted fingernails, and hair that looks like no less than twelve cans of Aqua Net’s finest could do justice to…the perfect rock villain for an 80s horror flick, for sure. Its really not all that good, but I just can’t bring myself to say “trash it”. I think its heart is in the right place, and the film is quite slickly produced (by the DeLaurentis Entertainment Group, no less). I just think it needed a few less shots of special effects electricity and more helpings of blood and guts. If nothing else, you can enjoy some truly rare 80s hair band music by Fastway. So my advice is, throw this one in the DVD player, crank up your stereo, and enjoy Trick or Treat for what it is. It doesn’t aim high, but it aims to be fun (and it moderately succeeds). Rent it!
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