"Trick or Treat" (1986) Review
TRICK OR TREAT (1986) Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Welcome once again to "It Came From the Bargain Bin," and for today's ROCK -tober installment, I present a B-movie that I hold near and dear to my metal heart - 1986's headbanging Halloween hoot, "Trick or Treat." This flick's canny combination of 1980s anti-rock hysteria and teen-horror hijinks was seemingly made with me in mind when it first hit multiplexes, as I was a sixteen year old metal nerd just like the film's protagonist, Eddie "Ragman" Weinbauer (Marc Price of "Family Ties" fame). At the time "Trick or Treat" was made, parents everywhere were terrified of the "demonic" messages that were supposedly hidden inside the music their kids listened to, thanks to the witch-hunts inspired by Tipper Gore's P.M.R.C. watchdog group. The film takes the idea of "evil rock music" and blows it up to epic proportions in an action/horror tale that may be light on scares, but is loaded with fun for anyone who came of age during the Big Hair Decade.
High-school headbanger Eddie Weinbauer's love of obnoxious music and all-black clothing makes him a favorite target of ridicule by the preppie, skinny tie wearin' "airheads and braindeads" who populate his high school. Fortunately, Eddie has a hero he can look up to - hometown boy Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), who attended the same high school as Eddie and who has since gone on to become a popular-but-controversial "Satanic" heavy metal star. The film opens with Eddie pouring his heart out to Sammi in a rambling fan letter, set against an effective collage of scenes detailing the abuses he goes through at the hands of his school's "beautiful people" on a daily basis. Eddie's especially ticked off that Sammi's planned appearance at his high school's Halloween dance has been cancelled thanks to meddling by the local PTA blue-noses and an anti-rock minister (Ozzy Osbourne, in an uber-ironic bit of stunt casting). He ends the letter by proclaiming his eternal allegiance to "Rock's Chosen Warrior," but before Eddie has a chance to drop it in the mail, he turns on the TV and is devastated to learn that Sammi Curr has been killed in a mysterious hotel-room fire. The next morning, a grieving Eddie visits the local rock radio station DJ "Nuke" (Gene Simmons of KISS in a brief cameo), who bestows upon him the ultimate gift: the lone copy of Sammi Curr's final, unreleased album ("Songs in the Key of Death" -- yikes!). Imagine Eddie's surprise when he puts the LP on his turntable and finds out that by spinning it backwards, he can communicate with the undead spirit of Sammi Curr himself! Inspired by the messages of encouragement from his idol, Eddie uses his newfound confidence to turn the tables on his preppie tormentors at school and begins to attract the attention of reluctant "mean girl" Lesley (Lisa Orgolini). Unfortunately for Eddie, Sammi Curr has more than simple teenage pranks in mind. When Eddie realizes that Sammi plans to use him as a conduit for his Ultimate Revenge, he attempts to destroy the demonic record, causing Sammi to return to the land of the living through his stereo speakers. Sammi, now a crackling, leather-n-studs creature of electrical energy resembling a cross between Alice Cooper and Freddy Krueger, snarls "You should be loyal to your heroes, Eddie...they can turn on you," before he disappears into the night.
Eddie races to his school's Halloween dance to rescue the imperiled Leslie, and arrives just after Sammi has taken the stage to rock the assembled student body (and disintegrated a few of them with energy beams from his guitar, in a hilarious scene that's half "Carrie," half "Headbanger's Ball"), which sets up the Final Battle between the demonic rocker and his fanboy at isolated radio station outside of town. Will good triumph over evil, or was Tipper Gore right about Heavy Metal music all along? I'll leave that for you to discover!
Fastway - "After Midnight"
"What are you afraid of?"
I have to be honest: for a supposed "horror" film, "Trick or Treat" is disappointingly light on gore and certainly isn't very scary, but it more than makes up for that by being fast-paced, action packed, and funny as hell. Marc "Skippy" Price is great as the put-upon Eddie, and he receives able acting support from Lisa Orgolini as his love interest Leslie, Glen Morgan as his nerdy buddy Roger, and future "Melrose Place" star Doug Savant as his preppie tormentor, Tim Hainey. '80s metal fans and trivia geeks will note that the music of "Sammi Curr" heard throughout the film was actually performed by the cult hard-rock act Fastway, which featured former Motorhead guitarist 'Fast Eddie' Clarke and UFO bassist Pete Way. Modern horror fans will probably find "Trick or Treat" unbearably cheesy, but for those of you who still have fond memories of ripped denim jackets, cassette tapes, vinyl LPs and the Sony Walkman, this flick is a true time capsule perfect for retro Halloween viewing. To this day, "Trick or Treat" still ranks as the best out of the glut of similarly-themed, low budget "heavy metal horror" films that all appeared around this same time period, like the infamous "Rock N Roll Nightmare," the ridiculous "Black Roses," or the execrable "Hard Rock Zombies"
Unfortunately, despite its cult reputation amongst '80s metal fans and B-horror aficionados, "Trick or Treat" is currently out of print on home video. The last time the film was issued on DVD was in 2003 by the budget label Platinum Disc Corporation, and their version was a bare-bones, full-screen affair without any bonus features. Copies of this edition now regularly command collector's prices on auction sites (no, you can't have mine). Fans were hopeful for Sammi Curr's resurrection in 2006 when it was rumored that the horror specialists at Anchor Bay were planning a 20th anniversary deluxe DVD, but that release was apparently cancelled due to hassles with the music licensing. Hopefully the film's cult following will be rewarded with a new DVD sometime soon; until then, interested parties might still be lucky enough to find a copy if they comb carefully enough through those bargain bins. "What are you afraid of? It's only Rock and Roll!"
..."Trick or Treat" was the directorial debut of long time character actor Charles Martin Smith, who's best known for his role as Terry "The Toad" Fields in "American Graffiti." Since then he's racked up a number of film and TV directorial credits, including such notable projects as the pilot episode of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series ("Welcome to the Hellmouth"), the cuddly Disney film "Air Bud" (!) and the family hit "Dolphin Tale."
...Gene Simmons was originally offered the role of Sammi Curr in the film. He passed on it as he wasn't impressed with the script, but agreed to a brief cameo as the radio DJ "Nuke."
...Eddie's pal "Roger" was Glen Morgan's first and only onscreen acting role. Glen went on to become a prolific scriptwriter and producer for such TV shows as "The X-Files" and "Millennium," co-created the "Final Destination" horror film series with his partner James Wong, and directed the 2006 remake of "Black Christmas."
...Outside of the U.S., the film was released under the title "Ragman," which is the pen name Eddie uses when he writes fan letters to Sammi Curr.
...Tony Fields was a former "Solid Gold" dancer who'd appeared in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "Beat It" music videos and the film version of "A Chorus Line" before taking on the role of Satanic rocker Sammi Curr. Sadly, Tony passed away in 1995 at the age of 37, from complications related to the AIDS virus.