Every now and again, we get time off from the grand mission of this site, to find the very bottom of the cinematic barrel (although I think we’re close with Neil Breen), and we get to review a classic. “Trick Or Treat” was a beloved movie among my group of friends in our teens and early 20s, but I’ve not seen it since then. Those 20 years since my last viewing have been kind to some cast and crew members and unkind to others – star Marc Price was also in “Combat Academy”, but after his run on sitcom “Family Ties” pretty much died a death, career wise; first-time director Charles Martin Smith has maintained a very busy acting and directing career; and it was co-star Glen Morgan’s only ever acting role, but he’s now a producer on many shows including “The X-Files”, so he’s probably fine. More on the two most famous cast members later, but let’s see if the movie holds up!
Price is Eddie Weinbauer, the outsider at his high school. He’s a metalhead, with posters and LPs of every hair-metal band of the time. His favourite, though, is Sammi Curr, who’s not only a superstar but is also an alumnus of the same high school Eddie goes to – we first see him writing a letter to his idol using the name “Ragman” (never explained, which I quite like). When the news of Curr’s death in a hotel fire is announced, Eddie is distraught, and goes to visit local DJ Nuke, who has an acetate of Curr’s last recording, the amazingly titled “Songs In The Key Of Death” (which has only been ripped off once for a title, a brilliant mix CD by Andy Votel). “Sammi is in there”, Nuke says, with an extremely suspicious look on his face.
Running alongside all this is Eddie’s woes at school. Despite Curr apparently being very popular, Eddie gets a heck of a lot of crap for liking metal; but is tricked into going to a few cool kids’ social events, and gets thoroughly embarrassed (plus, they do the thing where they shove him out of the locker room naked in front of a bunch of women). When I was a teenager, I obviously sympathised with Eddie, but my first thought this time was “doesn’t he have his own social circle? Why does he care about these people?” Anyway, the one nice girl, Leslie (Lisa Orgolini) tries to help him out, but he’s too upset…later that night, he discovers some backwards-masking on the LP, and plays it backwards, revealing Sammi Curr speaking to him from beyond the grave! Sammi suggests revenge, Eddie happily agrees, and from then on he has a supernatural helper.
It was around here I began to wonder if it was some Christian-funded anti-metal / anti-Satanism movie, and both Nuke and the guy playing the televangelist who’s disgusted by metal lyrics were in it due to some sort of court order. Nuke is Kiss’s Gene Simmons, back when Kiss were on the outs and he had a modicum of humility; he’s a reasonably good actor (he was also in “Runaway”). The televangelist sadly doesn’t have even Simmons’ limited acting chops, as he’s played by Ozzy Osbourne, but I like how no-one questions why the preacher has a broad Birmingham accent. It isn’t (funded by some nutty religious group), though, I guess? It manages to have its cake and eat it. The mother who’s so frightened by metal she loses her mind when Curr’s LP is accidentally triggered is probably an indication we aren’t supposed to take it too seriously.
After two minutes of feeling cool and rejecting his actual friends, he realises Sammi has gone too far when he puts the evil jock’s girlfriend in hospital (she listens to his tape and her ears melt off). So it’s him, Leslie, and Roger (Morgan), trying to stop Sammi fulfilling Eddie’s revenge request by killing everyone in the school / town. I guess he’s also annoyed they cancelled his Halloween concert at the school too? It’s pretty well done, they’re not stupid, and this whole section reveals a pretty decent sense of humour. When Eddie’s car is driving down the empty highway, missing a roof and on fire, it’s a funny scene. I realise that sentence makes me sound crazy, but trust me. I didn’t quite buy the inevitable romance, but to be fair there’s no “wait here, female, and let me solve all the problems”, so it gets a very vaguely proto-feminist thumbs up from me on that score.
My main problem with this, then and now, is that I hate the music. Hair metal was maybe my least favourite genre, and the band doing Curr’s music, Fastway, were absolutely shocking, middle-of-the-road ear-irritant, so I spent quite a bit of the movie annoyed, hoping the scenes would end quicker. But the movie itself is great, with a decent lead, surrounded by plenty of solid actors, and a plot that rips along. Smith is a fine first-time director, although I wouldn’t look at Charles Martin Smith and go “yes, that’s the guy I want directing my heavy metal movie”.
I already mentioned the thing with the lack of a social circle, and the other little oddity that only occurs to you on your tenth rewatch or so is…at the Halloween dance, Curr materialises out of an amp, vapourises the lead singer and plays one of his songs with the replacement band. All the kids cheer the burned, mutilated rock god, guessing he’s a tribute act, but did no-one think “he died in a fire a few days ago. This is, at best, in poor taste”? Apparently not. Also, no-one remotely dangerous has ever done pirouettes like Curr does as part of his ridiculous on-stage dancing.
In trivia I don’t quite believe, Simmons says he was offered the role of Curr but turned it down due to not thinking the script was up to much. I’d guess this was post-facto rationalisation, as a heavy metal movie with a washed-up former rock star pretending to be a sexy Satanic badass would have been a very tough sell (he ended up being played by jobbing actor Tony Fields, who was no oil painting either but did the sneer well). Simmons also disappears entirely after his two scenes, which makes no sense given how central he is to the plot (he’s about to play Curr’s album at midnight on Halloween, spreading the evil far and wide) and I’m thinking he was supposed to be the ultimate villain but they cut that subplot out. Still, it looks like he and Ozzy had fun:
It all goes a bit “Maximum Overdrive” at the end, which I liked, and overall it’s still a surprisingly fun movie. Plot holes aplenty and awful music, but solidly entertaining and enjoyable. Pop it on this Halloween and, if you’re around my age, allow any children in the room to mock the awful fashion and musical choices you once made.
Rating: thumbs up