Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #258
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 24, 1986
Sub-Genre: Occult Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $6,797,218
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Producers: Michael S. Murphey, Joel Soisson
Screenplay: Joel Soisson, Michael S. Murphey
Story: Rhet Topham
Special Effects: Steve Wolke, Regina McLeod
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Score: Christopher Young
Editing: Jane Schwartz Jaffe
Studio: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Distributors: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Platinum Disc, Warner Home Video
Stars: Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Doug Savant, Elaine Joyce, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne, Elise Richards, Richard Pachorek, Clare Nono, Alice Nunn, Larry Sprinkle, Charles Martin Smith, Claudia Templeton, Denney Pierce, Ray Shaffer, Brad Thomas
Suggested Audio Candy
Fastaway “Trick or Treat”
I remember a time when being a metal head was a sure-fire way of being branded a social leper. There was nothing considered more uncool than to swan around in tight-fitting denims and to borrow your sister’s curling tongs every day to give your long perm a lift. Being rock and roll was all well and good if you made your living that way but, outside of gigs, it was a curse. Folk tend to judge a book by its cover and would automatically assume you were lacking in cool, probably a virgin, and unable to exist within the same pentameters as everybody else. Nowadays it is all change as most adolescents have parents with a Megadeth LP or two tucked away in their closet, but back then, a witch hunt awaited anyone foolhardy enough to wear their horns on their sleeve.
It wasn’t until my twenties that God have rock and roll to me and the first time I watched Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat I was left somewhat cold. Sure I found the album artwork to metal vinyl alluring but the music just seemed like a whole lot of noise with no substance at the time. Thus I felt as though my critique may have been a little harsh and decided to spin the record back one more time. It certainly wasn’t a bad film per se but was I too quick to discount it? In the interests of giving a fair crack of the whip I decided it was high time to reappraise with a more open mind.
Nearly thirty years after the act, Trick or Treat has aged considerably but in no way is that a derogatory statement. It’s undeniably eighties, in mentality as well as appearance and that, in itself, grants it exemption to certain criticisms. It arrived as the horror craze was beginning to run out of gas and a three years prior to Wes Craven’s superior Shocker. It resonated strongly enough with audiences to earn a brief theatrical run-out and it amassed a small cult following in the process. It is certainly evocative of its time and viewing it now is best done with rose-tinted spectacles at the ready.
The story is, as you would expect, throwaway in the extreme. Stereotypes are present and correct, from dashing jocks with mean spirits to cheerleaders with ample chests and pouting lips, everything is as you would expect. Rocker Eddie is misunderstood by his peers, shunned by the cool crowd and resembles a wedgie waiting to happen. Awkward, insecure and backed up with sexual frustration, he is the Creepy Carrie of the piece, complete with locker room indignities. His only friend is the only kid in school less hip than himself and his only sanctuary rock and roll.
When his personal Jesus, shock rocker Sammi Curr, perishes in an inexplicable hotel blaze he is utterly distraught but soon perks up as his friendly local Radio DJ Nuke offers him the only recorded vinyl copy of Curr’s final LP to raise his flagging spirits. It is like asking Stuart Little to hold onto your collection of ornate mouse traps and, of course, little time has passed before Eddie can no longer resist a sniff of that delicious Glam cheese. Demonic hidden lyrics were a mainstay in eighties metal and Eddie soon finds himself playing the record backwards and unwittingly discharging the unaccountable malevolence within.
Smith’s only other notable work came six years later with action flick, Fifty/Fifty, although he still works in the industry to this day. As far as debuts go, Trick or Treat is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Marc Price gives a credible performance as pasty outcast rocker Eddie and it is astonishing to me that his career made no further advancements. Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. was first choice for Sammi but eventual selection Tony Fields (A Chorus Line) brings enough glam and damnation to his role, firing electric bolts from his axe and blurting infrequent one-liners to keep up with the Kruegers of this world. There’s also cameos; with Gene Simmons playing too-cool-for-school Nuke and Ozzy Osbourne popping up as a misguided tubby televangelist. The soundtrack by Fastaway, meanwhile, fits like a fingerless glove.
Alas, it isn’t all good news. Although production values are reasonably high for its time there is an absolute dearth of two things which we have come to expect from our horror movies: fear and grue. It falls woefully short on both counts which, considering the hair metal origins, isn’t anywhere near hardcore enough and leaves you wanting for something which is never delivered. In addition, the final third stutters badly and the inevitable Halloween dance scene is a massive letdown. Curr should be going down in a blaze of glory but, outside of a few decent visual flurries, he kind of peters out like an elderly church organist rather than a rock demigod.
Trick or Treat can be forgiven for making a few missteps as it has just enough eighties charm to make for a fun whilst ultimately forgettable watch. Both Shocker and James Isaac’s The Horror Show did the whole electricity conducting carnage thing better and this is undoubtedly the poor cousin. However, if you grew up in the eighties then you’ll know exactly what to expect and familiarity need not breed contempt. It’s just a shame that a film which pays tribute to a genre of music often branded as satanic couldn’t bring it just a little more with regards to the red stuff.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Stay hungry Grueheads as there is little meat and potatoes amongst all the relish. Grue is at an absolute premium and instead we are treated to bolts of blue electricity which wouldn’t look out-of-place in Krull. We are teased with a giant mechanical drill-bit which appears set to hollow out Doug Savant’s skull but ultimately it all amounts to a big fat zero. The closest we get to a bloodbath is a bad case of ear-ache and a cretinous overfiend, although a pair of bouncing breasts are thrown in as a sweetener.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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