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TRICK OR TREAT

This eighties concoction was a well-deserved box office flop, yet it’s amassed a sizeable cult following.  Why?  I can’t imagine it’s due to the ludicrous horror elements, but apparently the main character, a misfit metal head, has resonance beyond the nonsense. 

The Package 
     The trick seems to be to look beyond the horror business to the film’s sympathetic portrayal of the severely alienated, heavy metal obsessed Eddie—if you grew up in the eighties the chances are good you knew someone just like him, if you weren’t that “type” yourself.  I’m guessing there were quite a few such types, which explains this film’s enormous following (it’s a huge seller on ebay). 
     Simple eighties nostalgia is anther contributing factor to TRICK OR TREAT’S cult success.  Much like David J. Schow’s 1987 novel THE KILL RIFF, this film is ultimately, despite all the mayhem, a nostalgic look back at the glory days of heavy metal, when it was the most transgressive thing around (Gene Simmons makes an appearance, as does Ozzy Osbourne...as a priest!).  Just ask the infamous 80’s anti-metal crusader Tipper Gore—although never mentioned in this film, her presence is definitely felt.
     To me, though, this does not get TRICK OR TREAT off the hook for its many shortcomings.  The story is cluttered and uninspired, with an ill-defined villain and much lazy storytelling (including a climactic auto chase gussied up by gas cans conveniently left in the street for cars to run into and explode!).   

The Story 
     Eddie is a severely alienated teenage nerd, always getting picked on by jocks and finding his only form of solace in the music of heavy metal star Sammi Curr.  Eddie’s in the act of composing a hand-written letter to Curr when he hears the shocking news: his idol has just died!
     Not that this stops him from buying Curr’s records.  He even plays ‘em backwards, hoping to hear secret messages (the backwards message controversy, FYI, was based a real issue that resulted in at least one lawsuit against a HM star back in the eighties).  Surprisingly, it works: the voice of Sammi Curr speaks to him, advising Eddie to nail his tormentors (Eddie’s nerdy friend fills him in on the real-life purpose of backward messages: to get people to scratch up their records by playing them backwards and so have to buy new ones).  This he does, inciting a wholly implausible chase through the school, ending with Eddie’s enemies somehow spraying the teachers’ lounge with a fire extinguisher. 
     Eddie becomes drunk with his newfound power, but, inevitably, it turns against him; Curr’s ghost grows increasingly restless, until it breaks free entirely from the record and embarks on a rampage, appearing in a school dance, where it zaps people with beams of light shot from an electric guitar.  A number of wholly gratuitous car chases follow (a sure-fire sign of lazy writing), and Eddie finally vanquishes Curr by drowning his ghost in a lake. 

The Direction 
     If TRICK OR TREAT doesn’t work as a horror movie, that’s because director Charles Martin Smith doesn’t appear much interested in such elements.  The climactic car chases have all the excitement of an episode of THE WALTONS and the special effects run the gamut from outright laughable to merely cheesy (this film has more cheap lightning FX than any other I’ve seen).
     Where Smith concentrates his energy is in developing the character of Eddie, and his efforts seem to have paid off.  He’s coaxed an excellent performance out of Marc Price (FAMILY TIES’ Skippy), and Smith convincingly portrays the details of his character’s lifestyle. 
     Incidentally, if the name Charles Martin Smith sounds familiar, that’s probably because he’s better known as an actor, in films like AMERICAN GRAFFITTI, NEVER CRY WOLF and THE UNTOUCHABLES.  TRICK OR TREAT was his directorial debut, an occupation Smith hasn’t been too prolific in since...which, after experiencing this film, doesn’t surprise me.


Vital Statistics 

TRICK OR TREAT
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group 

Director: Charles Martin Smith
Producers: Michael S. Murphey, Joel Soisson
Screenplay: Michael S. Murphey, Joel Soisson, Rhet Topham
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Editor: Jane Schwartz Jaffe
Cast: 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
 


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