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 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!).
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.
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.
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