Heavy Metal and Horror Collide in 1986's "Trick or Treat"
"Trick or Treat" (1986)
Starring: Marc Price, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Doug Savant
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Today I'd like to present a B-movie that I hold near and dear to my metal heart - 1986's headbanging Halloween hoot, "Trick or Treat." This canny combination of '80s anti-rock hysteria and teen-horror hijinks was seemingly aimed directly at me in 1986, since I was a 16-year-old metal-obsessed nerd just like the film's protagonist, Eddie "Ragman" Weinbauer (Marc Price of Family Ties fame).
At the time Trick or Treat was made, Tipper Gore's P.M.R.C. watchdog group had convinced American parents that their kids' record collections were filled with "demonic" messages that could only be heard when played backwards. Trick or Treat took that idea and blew it up to absurd proportions in an action/horror tale that's fairly light on scares, but loaded with fun for anyone who came of age during the Big Hair Decade.
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. Eddie's musical idol is hometown hero Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), who attended the same high school as Eddie and went 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 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 appearance at the school Halloween dance has been cancelled due to meddling by 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 he has a chance to drop it in the mail, Eddie turns on the TV and learns that Sammi has been killed in a mysterious hotel-room fire.
The next morning, a grieving Eddie visits the local rock radio station, where the DJ "Nuke" (Gene Simmons of KISS fame), 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, a newly-confident Eddie begins to turn the tables on his preppie tormentors at school, which attracts the interest 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, which causes Sammi to return to the land of the living through his stereo speakers. The demonic rocker, now a crackling, leather-n-studs creature of electrical energy that resembles 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.
As Eddie races to his school's Halloween dance to rescue the imperiled Leslie, Sammi takes the stage to rock the assembled student body (and disintegrates a few of them with energy beams that emanate from his guitar, in a hilarious scene that's half "Carrie," half "Headbanger's Ball"). The Final Battle between the demonic rocker and his fanboy takes place at an isolated radio station outside of town. Will good triumph over evil, or was Tipper right about Heavy Metal music all along?
Fastway - "After Midnight"
"What are you afraid of?"
I have to be honest: for a supposed "horror" film, Trick or Treat is light on gore and isn't very scary, but it's 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 performed by the cult hard-rock act Fastway, which featured former Motorhead guitarist 'Fast Eddie' Clarke.
Modern horror fans will probably find Trick or Treat unbearably cheesy, but if you still have fond memories of denim jackets, cassette tapes, and the Sony Walkman, this flick is a true time capsule. In my book, Trick or Treat ranks as the best out of the glut of similarly-themed, low budget "heavy metal horror" films that appeared around this same time, like the infamous Rock N Roll Nightmare, the ridiculous Black Roses, and the execrable Hard Rock Zombies.
Unfortunately, despite its cult reputation among '80s metal fans and B-horror aficionados, Trick or Treat is hard to find on home video. The film was issued on DVD in 2003 by the budget label Platinum Disc Corporation, as a bare-bones, full-screen affair with no bonus features. Now out of print, copies of this edition now command collector's item prices on eBay (no, you can't have mine).
Fans were hopeful for Sammi Curr's resurrection in 2006 when it was rumored that Anchor Bay was planning a 20th anniversary DVD, but that release was apparently cancelled due to hassles with 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.
As Sammi Curr himself might say, "What are you afraid of? It's only rock and roll!"
© 2011 Keith Abt