Welcome back to another Friday(ish) Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of endlessly scrolling through the internet, looking for plans this Halloween. I mean, you probably should have made those a long time ago but if you’re looking at those little crafty videos that show you how easy it is to make a five second costume, I assure you that unless you have all that shit lying around the house, there’s no way that’s going to take you five minutes or less. Much more likely, you’ll end up covered in glitter, glue, tears and shame as you regret this decision and decide to snack on your Halloween candy that you were planning to hand out. And now that we’ve covered what I’m doing tonight, let’s watch something to really get into the spirit of the season! Normally I wouldn’t be covering a film like this because I’m reasonably certain that it does have a bit of a cult following considering the soundtrack and who’s in it. That said, it’s my review on my website and this is one of my favorite movies so rules be damned, tonight, we’re covering the 1986 film Trick or Treat.
As per always, when talking about this film, this has to be distinguished from the unconnected movie that came out much later, Trick ‘r Treat, featuring the iconic little Halloween loving creature Sam. This one is far more metal. And very very 80s. And a million times better because it’s cheesy and fun and it’s got Ozzy Motherfucking Osborne as an evangelist preacher. And that, friends, is how I became convinced to watch this movie in the first place. And really, what more could you want? I mean, you’ve got one of the most infamous artists that was included in the “Filthy Fifteen” in a metal horror film decrying the horrors of metal. That is beautiful alone and deserves to be seen. But the rest of the film is actually a blast too so let’s get talking about Trick or Treat and why it exists and why it’s awesome.
Before we get started, we’ll establish the tone upon which this film sits. In 1985, the year before this film came out, a group of bored, well connected American housewives with nothing better to do with their time took their lovely little censorship group called the PMRC to the US senate for a jolly old hearing. The topic of the day was presented as saving children from the evils of modern music. If that group name rings a bell, you might remember it from the review of Strangeland, a film what stars one of the men who led the counter argument against censorship from this group. That intrepid fellow was none other than always incredible, Dee Snider. He, along with Frank Zappa and John Denver, took up the torch of presenting the counter argument to the group that was looking to label what they decided was “porn rock” with stickers that would make them harder to sell. I glossed over this in the other review but this stupid slice of politics in history is more important to this film and I highly doubt that it was a coincidence that it came out a year later with some familiar names attached to it. Don’t worry if you’re not down for too much of a history lesson because we’re only covering the bare bones here but they are important bones, nonetheless.
So we know the group was about censorship but what exactly did they look to do? The one thing the PMRC start proposing we already knew about because it did actually happen, even if it wasn’t what they wanted. Their original end goal for those stupid black and white stickers was to have a rating system like they have in the movies with some rated G and others rated R and etc. It’s kind of dumb but it’s hardly fatal and, just as I alluded to in the Strangeland review, it’s mostly useless because we’ve seen how ineffectual it is with comics and movies too. Turns out that rating system isn’t really that important or useful if you’re underage and still find someone willing to purchase you an album or a ticket to something or whatever. Life would have been so much easier if they just looked at how useless this all was for the comics code and been done with it but the PMRC wasn’t about to go out the smart way. In fact, they had bigger aspirations than just our annoying little stickers. In fact, they were intending to make it so that stores would be forced to treat “offensive” album covers the same way they treated porn, they would have tried to limit or prevent TV stations from airing “offensive” videos, and the kicker was that they were pushing to reassess contracts with musicians that the group found offensive for what they deemed violent or sexual content in their music. And remember that crack I made about the “Filthy Fifteen”? Among them are Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (a song about standing up for what you believe in, even if it’s not popular), “High and Dry” by Def Leppard (a song about enjoying the finder things in the 80s, like your significant other, a box of wine and a trans am) and the crowning, glorious explicit song that was too much for the Washington Wives to stomach, Cyndi Lauper’s ode to masturbation, “She Bop”. We can joke about this now but that last part of their quest would have made it very difficult for certain musicians to get by and some of them would have been forced to either make some significant changes or be forced out of the business altogether. And that’s pretty steep for something that, as Frank Zappa argued, could lead to vague and biased interpretation.
The reason this is important to this film is that familiar and entirely tiresome refrain that was all over this campaign and has graced every other censorship campaign before and since: We have to protect the children. Yes, since the days of Elvis Presley and extending into the days of comics codes, video game controversies, book burnings, industry-wide bans targeting metal and then rap music, rules dictating what bathroom people are allowed to use and various other things grown ups just plain don’t like, we have heard people fall on the automatic ace in their pocket to argue that something should be stamped out or severely limited in accessibility. All of these pundits and supporters and parents and angry people shouting, would someone think of the children. (This is particularly hilarious when reading up on the PMRC hearing and how one of the witnesses to testify for the censorship cause actually cited Elvis as being part of a more innocent time in music when things were better and more wholesome. Guess that guy forgot the pearl clutching that happened the second the poor man decided to move his lower half and sent loins ablaze throughout the country.) So in the end, repression was the real goal of the PMRC and it really didn’t matter if the song was meant to be an ode to day drinking sprung forth by a group of English twenty two year olds (“High and Dry”) or a song expressing the anxieties of going into surgery (Twisted Sister’s “Under the Blade”), if the PMRC didn’t approve or they could find a reason to call it explicit, the song and the band was in danger of becoming a target. And all to protect those impressionable children, or so they said. Children that had a habit of finding forbidden things, like they always had since time immemorial. Children that the world doesn’t always have space for or bother listening to. Children who don’t conform to what we think idealistic children should be. You know, teenagers.
It’s kinda funny that for all that these parents and censorship supporters were claiming to be looking out for the safety and security of those unnamed, random children that they were so worried about, they didn’t seem to know much about what they liked or why. Trick or Treat doesn’t waste any time and cuts straight to the answer to that question in the opening scene. We meet our main character, Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer, played by Marc Price, as he’s writing a fan letter to his hero, Sammi Curr, about life as a social pariah. During the sequence, we see a sampling of incidents where Eddie is humiliated and abused by his classmates and he looks up to Curr, seeing as he once attended the same high school and found a way out of it. And before fingers can get too near pearl clutching vicinity, we get to see who Eddie is really. He’s not a junkie or a violent kid or even a nasty one, really. He’s a loner metalhead who loves his music unabashedly, even though he’s tormented for it. In fact, metal is the only thing that he finds solace in when he’s repeated made fun of, rejected and, in one particularly nasty scene, has a prank pulled on him that could have killed him. There’s a sense that his parents and the adults around him are there but they aren’t really engaged in any way that stops the onslaught of abuse that he suffers from. In fact, of his few friends, the only ones he has is another nerd in school who happens to also like hard rock music and the local rock DJ, Nuke, played by Gene Simmons as a tribute to one his own rock heroes, Wolfman Jack. From the start, we get to see how this music is like a beacon of hope for Eddie in a world that really does just love to shove him down and make him feel small. If Sammi Curr could get out and become huge, that was a good enough goal to get him through. So you can imagine how poorly he takes it when the news broadcasts that his idol, hero and favorite musician of all time, Sammi Curr, is killed in a hotel fire.
Devastated, Eddie goes off to meet up with Nuke, who knew Sammi personally. In their conversation, Eddie finds out that before he died, Sammi released a promo record that was sent to the station, to be played on Halloween night. Nuke tells him that he made a high quality copy of it on tape and gives the record to our mourning protagonist to cheer him up. Our teenage outcast heads home and curls up with his new precious but falls asleep while it’s playing. In his nightmares, Eddie has visions of Sammi in his hotel room as it burns down around him and surrounded by people engulfed in flames. Given that Sammi was known for playing with backmasking, Ragman tries playing the record backwards and discovers that his hero is not only hiding something on the record, he’s talking directly to him from beyond the grave. After Sammi gives Eddie the means to outsmart the bullies that have been making his life a living hell, our hero gets more confident to start to be himself. He also starts dabbling in things he shouldn’t and soon after, people start to get hurt. From here, our feel good tale of a boy and his undead rockstar idol becomes a little more sinister. You see, Eddie starts off this film basically thinking that this is a dream come true. He’s met his idol in a way that no one could ever dream of and this was before Twitter so this was a huge fucking deal. Not only did he have access to someone he respected but also, his hero was actually acknowledging, speaking to and even helping him. From Sammi’s point of view, however, Eddie is less of a buddy and more of a pawn. This becomes particularly evident when Eddie starts to get uncomfortable with what they are doing and Sammi demands his loyalty, not his input. From here, our undead rocker, played to absolute perfection by Tony Fields, begins making his way towards his real goal: playing the Halloween concert he was denied at his old high school and bringing his hellish fury and lust for revenge with him.
Reading that description, it probably doesn’t seem like this film was much of a middle finger to the PMRC at all. After all, it’s playing the same fiddle as they are, isn’t it? Kid gets involved with dangerous metal music and suddenly there are satanic influences that hurt his classmates. Metal is the doorway for the evil in his life, right? Well, if we ignore that whole part where metal music is Eddie’s only outlet and sometimes is the only thing he clings to when he’s got nothing else, I don’t think you can deny that as a character, he’s also not mindless. Unlike the visions that Tipper Gore and pals had about kids falling victim to this nameless evil in the Pyromania album cover or the lyrics of “She Bop”, Eddie initiates some hard breaks when he gets the picture that Sammi isn’t really his friend. And remember, these were the kids that made his life a living hell. They abused and humiliated him and the metalhead still goes out of his way to help them and try to save them. And ultimately, he doesn’t cower before his idol and do whatever he’s told. When the climax hits and he’s forced to confront Sammi head on, he doesn’t flinch and he doesn’t make excuses for his hero. It’s almost like, deep down, he was just a kid who wanted to feel acceptance and like he belonged somewhere. In the end, he is still a metalhead and he is still a good person because despite his anger and his want to get back at the people who hurt him, he didn’t take that to the same degree as Sammi Curr and he realized that he didn’t need his idol to hold his hand in getting out of his horrible high school. He did all this one his own. Just like most of the kids that grew up in the time of the senate hearings did.
By now, you already know that I love this film. There are some cheesy parts for sure and the part with Ozzy Osbourne is hilarious. There’s also some pretty decently creepy parts and let’s not forget about the soundtrack. All the music for this film was provided by Fastway and it just fits so well. If you like 80s hard rock or metal, you either already love this film or you are currently doing yourself so wrong by missing out on it. And a lot of times, when you have movies that feature an actor trying to play rockstar, they don’t quite cut it but we’re in luck this time because Tony Fields really nails this role. He does a great job of being incredibly menacing as well as pulling off the rockstar act. There are parts of this film where you can see his background as a Solid Gold Dancer coming through but the thing is that this was hard rock in the 80s. You can laugh if you want but tell me you didn’t see David Lee Roth do a few similar moves or notice the high amount of spandex on certain very popular bands of the day. And if you’re looking at the spandex and ignoring the makeup, shame on you! Sammi Curr has a pretty intense look and his burns are represented in a way that would make a certain boiler room dweller proud. And really, it’s Halloween, my people. Sure, you can watch all the things that you normally watch on this most creepy of times but everyone has seen the classics. If you want my recommendation, get comfy, tease up that hair and throw up the horns because it’s time for Trick or Treat!
Happy Halloween everyone and be sure to join me for more horror reviews every Friday on Friday Nightmare Reviews. If you are looking for more horror stories in your life, join me on Mondays for the updates on my serial fiction story, Hello Dolly. It’s the tale of a curvy horror hostess who is trying to navigate the world of monsters around her with her misfit friends. All while trying to produce a weekly online show. And until next week, keep playing those records backwards and listening to awesome scary music!