With a total gross of just under $7 million Trick or Treat is the kind of movie many directors today are trying to capture. They don’t want to mimic this film. Nor do they want to copy it. They just want their films to have an 80s vibe. That coolness that the films of nearly 40 years ago seem to effortlessly have. The 1980s have come back in a very big way. So big in fact that the times we are living in almost feel like that time. And while there were obviously bigger horror films around this time, not to mention films by people like John Hughes, as far as 80s rock movies go, the vibe doesn’t get any cooler than Trick or Trick.
Now, before you start throwing films like Sid & Nancy, This Is Spinal Tap, The Decline of Western Civilization and its counterpart The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years at me, you need to understand that the universal nature of Trick or Trick is what makes it so cool. The aforementioned films are great BUT they’re very niche oriented. They’re very specific. Whereas Trick or Treat shows us the story of an outcast who rises above his circumstances to become a hero. If Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) was going to tell a tale about a metal kid saving his town, it’s a very real possibility that it would look a lot like Trick or Treat. And when you consider all the hands involved in making a film, the story by committee approach to filmmaking, the mere fact that a film like Trick or Treat exists does nothing but put even more shine on its coolness.
Like many a succes d’estime, Trick or Treat as evidenced by its paltry grosses, didn’t nearly get the time it deserved at the multiplexes of the mid-80s. However, it did get something of a theatrical run as it was released right before Halloween on October 24, 1986. This was probably a cursory release to satisfy an ancillary deal with a home video distributor and other platforms. I recall this film playing in theaters and I want to say I even saw ads for it in the newspaper. Trick or Treat came and went and I ultimately recorded late one night off of HBO. I remember watching part of it the next morning before school and then I finished it up when I got home. From there I watched it again and again. Ultimately, I moved to other films like Innerspace and even Sid & Nancy but I knew that Trick or Treat was special.
This story of Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price), a Hessian who worships rock icon Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), has his world shattered when Curr gets killed in an accidental fire. Eddie comes into possession (no pun intended) of a vinyl recording of Sammi’s that nobody owns. This comes courtesy of his DJ friend Nuke (Gene Simmons). This is no ordinary record and Eddie realizes he can “backmask” it (play the record backwards on a turntable) and commune with his deceased hero. Eddie uses this to help him gain revenge but things become all too real once Sammi Curr actually comes back from the dead. Suddenly, the term be careful what you wish for takes on a whole new meaning, as Eddie Weinbauer becomes the only person who can stop this evil entity. What ensues is a mix of blood, heavy metal, explosions and just about everything else you’d want from an 80s teen movie.
So why is Trick or Treat all but ignored? Why has it (not that it needs to be) not been rebooted, remade or otherwise turned into multiple sequels? Yet, when you mention this film to people they all talk about how much they love it. One could cite nostalgia. You could make the argument that the love people have for this film is ironic. Now, I don’t know where Trick or Treat sits with the millennial set (I imagine that they love it), but the people that I know who love this film are about my age or above. There’s nothing ironic or arm’s length about how they feel about this film. So, I can’t really say why Trick or Treat was dismissed other than the fact that it never really had a chance to find its audience. Sure, it probably found one on home video and cable TV (and now the internet), but that relegates this movie to cult classic status. What I can say is that Trick or Treat is easily the coolest rock film of the 1980s and this article is going to explain why.
The Fastway Soundtrack
Before Buckcherry before Avenged Sevenfold before AFI… there was Fastway. Sure, they were around with legendary rock bands like Poison, Ratt and others, and as a result of that they may have been overlooked. However, the melding of their music with the imagery and mystique of Sammi Curr is a stroke of genius. Now, I am not sure how much Director Charles Martin Smith realized he was capturing the 1980s metal world with this movie, but the Fastway soundtrack dates Trick or Trick in the best of ways. With Fastway’s supercharged chord structures, melded with the undeniable strength of singer Dave King’s voice, the power of the Trick or Treat soundtrack is palpable. In fact the soundtrack is so solid that (like Repo Man before it, it would be a fine piece of 1980s vinyl with or without a movie to go along with it. The fact that tracks like “After Midnight,” “Get Tough,” and “Stand Up” are perfectly fused with the DNA of this film, only serves to heighten what a charged sonic offering this is. That the singer of this band would go on and form Flogging Molly (a group with a sound that is totally different from Fastway!), is yet another check across the many boxes of the talent working on this film. The best explanation I can muster for why such a cool package was ignored, is that maybe the soundtrack, incorporated with the content of this film, was too much. Trick or Trick, while ultimately triumphant, is a dark film. The music is relentless. So even at the end, when things seem like they are going to be okay, there’s still a sense of foreboding that pervades the audio and visual senses. Overall, Trick or Trick seemed to be made and forgotten and that only made it cooler because it made the film more mythic and grand.
Trick or Treat featured Backmasking
Okay, the word Backmasking can actually be broken into two different terms. One is Backward Masking. This features messages that were/are deliberately put on vinyl records. They can be heard when the records are played backwards. Then there’s Backmasking. In this case there was no deliberate attempt to put in a message that could be played backwards. Rather, the messages are created by how the words are sung in the song. This leaves them open to interpretation and debate. As in the case of Trick or Treat, it seems like what Eddie hears from the deceased Sammi Curr falls somewhere in the middle. The messages on the unknown piece of vinyl that Eddie receives were obviously put there by Sammi Curr. However, they seem to resonate in a way that makes them sound like “phonetic reversals.” In this instance, what is heard when something is played regularly will sound different when it is played backwards. Also, the messages from Sammi Curr change as Eddie can actually communicate with him via playing the record backwards. One thing I remember is that people I used to listen to records with when I was younger, would often stop listening to those records if it was discovered that a hidden message existed on them. I grew up in Orange County, CA in the 1980s. At that time it was overwhelmingly white and Christian. There is nothing wrong with this obviously, but coming from a Jewish household my family sorta thought differently about these things. Truthfully, the thought of backmasking creeped me out. However, I had never (and still have not) really seen it used the way it was in Trick or Treat. That plot point alone upped the cool factor of this movie. I may be wrong about this but I don’t recall any film from the 1980s exploring this topic. Perhaps studios shied away from it because of religious groups? Maybe screenwriters didn’t think that there was enough information on backmasking to hang a story on? Whatever the case, Trick or Treat would’ve been groundbreaking and cool just for this alone, but it would have other layers that further burnished its bonafides.
And Hessians Too!
Okay, I’m not talking about the German troops that the British enlisted to help them fight in the American Revolution. Rather, I’m referring to the long-haired people, usually into heavy metal, that I saw sparsely populating my high school in the 1980s. Aside from Marc Price’s portrayal of Eddie Weinbauer was there any other portrayal of this kind of character before Trick or Treat? Again, nothing really jumps out. I am not talking about outcasts. I’m not talking about people living in the margins who get back at the bad guys in a movie. I’m talking about metalheads. Marc Price’s acting turn here is one of true genius. Having played the doofus Skippy in the long running TV hit Family Ties, Eddie Weinbauer was something of a departure. Sure, he was still a klutz but he had heavy metal on his side. That alone upped his cool quotient. When you factor in the diehard nature of this character, his devotion to rock legend Sammy Curr, and what Eddie ultimately accomplishes in Trick or Treat the two are night and day. One could cite The Lost Boys as showcasing these kinds of characters but they didn’t have metal backing them up. Sure, we saw Hessians in some of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, but had they ever been given the complexity of Eddie Weinbauer? I could be wrong but it wasn’t until 2010’s Hesher (with a masterful performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), that we would see another performance that even comes close to what Marc Price did in Trick or Treat. That’s almost 25 years! If that isn’t cool I don’t know what is.
Sammi Curr Epitomized Bad-Boy Cool
As long as we’re talking performances it seems like THIS might be the biggest missed opportunity for Trick or Treat. All one needs to do to see it is take one look at the poster for this film. That fiery shot of Sammy Curr rocking out with his red guitar inside that flaming pumpkin is powerful. As he is engulfed in the harsh orange and yellow flames it is literally hard to take your eyes off this image. That Sammi seems to be enjoying his time in the fire only bolsters just how cool he is. Why isn’t Sammi Curr a horror icon in the way that Jigsaw, Jason, Freddy, Pinhead or The Candyman are? More to the point, why hasn’t Trick or Treat been turned into numerous sequels or given a reboot or redo? I agree that this film doesn’t need all that but at the same time… would anybody really complain if it was? Considering how popular a game like Guitar Hero is, or how many people use GarageBand (or other home recording software), there are innumerable ways to have resurrected Sammi Curr and keep him relevant. I think there would’ve been a period where Sammi Curr’s look might’ve made people laugh rather than elicit fear. However, as I often state in these “Rewind” stories I’ve been cranking out, nostalgia is at an all time high in this country. Sammi Curr is definitely cool again. His glam metal look, mixed with the music he was putting off in the original Trick or Treat is gold. This is something people want. However, despite all this coolness we have literally nothing. Aside from Trick or Treat merely existing, a host of fans like myself loving the film and saying how cool it is, what else is there? This is why I feel the sequels and merchandizing for Trick or Treat are a missed opportunity. Where are the dolls? And the shirts? I am sure something exists but Trick or Treat is made for the convention circuit. It’s made for stores like Hot Topic. Yes, I know, Trick or Treat being so homogenous would make it uncool. However, I would sacrifice some coolness for a bit of visibility. I say that because Trick or Treat is the coolest rock movie of the 1980s. It has attitude to burn and more people than just its base should know about it.
It Featured Ozzy and Gene Simmons In One Movie
Before they were reality TV stars Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons both appeared in this film. (In fact, Gene Simmons was quite good in another forgotten 80s gem starring Tom Selleck titled Runaway.) The involvement of these two rockers further enshrined the coolness of Trick or Treat. Of two rock stars, Gene clearly had the stronger acting chops and his role as Nuke in Trick or Treat was more central to this film’s plot. When Sammi Curr dies, Eddie Weinbauer is lost. He needs somebody. Nuke is there with kind words and a gift. Sadly, this gift would be both a blessing and a curse. The music from the vinyl record lifts Eddie up but there’s a price to be paid. Nuke is at all times Eddie’s anchor. So it makes sense that Eddie’s potential demise almost comes from his hand. Ozzy plays the role of televangelist Reverend Aaron Gilstrom. He is seen discussing the ills of rock music. This is obviously meant to be funny. It also poked fun at the televangelists and groups that were doing this at the time. Who can forget those videos on the news of people destroying certain bands records and cassette tapes. It seems laughable now that it even happened… well, considering how things are nowadays, I guess it sort of doesn’t. Looking back, getting Gene and Ozzy in one movie is a truly a magnificent feat. The only issue is that that is how the DVD for this film was marketed. Released in 2002 the DVD came out no image of Sammi Curr anywhere near the front cover. Rather it featured Gene and Ozzy and essentially presented them as the stars of the movie. It also inexplicably featured behind the scenes shots of the visual effects. Which in turn featured some shots of Sammi. The most inexplicable image was one of the FX artists laughing as they worked on the characters in this film. There was talk that Anchor Bay was going to give Trick or Treat the DVD treatment at some point (commentary track, extra footage, etc.), but issues with the film’s music rights stopped that from taking place. There was a supped up release that came out in Germany in 2014. Put out by NSM Records, it had 3 discs (one of them being a Blu-ray) and digibook packaging. This release showed just how cool (and deserving) Trick or Treat was, but the fact that it was only limited to a collectors edition run of 1500 is decidedly uncool. Here’s hoping that we someday see Trick or Treat get the release it deserves. This film rocks too hard not to!