Trick or Treat is a movie made in 1986 about a Satanic hair rocker who comes to life through an album played backwards and then uses his guitar to kill high school students. When I was ten, this movie was on pay-per-view, and no-way, no-how were my parents going to let me rent it. But the pay-per-view channel showed previews all day long, and I watched this one over and over again:
I know. Why haven’t you heard of this movie? It’s Carrie meets Ratt’s Invasion of Privacy. Revenge of the Nerds with Vince Neil instead of Ogre. Ultra-timely, it plays on those Tipper Gore-led witch hunts against the likes of Rob Halford and Dee Snider. At one point, Satan incarnate complains under oath that you can’t legislate morality. It’s every parent’s nightmare about the effects of rock music on disaffected teenagers. Why wasn’t Trick or Treat exhibit F that rock n’roll was the Devil’s music for people who actually though KISS stood for “Knights In Service of Satan.” Why, you’re asking, aren’t people watching this at midnight tonight and throwing crap at the screen when demon-rocker Sammi Curr kills the gay guy from Melrose Place? Trick or Treat should be the ultimate time capsule for everything that was stupid and horrible and wonderful about hair metal, packed into the kind of exploitation mid-80s horror movie that we’ve canonized through the hard work of obsessive cults.
But it’s not.
And the reason, sadly is that Sammi Curr – who is supposed to be everything cool and dark about the music – is played by some dude named Tony Fields. According to its Wikipedia page, Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. was originally set to play Sammi, and that would have made the movie awesome
Blackie would have damn-near perfect; he was just the charismatic anti-icon the movie needed. Instead, Tony Fields was “one of the stars of the chorus line,” and he barely registers. Meanwhile Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne have cameos, and they appear hilariously on the DVD cover even though they don’t even last a combined five minutes in the movie. Ozzy plays a televangelist.
The screenwriters had the right idea. A bullied weiner named Eddie sits in his room and writes embarrassingly personal letters to this scuzzy guitar god. Then Sammi, “Rock’s chosen warrior,” dies in a hotel fire and Eddie gets a hold of the “last record,” which does some weird stuff to his stereo when he plays it. This posthumous effort turns out to be even more affecting than Sammi’s last hits: “F*ck with Fire, Burning Metal, and Torture’s Too Kind.” Of course, playing it backwards only exacerbates things. Playing Eddie, Marc Price looks like a less-intelligent version of Jesse Eisenberg (which is probably not a phrase he wants in his obituary).
Sadly, Price’s claim to fame is still as Skippy from Family Ties, the kind of doofus so wussy even other nerds beat him up and he has to be rescued by Tina Yothers. Trick or Treat, recognizing that they have the world-class weiner on their hands, has him get rescued by a girl here too. So Eddie goes home to listen to Sammi Curr’s cacophonous screeching, and despite all his rage, he’s still just a rat in a cage. Until the devil’s music makes him more confident and willing to take on the metrosexual bullies who torment him for some reason (a similar transformation happened to me in high school when I listened to Nelson’s After the Rain).
All hell breaks loose. Kind of. While the film creepily has Sammi’s ghost haunt a Walkman (!) to have his way with the bully’s girlfriend, the rest of the movie is just not absurd enough to register. Which is too bad, because it’s a killer setup, and it should have been at least as memorable as Child’s Play. Trick or Treat is only half as fun as it should be.
Does music really speak to us? In its own trashy way, Trick or Treat argues that it does. Eddie isn’t Charles Manson thinking “Piggies” is about a race war; these songs are truly haunted, invested with the fiendish spirit that Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center assured us were present in Sheena Easton lyrics. The movie is at its best when it suggests those fevered anxieties might be true.