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TRICK OR TREAT

1986, dir. Charles Martin Smith
98 min. Rated R.
Starring: Marc Price, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne.

Review by Noel Wood

You just can't go wrong with a combination like this: A movie starring Family Ties ubernerd Skippy as a mullet-sporting metalhead, with special appearances by rock and roll legends Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne, an original soundtrack by Fastway, and directed by Terry The Toad from AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Does it get any better than this, really?

Of course, the result is TRICK OR TREAT, a goofy little horror movie from a time when bands with big hair and makeup were more than punchlines and nostalgia fodder. And in 1986, when this film first emerged, I was quite influenced by the likes of the Cinderellas and the Poisons and the Motley Crues of the world, so I made sure to check it out at earliest convenience. If I recall correctly, I loved this movie back then. Now, nearly two decades later, I can see why people don't listen to the voices of twelve-year-olds for their serious views on artistic merit.

In TRICK OR TREAT, Marc "Skippy" Price, who has since had his career highlight being the host of Teen Win, Lose, or Draw, plays a high school misfit named Eddie Weinbauer who is obsessed with a heavy metal singer named Sammy Curr. Perhaps the character of Eddie was an extension of his Family Ties character, who was always trying to get with Mallory Keaton. Mallory preferred bad boy Nick, of course. Eddie was likely a fantasy of who Skippy could become to win the heart of Mallory. Or something. Anyway, one day after being tormented by his schoolmates and being locked in the girls' gym buck naked, Eddie goes home and writes his idol a letter. Sammy also happened to attend the same high school many moons ago, for whatever it's worth. Now, Eddie's high school is a far cry from the school I was attending at the time, where the metal kids weren't picked on, but rather were the rulers of the roost. It also didn't hurt that all the jocks were metalheads in these parts back in the mid-to-late eighties, but maybe that's just my geographic aesthetic talking. Anyway, the point is that Eddie's a loser who goes home and cries to his favorite singer.

So you can imagine how heartbroken he is when he finds out that his idol has died in a hotel fire at the tragically young age of 38. 38? Jeez, you should have at least made the guy seem hip and cool and still cutting edge young. Maybe even have him die at 27 like Hendrix and Joplin and Cobain, except that this all takes place 8 years before Cobain died, but whatever. Eddie reacts by running to his room and ripping down all of his posters. Why the fuck he does this is a mystery all unto itself, but I'm guessing the idea is that he's going through a lot of pain.

Eddie seeks consolation by visiting his buddy Nuke, a local rock and roll DJ who happens to be played by everybody's favorite long-tongued Demon, Mr. Gene Simmons. Nuke gives Eddie the sole copy of Sammy's final studio recording, despite earlier plans to play it on the radio at midnight on Halloween. We can only imagine this can lead to all kinds of creepy stuff, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Eddie is in for a shock when he's invited to the cool kids' pool party by a popular girl that he's got a crush on. Of course, when he shows up, he's routinely bullied about by the jocks again, and is tossed into the pool wearing a backpack that I can only assume contains lead, because it drags him down to the bottom. Skippy, er, Eddie, vows to get revenge on these dirty no goodniks.

Later that night, he puts on Sammy's final record and falls asleep. He awakes and decides to ruin his phonograph needle by playing the record backward. Obviously, the backward messages are providing a whole lot of allure, and Eddie decides that Sammy is talking to him. Specifically. And like all good dwellers of the bottom rung of the food chain, he decided to carry out the whims of Sammy's backward messages. Especially when he record starts reversing on its own power and the backwards messages are actually carrying on a conversation with him. Sammy instructs Eddie that his mission is to get rid of these bullies once and for all. In his next encounter with the bullies, Eddie gets called a "wussy fucking weaktit," perhaps the best insult I've ever heard; then a drill press intervenes and scares the bad guys off again.

But now, the power of Sammy is unleashed. He doesn't just need Eddie to do his dirty work for him. Just by listening to his music on a walkman, one of the bullies' girlfriends is magically disrobed and then attacked by a giant demonic creature. The boyfriend, using all common sense and logic one would expect when finding his girlfriend naked and unconsious, automatically assumes that Eddie did something to the tape she listened to and vows to get back at him.

Of course, Ozzy Osbourne shows up, in the oh-so-ironic role of a religious crusader who thinks that heavy metal music is bad for you. For anyone who was under a rock during the 1980's, Ozzy was under fire by Christian groups for his occult tendencies. The casting is so ironic here that it's a cliche.

Next thing you know, Sammy decides to reincarnate himself in Eddie's bedroom and is off to do all sorts of evil shit on his own. In order to stop Sammy's wrath, Eddie gets his friend Roger to steal and destroy a possessed cassette tape, but Roger refuses to heed the warning and plays it anyway. Sammy recruits Roger to play his tape at midnight or else suffer a horrible death. And to demonstrate his prowess, Sammy reaches in the television and kills LARGE MARGE!

Roger takes the tape to the school's Halloween night dance and plays it. Eddie catches wind of all this and rushes to the dance to put a stop to all of this madness, despite the fact that he's grounded! What a rebel. Sammy performs an impromptu gig at the dance, leading to believe that it's a lookalike paying tribute. So imagine their suprise when he starts shooting lightning bolts from his guitar, frying the student body! Eddie gets there a moment too late, and it's carnage everywhere. He runs to find Leslie, the one popular girl who will give him the time of day, and even attempts to save the bully who has tormented him from the wrath of Sammy. Roger disables the building's power before Sammy can get his hands on Eddie and friends, but it's too little too late.

Eddie spills the beans to Leslie, and they realize that their only hope is to stop Nuke before he can go through with his plan to play the record at midnight. They rush back to his house to fetch the car, but Sammy gets in the way and hijacks the vehicle himself. A stolen police car gets them to their destination, an old shack of a station with oversized call letters on the roof. I swear it's the same building they used for the U62 studios in Weird Al's UHF. Sammy's wrath has already been felt there, though, so Eddie gets some hare-brained idea that only the protagonist in a horror movie would ever come up with to draw out the evil bastard while he sends Leslie in to destroy the tape. Stuff happens, Sammy gets fried, and then our heroes end the tale by falling into one another's loving arms and sharing a passionate kiss.

If there's one good thing about the finale here, it's that they don't linger around. Once the menace has been put away, it's about 32 seconds before the credits start a-rollin'. No silly pussyfooting around, no long drawn-out explanation, no back-from-the-dead teases, nothing but the obligatory lip action and that's it. Thank goodness for that element, for whatever it's worth.

Still, TRICK OR TREAT is pretty bad. It's probably the least scary horror movie I've ever seen in my life, and that's including lots of low-budget Italian and Spanish flicks that are so boring I'm suprised they ever got a release. There are no really scary or shocking moments, so it's no suprise that Charles Martin Smith didn't stick with horror movies and his next-most prolific directing role is AIR BUD. Sammy Curr is about the most uninteresting horror movie villain there is: he looks like a less-masculine version of Dead or Alive's Peter Burns and is about as imposing as Peter Criss. I guess you can't expect much when you hire a former Solid Gold dancer (Tony Fields) to play the role of your antagonist. His music isn't even that cool. It's pretty watered-down even for the metal that dominated Headbanger's Ball back in 1986. And if there were ever a hero that was harder to rally behind, it's Marc Price. He'll never escape the guise of Skippy, no matter how hard he tries.

TRICK OR TREAT is one of several slasher films that prey upon fears derived from a fad of the times. In Robert Englund's 976-EVIL, the trend of toll call hotlines was the subject, in Dee Snider's STRANGELAND, it was the internet. Before those two, though, it was just good ol' fashioned vinyl records and backward masking techniques that prompted TRICK OR TREAT. Of course, since half of the kids today probably haven't seen an LP in person in their lifetimes, this movie would have to be vastly different if it were made today.

And don't be fooled by the billing that the DVD cover gives. TRICK OR TREAT does not "star" Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. Both of the rock legends appear in the film for approximately 4.6 nanoseconds apiece. But since Gene has returned to wearing makeup and touring with KISS and Ozzy is the patriarch of the whoda-thunk-it pop culture phenomenon known as the Osbourne clan while Marc Price has done, well, jack shit; there's probably a much better shot of some average schmuck picking it up if they put the famous people on the cover.

And you too can pick it up for the low price of 5.99 at your local DVD outlet. For only a couple of more bucks than a rental, you too can own a copy of this very film. Why you'd want to is beyond me, but then again, I bought a copy on my own accord so I don't have any room to talk. It's a bad, bad, bad, bad movie, but it's one that's worth watching just for the cameos.

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All Material Copyright 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

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