This week's film:'Trick or Treat', directed by Charles Martin Smith, 1986
If you went to high school in the 80's, no doubt you ran across a kid like Eric Weinbauer. He's awkward, shy, and completely consumed by his passion for heavy metal. Popular with neither the guys or the girls, Eric (alias Rag Man) finds his only solace in the thrashing, head-banging melodies of his favorite metal bands; particularly one Mr. Sammi Curr. When fate intervenes to prematurely sever Sammy from the mortal coil, Rag Man finds himself locked in a spiraling despair. But when an acetate copy of Sammi's final album allows him the supernatural ability to communicate with his fallen idol, Rag Man wonders if his life may be turning around. But when Sammi begins violently punishing Rag Man's enemies, young Eric wonders if his hero was better off dead.
This movie rocks! That is a dubious statement that can typically be applied carelessly to any number of awesome films, but in the case of 'Trick or Treat', the distinction is apt and fiercely earned. Apart from simply being a great 80's horror film, 'Trick or Treat' is a prime example of heavy metal horror; a genre unto itself. If there were two things the 80's produced with staggering, and frightening, proficiency it was heavy metal and horror films. Therefore this sinfully entertaining hybrid offers each genre element perfect partnership while simultaneously providing enough tribute to fans of either element to satisfy everyone.
The film stars Marc Price from 'Family Ties' as the precocious little metalhead. Though skeptical upon hearing this bit of casting trivia, I subdued my doubts by reminding myself that 'Family Ties' also lent Michael Gross to 'Tremors'; obviously sappy family television dramas can harbor horror diamonds in the rough. He is perfect for this role. His passion for the music seems entirely genuine and he never looks out of sorts in his rock attire. On the other hand, he is geeky and vulnerable enough for the audience to find him sympathetic despite his creepiness. Tony Fields, former 'Solid Gold' dancer, is great as the undead rock wraith. Whether you find his performance undisciplined or a tour-de-force, the one thing that cannot be argued is that Fields is throwing himself head-first into this part and his energy is really what gives the character an unsettling presence.
'Trick or Treat' also features some impressive rock god cameos. The first is KISS front man Gene Simmons as the DJ of the metal radio station that bestows the cursed record upon our hapless hero. I have to admit I didn't recognize him at first, but it had little to do with the absence of his trademark makeup. Gene had, or perhaps still has, a reality show wherein he strives to turn rock legend into self-parody one creepy-old-man moment at a time. Given that the reality show is the only place I've seen him outside the band, I was expecting the same self-aware, obnoxiously tongue-in-cheek indulgence here. But Gene plays this role as well as would any recognizable character actor of horrordom, and that is no small praise. I also love the occasional appearance, by way of television, of Ozzy Osbourne as a Baptist preacher railing against the evils of heavy metal; ironic as well as meta.
The movie does venture into the silly from time to time. I think my favorite moment was the bully of the school calling out our hero in front of his house by screaming, "Weinbauer" over and over which actually sounded like he was screaming "White Power!" There are also some very loose story elements that are fabricated to be accepted at face value when any reasonable amount of thought would conclude that they make little to no sense. But overall, 'Trick or Treat' is a surprisingly-competent, unstoppably entertaining entry into the heavy metal horror cannon.
'Trick or Treat' brought to the Drafthouse an unfamiliar flock of viewers, and it brought them in droves. Even as early as I tend to arrive, the line waiting to be seated had already stretched out into the warm Austin night. The crowd was split between cinephiles eager to attend what was possibly their first Terror Tuesday, and raging metalheads who appeared as perfect transplants of the 1980's. I think what caused so many first-timers to decide upon 'Trick or Treat' as their inaugural Terror Tuesday was the fact that October does tend to infect even the most mainstream of film fan with horror movie fever. Doubly effective in this regard was the fact that the film's title seemed to promise campy Halloween high-jinks. While the plot of the film is only barely entwined with All Hallows Eve, what it did provide was a thunderously good time. This film almost literally rocked the house apart. At one point its soundtrack was so raucous that the speakers popped under the strain of pure metal glory. It was epic!