Face-Off: Trick or Treat vs. Trick 'r Treat

We're already a week into October, the greatest month to be a horror fan, the time for an all-out celebration of horror building up to many a genre fan's favorite holiday, Halloween. To kick off the October Face-Offs, we look ahead to that holiday with a pair of films that share a Halloween setting, basically have the same title, and both feature antagonistic characters named Sam.
A film fueled by '80s rock, TRICK OR TREAT's story takes its cues from the decade's Satanic Panic and the Parents Music Resource Center movement, telling of Satan worshipping rock god Sammi Curr (songs provided by Fastway), who perishes in a hotel fire but whose spirit lives on in his last recordings. Curr was banned from playing at his hometown high school's Halloween dance, but when his final album is played there the singer's demonic spirit is released into the world.
Set on Halloween night in a small Ohio town, this TRICK 'R TREAT has multiple stories. It's an anthology film where the segments intertwine with each other, characters from one crossing paths with those from another. There's a serial killer father, the vengeful spirits of children killed in a bus crash, a pack of girls on a sinister mission, and a strange little boy who punishes those who don't follow Halloween traditions. But there's nothing as cool as an evil '80s rocker.
Marc Price, best known as Skippy from Family Ties, played Eddie Weinbauer, a.k.a. Ragman, a bullied teenager obsessed with his hometown hero Sammi Curr. The film really makes us sympathize with Eddie, and we're rooting for him as he confers with the spirit of Curr (by playing his record backwards) to get payback on his bullies. When Curr goes too far, Eddie steps up to be the hero, aided by out-of-his-league love interest Leslie (Lisa Orgolini).
This one is a bit short on heroes. Nearly everyone in it is a monster or in some way awful, the film is packed with people doing horrible things and getting their comeuppance for them. The closest we get to "good" characters are Anna Paquin as virgin-with-a-secret Laurie and Samm Todd as Rhonda, a little girl who gets a cruel prank pulled on her. Beyond them, most of these characters are very unpleasant. Especially the ones who hate Halloween!
Sort of an evil amalgamation of various rock icons like Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne, both of whom cameo in the film, Sammi Curr is at his best when he's a threatening voice playing through Eddie's speakers. Once he's resurrected with supernatural electrical powers, things get a bit cartoony. When your villain is short circuited by falling into a toilet and mocked as a poser, the horror icon title starts to slip from his grasp. But don't get me wrong, he is awesome.
Throughout the film, this Sam is presented as a passive observer. A little boy in an orange onesie, wearing a burlap mask, who just happens to be at the scene of some horrific events. He earns a spot as a modern horror icon in the final segement, where he's revealed to be an unkillable pumpkinheaded creature who violently enforces the rules of Halloween. If he weren't such a mean little bastard, maybe he could be considered the hero of the movie.
This is really a movie that captures the spirit of rock 'n roll more so than of Halloween. There are some trick-or-treaters and jack-o-lanterns toward the end and it builds up to a Halloween night costume party, but if the climax had been set on a different night of the year - say, the anniversary of Sammi Curr's death - it wouldn't have changed much.
Of course a film with a supernatural monster dedicated to the holiday's traditions is going to be brimming with Halloween spirit, and it wonderfully captures the look and feel of a Halloween night in the midwest. Fallen leaves, jack-o-lanterns galore (this movie has to hold the jack-o record), and a whole lot of people in costume filling the streets. It is a perfect representation of Halloween.
Charles Martin Smith made his directorial debut with this film and proved so capable at mixing creepiness and laughs that it's a shame he has never directed for the genre again, except for the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The script is a bit scattered; there are three credited screenwriters and it feels like each was writing with a different tone in mind.
Writer/director Michael Dougherty brought his cleverly crafted stories to the screen with a strong sense of humor and a fantastic visual style. The movie looks great, from scenes lit by the glow of jack-o-lanterns and campfires to a sequence set at a fog-enshrouded quarry. Although it's told through several segments, they all come together to form one cohesive tale of terror.
This was a tough one for me, because I actually prefer the 1986 film over the 2007 one. TRICK OR TREAT has been a favorite of mine since childhood, and I find it to be the more entertaining of the two. Still, when looking at them objectively I found that its competitor came out on top in some categories, and TRICK 'R TREAT is well made and Halloween-y enough to squeak by with a victory.

I know TRICK 'R TREAT is already an October "must watch" for a lot of horror fans, but here's my appeal: as a consolation prize, give TRICK OR TREAT - the 1986 film - a try before the month is over. It's a really fun movie in its own right, and if you're a fan of '80s horror, you might even love it as much as I do.

Have you seen both of these films? If so, let us know what you think of them in the comments section. If you have any suggestions for future Face-Offs, you can send them to me at [email protected]



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