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Trick Or Treat (1986), Starring Gene Simmons & Ozzy Osbourne (Test of Time)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must-see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY CHARLES MARTIN SMITH

STARRING MARC PRICE, TONY FIELDS, GENE SIMMONS, OZZY OSBOURNE

Here’s a deadly doozy for y’all to dine on this All Hallows Eve: what’s your all-time favorite heavy-metal or rock-n-roll horror flick? Is it a throwback 80s cheese-fest like BLACK ROSES, ROCKTOBER BLOOD, or ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE? Spill some mother*cking blood on the brain-matter underneath! Hell, perhaps it’s a newer entry like THE GREEN ROOM, THE DEVIL’S CANDY, or LORDS OF CHAOS?

Hell nah, the only acceptable answer around these parts is the superb and yet sadly slept on 1986 movie TRICK OR TREAT (OWN IT HERE), a badass movie that not only boasts a killer metal soundtrack (OWN IT HERE) but also happens to feature the acting chops of such genre icons as Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. Now, this movie is such a rare treat that we’ve dedicated a F*cking Black Sheep article highlighting how supremely underrated the film is, and now we’re doubling down with a meritorious assessment of how well the movie still plays nearly 35 years after its release on October 24, 1986. Happy Halloween y’all, it’s TRICK OR TREAT vs. The Test of Time below!

THE STORY: TRICK OR TREAT was conceived by 976-EVIL scribe Rhet Topham along with Michael S. Murphy (THE SUPERNATURALS), both of whom had just produced A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE one year before. The two men not only brought along budding FX/Makeup artists Kevin Yagher, but they also hatched a newfangled horror villain named Sammi Curr, who much like Freddy Krueger, is a supernatural baddie that is able to infiltrate the real world through very specific means. For Freddy it’s dreams, but for Sammi, it’s back-masking satanic heavy metal music. Both villains share similar facial scarification and disfigurement as well.

For the screenplay, Murphy and Topham hired costar Glen Morgan TO polish the dialogue. James Wong was also brought in to do uncredited script work. Of course, Morgan and Wong would go on to become longtime writers and producers on The X-Files before creating the FINAL DESTINATION franchise. And honestly, the plot sort of resembles a cool, long-lost X-Files episode. The story follows Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price), a pusillanimous bullied high-school heavy-metal fan who rocks Anthrax, Judas Priest, and Ozzy posters on his bedroom walls. Eddie, aka Ragman, eats a ton of shit from the high-school jocks led by Tim (Doug Savant) and has only his geekier pal Roger (Morgan) to rely on. Eddie happens to be the biggest fan of local rock hero Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), who tragically dies in a hotel fire before being banned from performing at Eddie’s high-school Halloween dance.

Deeply bereaved, Eddie visits local radio DJ Nuke (Gene Simmons, who turned down the role of Sammi to play a DJ in honor of his childhood hero Wolfman Jack) to collectively mourn. Knowing what a big fan he is, Nuke gives Eddie a rare recording of Sammi’s, which he takes home and listens to. Upon close inspection, Eddie soon realizes that playing the record backward unleashes Sammi’s vengeful spirit and allows him to communicate with his deceased hero. When Sammi tells Eddie the plan is to exact gorily fatal revenge on his high-school bullies, Eddie is torn between his loyalties to his musical hero or stay true to his moral compass and vow to protect the town from violent carnage.

WHAT HOLDS-UP: Having just revisited the film again, I’d say there are three key aspects of the film have endured more than anything else: the pure premise, the anarchic aesthetic, and the menacing metal music!

Straight up, TRICK OR TREAT has one of the all-time coolest horror movie plotlines. The idea of Back-Masking and macabre subliminal messages goes back to the “Paul is Dead” Beatles recording that led to all sorts of conspiracy theories in the late 60s and early 70s. By the mid-80s, heavy-metal music was demonized in the mainstream media, making it a perfect metaphor for a horror movie premise. The idea of having a bullied kid channel the vengeful spirit of his deceased musical idol through a subliminal record is so cool and original that the movie was green-lighted on such a one-line pitch. Before Sammi Curr even materializes in the flesh, Eddie communicates with him in a manner almost akin to the Ouija Board, the subject of several contemporary horror yarns. But when Sammi does enter the earthly realm, he can also shape-shift into a hulking reptilian ghoul or remain in black leather and strike fear as a maniacal heavy-metal marauder.

Perfectly mirroring the premise and subject matter is the visual aesthetic of the film. Major props go out to Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (THERE WILL BE BLOOD, BOOGIE NIGHTS, SYRIANA, NIGHTCRAWLER, and way too many to count), who imbues the film with the perfectly-pitched rock-n-roll lighting schemes that aptly reflect the foggy neon concert aesthetic of the mid-80s. Even Eddie’s bedroom is a visual strength with its large shafts of light and dusty spires pouring through the window. The instance when Sammi materializes in a fiery circle in Eddie’s room has the raw energy of an early Metallica video. The aesthetic is bolstered by the pedigree of Special Effects creator Kevin Yagher (SLEEPY HOLLOW, FACE/OFF), Set Decorator Doug Mowat (INCEPTION, and Production Designer Curtis A. Schnell (CAT PEOPLE, BLADE RUNNER), all of whom contribute to the Gothic heavy-metal tableau that makes the film look and feel so inviolably rad. The standout confluence of all these technical disciplines is on full display during the film’s frenzied and ferocious finale of Halloween festoonery at the high-school dance.

Of course, we can’t talk about TRICK OR TREAT without mentioning the maddening and menacing music, which may very well boast the all-time best heavy metal soundtrack of any horror movie ever made. The music in the film is performed by heavy-metal band Fastway, a British outfit named after guitarist and founding member Fast Eddie Clarke, formerly of Motorhead fame, and featuring former UFO bassist Pete Way. The lyrics are sung by Dave King, who would go on to front the band Flogging Molly. Originally, W.A.S.P frontman Blackie Lawless was approached to compose the music for the film, but only agreed to do so if he could also star as Sammi Curr in the film. Lawless also offered to do the entire soundtrack if he got the part. When first-time director Charles Martin Smith (Toad from AMERICAN GRAFFITI) told Lawless he’d have to lip-synch Fastway’s music if he earned the role, Lawless withdrew his name from consideration. Even so, the music in the movie goes a long way in establishing a tone and tenor of anarchic energy that organically informs the characters. Throw in the original score by kickass composer Christopher Young (INVADERS FROM MARS, THE FLY II, THE DARK HALF, SINISTER, etc.), and the music becomes twice as instrumental.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: While most of the practical FX work holds up well, in particular the scene in which a horny teen masturbates in the backseat of a car to Sammi’s accursed Songs in the Key of Death recording (a parody of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life album) before being devoured by a giant reptilian monster named Skeezix (seen above), many of the lightning-strobe visual FX do not stand up as well. Certain instances do, like when Eddie rips into the TV screen, but other instances of the cheap and chintzy digital FX fail to resonate.

The other thing that blows now is how irrelevant heavy-metal music has become in mainstream American culture nowadays. Given how bad popular music has become, it’d be nearly impossible to make TRICK OR TREAT today. As it is, the story feels more of a time-capsule or ancient relic than a contemporarily pertinent one. Also, and this has always been an issue regardless of the year the film is viewed, I always found it a bit too hard to believe that anyone so into heavy-metal music would allow themselves to be bullied in the first place. Metal-heads are typically the bullies, not the bullied, which saps a bit of the film's overarching credibility. Eddie’s always been either too much of a poser or a pussy to constitute a true metal-head in my eyes.

THE VERDICT: The Truth of TRICK OR TREAT? It’s far more of the latter than the former, and by and large, continues to be one of the all-time best heavy-metal horror movies. The filmmaking pedigree speaks for itself, the premise kicks all kinds of ass, the look and feel of the film perfectly mirror the anarchic subject matter, and the music itself is among the movie’s finest qualities as it too perfectly echoes the entire tone and tenor of the story. Hell, I didn’t even mention the subversively hilarious cameo of Ozzie Osbourne, who plays a fervidly hysterical anti-metal preacher who warns the public of the music’s inherent peril (stay tuned for a funny post-credits scene with him as well). If you’ve never seen it, do wise and spoil yourself this Halloween with a TRICK OR TREAT screening or two!

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