In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Trick or Treat (1986)

The original 1986 poster for Trick or Treat

While this is indeed a horror film, it’s not very scary at all, and most people wouldn’t even consider it a “good” film. (Most people aren’t even aware that it exists.) That being said, I’ve decided to review it anyway because (1) it’s topical to Samhain, (2) it’s one of my all-time favorite films ever made, and (3) it has played a significant role in the development of the LV-426 Tradition. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat, which was released in theaters by the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) in October 1986.

Trick or Treat is about a teenager named Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price, a.k.a. “Skippy” from Family Ties), who’s also known as “Ragman” to his friends. Eddie’s a metalhead, and he’s especially dedicated to the music of Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), a glam metal shock rocker who’s obviously inspired by Alice Cooper. Eddie absolutely worships Sammi, and he’s friends with a radio DJ called “Nuke” (who’s played by Gene Simmons of KISS), a nerd named Roger (who’s played by Glen Morgan, one of the head writers for The X-Files, Millennium and the Final Destination films), and a pretty girl at his school named Leslie (Lisa Orgolini), who seems to like him as well. Unfortunately, Eddie is also bullied at school by a bunch of jocks (led by Doug Savant of Desperate Housewives fame) who think he’s creepy and weird. These guys apparently see nothing wrong with stealing Eddie’s clothes from the boys’ locker room or trying to drown him in a swimming pool.

Eddie’s reason for worshiping Sammi Curr becomes apparent when we see how he’s treated by his peers. We can’t be sure if the bullies mock him because he likes Sammi, or if he likes Sammi because the bullies mock him. Either way, the shock rocker’s music helps him cope with his feelings of subjugation. In a strange way, Eddie’s rock hero seems eerily prophetic of Marilyn Manson, who took the whole shock rock thing to a new level in the 1990s. Not content with just scaring or pissing off parents, Manson made himself into a full-blown culture war iconoclast (i.e., a self-proclaimed “Antichrist Superstar”) and declared war on the American Religious Right (and even the Christian God Himself). In a similar way, Sammi Curr uses his music and his fanbase to declare war on society. He offers his fans a future in which “Rock’s Chosen Warriors will rule the Apocalypse,” and he promises all who try to ban his music that “We will bring you down.” For Eddie, Curr is more than just a rock icon or a hero; he’s a counter-cultural messiah who promises that people like Eddie will be fully emancipated from Christian society very, very soon.

But this apocalyptic prophecy seems to vanish right into thin air when Eddie turns on the TV one morning to learn that Curr has died in a hotel fire. Naturally, the boy is instantly crushed and descends into despair. But when he visits his friend Nuke at his local WZLP radio station, Nuke gives him something really special. I should point out that Sammi Curr appears to have grown up in Eddie’s own town (a place called Lakeridge, which is actually Wilmington, North Carolina), and that Nuke was friends with him while they were growing up. As it turns out, Nuke just so happens to have a demo recording of an album Curr was still recording when he died. (The album’s called Songs in the Key of Death.) Nuke gives the record to Eddie, telling him that Sammi would have wanted him to have it. While listening to it later that night, Eddie discovers that the record contains a bunch of baskmasked messages (i.e., messages that have been recorded backwards). When he plays the record in reverse to see what the messages say, he gets the shock of his life.

Eddie and his “hero,” Sammi Curr

The voice of Sammi Curr speaks to Eddie through the backmasked messages, and he tells the boy to do certain things while he’s at school the next day. When Eddie does them, he outsmarts his foes and gets them in trouble (while getting away scotch free). It then seems to Eddie that he and Curr will get to realize their shared vision of a world without bullies after all. But as Curr’s ghost continues to help Eddie “nail” his tormentors, he also demands Eddie’s help in “nailing” everyone who ever tried to ban his music. Things start to escalate and their little Halloween pranks start to become deadly, leading Eddie to realize that his beloved demigod is really a demon. It’s not much of a spoiler for me to say that by the end, Eddie must stop Curr from potentially killing everyone when Nuke plays Songs in the Key of Death backwards on his radio show (on All Hallows’ Eve, no less).

Now I know what you’re thinking; Trick or Treat sounds like something that was made by evangelical Christians, right? It sounds like the whole point of this movie is to say that heavy metal really is evil and that kids who listen to it are opening themselves to satanic influences. So as a devoted metalhead myself, I probably shouldn’t like this film at all, should I? None of this is true, and I can prove it. Consider the fact that Ozzy Osbourne later appears as “the Reverend Aaron Gilstrom,” an anti-rock televangelist. Yes, you read me correctly; Ozzy fuckin’ Osbourne plays a Jimmy Swaggart-type of guy who preaches that heavy metal musicians are all Satanists brainwashing our kids. (Now that’s irony for you). I might also point out that Trick or Treat doesn’t quite end the way you’d expect. If this were an evangelical Christian propaganda film like Rock: It’s Your Decision (1982), Eddie would swear off metal for good after defeating Sammi Curr at the end and “give himself to Jesus” (as they say). But after he defeats the ghost of the man who used to be his hero, what does he do?

By Gods, he plays a goddamn Sammi Curr record!

Yes, that’s right – and this is where I think Trick or Treat really shines. The film never treats heavy metal as something that’s inherently “evil,” but as something that’s greatly misunderstood – not only by parents, preachers and politicians, but even by some metal enthusiasts as well! Eddie eventually sees that Sammi Curr is really a much worse bully than any of the jocks that torment him at Lakeridge High. But when Eddie tries to take Sammi down, he isn’t turning his back on metal (or even on Curr’s music in particular); he’s just going after one bad pumpkin that’s trying to spoil the whole patch. In other words, Eddie learns to divorce the art he loves from the artist who created it; the artist might be a major asshole, but his art can still be meaningful and enjoyable.

I can identify with this because I used to worship the ground Marilyn Manson walked on; but then I learned that he really isn’t the all-powerful “Antichrist Superstar” he used to present himself as being. At first, this revelation made me feel like I could never listen to his music again; my sense of disappointment was just too much. But after a while, I learned that a person’s art can still be deeply meaningful and magical even if the person who created it is not who (or what) I want them to be. I went through the exact same thing with Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne. In heavy metal especially, it’s easy to confuse the people writing the music with the characters they play. Marilyn, Alice and Ozzy aren’t real people; they’re bigger-than-life personas that were created by Brian Warner, Vincent Furnier and John Osbourne, respectively. And the funny thing is that once I finally began to understand this principle, I started to enjoy their music even more.

Promotional photos for the film

In Trick or Treat, the problem is not with heavy metal itself, but with the fact that Curr takes his hype and his stage persona way too seriously. When Eddie fights him, Sammi accuses him of being “false metal” – but in reality, Sammi’s the one who’s false. Part of the fun to heavy metal is that it’s basically a huge power fantasy that can be taken to some truly ridiculous extremes. What’s more, this is usually done while keeping one’s tongue planted firmly in-cheek. Sure, there are some who, like Sammi Curr, take themselves too seriously (e.g., Burzum). But this genre was built on the work of guys like Coop and Ozzy, who sing about strangling people or having sex with the devil while winking at their audiences. It’s all make-believe, like a Halloween party that never ends, and the people who take it too seriously – including both the Pat Robertsons and the Varg Vikerneses of the world – are completely missing the point.

Now of course, most people who’ve seen Trick or Treat think it’s a total dud. After all, it’s full of bloopers (there’s even one scene where you can clearly see the boom mike at the top of the screen), and its direction probably isn’t the best. The movie also can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a genuine horror film or a comedy with horrific overtones, and I can see how this might annoy most people. But with all that being said, the film is very well acted, the music is phenomenal (both the rock songs by Fastway and the score by Christopher Young), and a great deal of creative effort was very clearly put into it. They weren’t just trying to make a quick buck with this one; they were actually trying to make something witty and intelligent. Granted, I probably over-think this movie quite a bit. (It’s actually a ritual of mine that I watch it every Sunday night before bed, which drives my poor wife nuts.) But for what it’s worth, I think Trick or Treat is actually quite brilliant.

I know some folks will probably roll their eyes at this (and honestly, I can’t blame them, for I realize how it sounds), but we consider Trick or Treat to be sacred here in the LV-426 Tradition. While Alien (1979) and The Hitcher (1986) might tap into aspects of Seth-Typhon’s ancient lore (e.g., His daily battle with Apophis), Trick or Treat eerily reflects our own personal histories with Him. We were all like Eddie Weinbauer when we were kids; we were alienated youth and we coped with our problems by listening to angry and aggressive-sounding music. That same music became one of our “doorways” into Paganism, the occult, and ultimately our Typhonianism; as a result, we came to view our rock heroes as ineffable Typhonian “messiahs.” Big Red had to disillusion us of this notion over time, but like Eddie at the end of the film, we eventually learned how to continue enjoying our favorite art on a spiritual level without resorting to blind hero worship. This sounds almost stupidly simple to me now as a full-grown adult, but it was a very difficult lesson for us to learn when we were still kids, and Trick or Treat reminds us of what it was like to go through that.

It may not be the greatest film ever made, but you can sure do much worse than Trick or Treat. If you’re looking for a decent Halloween-themed horror flick to enjoy this Samhain, I highly recommend this one. And while it’s rated R, I think it really only deserves a PG-13 rating. There’s one scene with brief nudity and there’s a few F-bombs here and there, but there’s no gore or explicit violence to be seen, and it isn’t very scary at all. So if you’re looking for a Halloween movie you can watch with your kids (say from about 10 years and up), Trick or Treat will do nicely. It’s currently out of print and is exceedingly difficult to find, but you can probably find a used copy of the 2002 DVD edition for real cheap on Amazon. If nothing else, the entire film is available on YouTube (as no one seems to care enough to defend the copyright).

(And as a final note, if John Carpenter’s idea for making the Halloween movies an anthology series had actually taken off, I think Trick or Treat would have made a decent Halloween 4.)

Alternate poster art for the film

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2 responses to “Trick or Treat (1986)

  1. Aleph October 31, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Sounds like I really missed out. I’ve never seen the film, but by gods I think I will after reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

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