Trick or Treat (1986)
Dead River had some serious street flooding the past week so I spent a lot of time watching people floating down the street on inflatable mattresses to the Winn-Dixie to restock on cold beer.
But now that the city's starting to dry out, it's time to continue carrying a grudge because nobody carries a grudge like we do in the South. As promised, Marie Janisse - paralegal, former Satanic go-go dancer, and best friend extraordinaire - continued her quest for revenge against the Thomas family. For those just tuning in, they're the uptight folks across the street who convert their garage into a Hallelujah House for Halloween every year instead and refuse to hand out candy because it's un-Christian. They have also incurred the wrath of Marie for referring to the two of us as "the devil's whores." I was called worse in grad school, but as promised, Marie arrived with the rest of Satan's Chanteuses, her all-girl punk-acid-metal-zydeco band (email me if you'd like a CD) to serenade God's Frozen People.
"I'm going to send them back to hell where they came from," Marie snarled.
"I think they're from Iowa," I said.
I reminded her too that the last time she vowed revenge, she ended up paying a hundred-and-fifty dollar retainer to a lawyer named Butch.
Still, the Satan's Chanteuses all showed up dressed like Diane Lane in LADIES IN GENTLEMAN, THE FABULOUS STAINS and have been playing at twice their usual volume all day long.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas at one point emerged from their home. The wife always hides behind her husband's back when talking to other people, but it wasn't until she gave him a covert elbow to the spine that he blurted out, "If you people don't leave, I'm going to call the police!"
"Relax," I said. "We were only sent here to test you."
I have a feeling that this impromptu street concert may end with someone being bludgeoned with an accordion, but it's been fun. A sheriff's deputy finally showed up, but he just gave Marie his phone number and told her she sounds like Jinx Dawson.
And speaking of the devil's music, the third film in the 31 Days of October marathon - where I'll be talking about horror movies set on Halloween all through October - is TRICK OR TREAT (1986), a teenage horror take on the heavy metal Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Written by MICHAEL MURPHY, JOEL SOISSON and RHET TOPHAM (and supposedly an uncredited JAMES WONG and GLEN MORGAN) and directed by CHARLES MARTIN SMITH, the film stars MARC PRICE (Skippy from FAMILY TIES) as high school headbanger Eddie "Ragman" Weinbauer. Eddie is a high school outcast, a heavy metal fan amongst overachieving preppy snobs. He is constantly bullied by Hitler-Youth-In-Training, Tim (DOUG SAVANT) and his gaggle of goose-steppers, but still dreams of teen angel, Leslie Graham (the lovely LISA ORGOLINI) who unfortunately hangs around with the popular crowd. Eddie worships Sammi Curr (TONY FIELDS), a controversial rocker who is also a local of Eddie's hometown, so he knows Sammi understands what a suffocating hellhole Lakeridge, North Carolina can be. Eddie writes his hero letters detailing his alienation and angst, knowing Sammi will understand.
When Sammi is killed in a hotel fire, Eddie is devastated. Fortunately his favorite DJ, Nuke (GENE SIMMONS in a cameo appearance) gives him Sammi's final album. Eddie soon discovers that playing the record backwards gives him a direct line to his dead idol and to his glee, Sammi even helps him engineer ways to get back at his tormentors. But while Eddie's confidence grows, he realizes his dead hero is only using him and that he cannot control what he has unleashed. As the Lakeridge High Halloween Dance approaches, it's up to Eddie to stop Sammi from making one final concert appearance.
Like most teenage horror films, TRICK OR TREAT is a coming-of-age-story underneath supernatural dressing. Eddie is a lonely latch-key kid with an absent father, few friends and feels like he doesn't belong anywhere. Like most teenagers, he copes with his angst through music (hell, I did the same thing with movies which is a big reason I started this blog). So eager to connect to someone who understands him, he projects all of this onto Sammi Curr. Ever met a childhood hero and somehow expected they would be your new best friend, the person who understands you better than anyone, and then are just a little dismayed that they just politely signed your poster and moved right on to the next person in line? Well, that's what TRICK OR TREAT is about. Because of how we react to their work, we feel like our heroes are our confidantes, but they really don't know us at all. Come to think of it, I think JOHN WATERS still has a restraining order against me.
Revenge-of-the-outcast horror movies are always winners with me, and TRICK OR TREAT is no exception. However, unlike the protagonists of these other films like CARRIE and EVILSPEAK, Eddie is not a tragic figure. Eddie, at first, uses his hero to help him stand up against the bullies, but he doesn't want revenge as much as to be left alone. As Eddie gains confidence, he learns to stand up for himself and realizes he no longer needs the support he craved from Sammi Curr. "Who are you without your fans?" he cries. He becomes a hero, winning the battle and winning the love of Leslie.
And speaking of Leslie, what about the female characters? Leslie is the standard Girl-On-A-Pedestal that was common in '80s teen movies: beautiful, friendly, wholesome, seemingly free of baggage and ultimately attainable. Normally I hate the Girl-On-A-Pedestal character as they are empty objects of male desire in the movies and in real life were the kind of girls who used to call me Wednesday Addams in school, but I actually like Leslie. She's sort of like Sue Snell, a girl who's popular because she's genuinely nice and LISA ORGOLINI invests her with charm and sparkle. She also may be a closet metalhead as she references Judas Priest. And speaking of the girls I hated in school, Tim's girlfriend, Genie Wooster (TIFFANI-AMBER THIESSEN lookalike ELISE RICHARDS) is a perfect movie characterization of every humorless, snobby, preppy bitch I loved to hate. When she asks Eddie, "Is it hard to maintain this level of creepiness?" I had to smile. I used to get similar versions of that questions from my middle and high school tormentors too. Genie ultimately meets TRICK OR TREAT's most gruesome fate as she is molested by a demonic lizard version of Sammi Curr. Is rape by an-undead-rockstar-as-a-demonic-lizard too extreme a punishment for just being a high school bitch? Some feminists theorize that women claim power over men through sex and fantasies of men disempowering women are really manifestations of their fears of sexual rejection. In that frame of mind, this scene with mean-girl Genie fits in with the high school revenge fantasy of TRICK OR TREAT. Horror movies present the darker side of the human psyche and don't have to be nice or politically correct.
Although shouldn't the head bully meet the film's most gruesome fate? I thought that was a rule in Aristotle's The Poetics. Therefore, revenge fantasy of the fearful sexually rejected male aside, I really think it's Tim who should be raped by a demon-lizard!
But we haven't even gotten to my favorite part of TRICK OR TREAT and that's Eddie's best friend Roger. Roger is a sarcastic nerd, who has nicknamed his best bud "Eduardo," insists the play-the-record-backward-for-Satanic-messages hysteria is just a gimmick by record execs to get fans to wear out their records and have to buy multiple copies, blatantly looks up a cheerleader's skirt in the middle of the hallway, puts a frantic Eddie on hold because his new call waiting makes him "feel like a total big-wig," and puts together an overly-elaborate burglar costume when asked to break into a car to retrieve the evil Sammi Curr tape. Oh, and he watches THE FOG on TV. Roger rocks. He is also played by a young GLEN MORGAN who would go on to be a prolific writer on THE X-FILES and direct FINAL DESTINATION and the WILLARD remake.
If I have a quibble about the film, it's actually with the Halloween finale. You will never hear me complaining about an undead rockstar shooting electric bolts at high-schoolers out of his guitar, but as a Satanic heavy metal rocker, Sammi could have been a more compelling villain. Instead, in the third half of the film, he's reduced to a Freddy Krueger-lite in leather pants who shoots lightning bolts at people like Ernest P. Worrell in the ERNEST GOES TO JAIL finale. TONY FIELDS is an excellent dancer, though, and the Halloween dance concert is one of the most memorable scenes in the film.
And while I like the soundtrack, it seems strange to me that Sammi is considered so controversial and even outright evil by morally outraged crusaders against heavy metal music (including OZZY OSBOURNE in a cameo as an evangelist). With the Fastway songs on the soundtrack about rock n' roll and partying all night, you kind of wonder what the fuss was about.
Oh well - coulda, woulda, shoulda. TRICK OR TREAT is shameless fun for the teenage outcast in all of us. And I'll be first in line if they ever make a Roger-centric sequel.