Luke’s List: ‘Trick or Treat’ is ghoulish, glamorous — and the perfect Halloween movie

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 10/30/20

We begin with a trick, of course.

To say this movie “stars” rock legends Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons, as its promotional material is wont to do, isn’t exactly …

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Luke’s List: ‘Trick or Treat’ is ghoulish, glamorous — and the perfect Halloween movie

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We begin with a trick, of course.

To say this movie “stars” rock legends Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons, as its promotional material is wont to do, isn’t exactly fair.

Certainly, they are both here — Osbourne as a fire-and-brimstone TV preacher, Simmons a sinister radio DJ — but their collective screen time is paltry and their performances … unique? Osbourne’s impression of the sort of showbiz Bible-thumper who so long condemned him in real life is fun, and Simmons is passable as the walking bad influence who (inadvertently?) sets the atrocities to come in motion.

And that, boils and ghouls, is where the treat is found. 

Because even without its two rock star “stars,” 1986’s “Trick or Treat” had all the talent it needed and then some. And although it’s tragically underviewed today, the distinct directorial style, powerful performances of the two actual leads (Marc Price and Tony Fields), unique visual aesthetic, and legitimately awesome soundtrack — thanks, Fastway! — makes it the ideal viewing experience on a dark night during the spookiest time of the year.

The directorial debut of noted actor Charles Martin Smith  (of “American Graffiti,” “The Untouchables” and “Never Cry Wolf” fame, among many others), the film seems a cheesy slab of ’80s camp at first, but when properly considered reveals layers of horror both blatant and implied.

Sammi Curr is dead. The notorious rocker (played by Fields, a noted dancer who died in 1995 of HIV-related cancer at the age of 36) was cut down in his prime by a mysterious hotel fire on the eve of what was to be a triumphant return to his old high school to perform at the big Halloween dance.

It’s good news for the uptight fogies on the school board, who called off the concert because of Curr’s dark and demonic persona — finally, somebody thought of the children! — but it’s a devastating one-two punch for Eddie (played by Price, aka Skippy from “Family Ties”).

Sammi’s biggest fan is a sullen, bullied loner trudging through the nightmare of adolescence at Curr’s awful alma mater and waiting to see his hero perform in the flesh had been all that kept him going. It’s more than enough to ruin any angsty teen’s Halloween, and in desperation he goes to commiserate with his favorite DJ.

Perhaps it’s sympathy that leads the sleazy Simmons to gift the mopey young man the only copy of Curr’s final album. Maybe he knows full well what will happen. In either case, it’s every ’80s conservative’s nightmare come true: The Satanic sound has evil powers!

Instead of Satan, however, what Eddie summons by playing the cursed album is Sammi himself, or rather his murderous spirit, a kind of stylishly goth/glam Freddy Krueger-esque specter bent on revenging himself on the town by massacring the entire school in a fabulous, blood-soaked Halloween night massacre. That’ll show ‘em!

Here is where the movie becomes simultaneously exactly what you’re expecting and so much more.

Because Eddie is initially totally onboard with Sammi’s plans to wreck the town. The guy is his hero, after all, and nobody at school has ever been that nice to Eddie anyway. But then, after he’s given a taste of what Sammi has planned, when he sees the violence his idol has in mind, Eddie begins, unthinkably, to work against him to save the very kids who have been making his life miserable.

Just a few years later and Eddie would have Trenchcoat Mafia written all over him, a closet full of Marilyn Manson shirts and combat boots, drawing the wary stares of teachers left and right. His macabre interests would be “problematic” and “troubling.” But, as Meagan Navarro wrote for Bloody Disgusting’s list of Horror’s 10 Unsung Halloween Heroes, “Even when his classmates don’t deserve his mercy, Eddie is a genuinely kind person. He not only spares them the cruelty they likely have coming; he saves the town from Sammi’s madness on Halloween night.”

You could say Sammi is a twisted, nightmarish version of grownup Eddie, one who never really got over the hell of high school. You could say he is Eddie’s worst impulses given supernatural powers. You could say this movie is about the horrors of knowing your heroes (and/or their ghosts). Or maybe it’s about the dangers of judging somebody by their clothes or taste in music.

It’s all of those things, of course, but it’s cloaked in enough style, spooky fun, and ’80s gore to please just about any audience. And that’s the real treat, I think. It’s a story about having a heart and doing the right thing clad in the Halloween costume of a silly horror film.

And what a cool costume it is!

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