|Dead End Drive-In: Now Showing - 'Trick Or Treat'|
|Written by Gaz E|
|Sunday, 01 April 2012 04:30|
It was only a matter of time, I guess, before the very thing that got me started on this whole writing crusade infiltrated its way onto the virtual pages of Uber Rock.
It seems such a long time ago, another lifetime almost, when I used to scribble down my troubled thoughts on cult movies and big box VHS tapes and proceed to get them adored by tens of amazed, sometimes disgusted, people reportedly of similar taste. That love of cinema never deserted me and, with the lines between music and movies forever blurred, it seemed natural to introduce a regular feature to Uber Rock that looked at, and tried to walk along, those fractured lines of entertainment.
Welcome, then, to Uber Rock's Dead End Drive-In.
This feature will cover all the bases regarding the visual world of rock: there will be retrospective essays on classic films, DVD reviews, movie soundtrack articles - if it has movie or television links then Dead End Drive-In is the place where you will find it. But enough of this intermission and on with the main feature, as I look back at a film that throws up many memories for my teenage self, and is a movie cool enough to grace any big opening weekend.....
Trick Or Treat (1986 De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)
Looking back at vintage Fangoria magazines from the mid-eighties told me that the revered horror tome was hardly holding its breath waiting for the arrival of Trick Or Treat. Could you really blame them? Director Charles Martin Smith had never been behind the camera for a movie before and was famous for playing Terry the Toad in American Graffiti, while the main star attached to the project was Marc Price, a young actor from schmaltzy television sitcom Family Ties.
It was only when the names Michael Murphey and Joel Soisson - who were to produce from their own script - were mentioned did the legendary horror publication get interested: these guys had been behind the first sequel to A Nightmare On Elm Street, along with special make-up effects hot shot Kevin Yagher who had been responsible for the new Krueger look in the previous year's Freddy's Revenge. Appetite whetted, Fango then got seriously interested when it was announced that Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne were to star in the movie. While the mere presence of The Demon, in the middle of putting Kiss on the back burner in order to concentrate on his acting career, would excite those of a fantastical bent, it was the planned appearance of Ozzy that really got the people interested: Fangoria had actually put Werewolf Ozzy from the 'Bark At The Moon' video on its cover a few years previously when the MTV explosion was still ringing in the ears and stinging the eyes. The fact that Ozzy was to play the role of Aaron Gilstrom, a television evangelist a million parts removed from his mental stage persona, only added to the anticipation that now surrounded this curious little movie.
It was a combination of plot - dead rock star returns from the grave to wreak havoc on a town who banned him from playing a Halloween gig at his old high school - and twist on the formulaic coming of age drama that did it for me and, I'm guessing, many other teens of the same age, and musical persuasion, as myself in 1986. The losing of virginity, the getting of the girl, were par for the course in every teen drama, on every movie and television screen; but this coming of age tale was firmly rooted in the realms of heavy metal and it was that nuance, that off-kilter look at the genre, that had me from the first moment I ever heard about Trick Or Treat.
The film's opening sequence only confirmed what I, somehow, already knew; this movie was for kids like me, misunderstood youth with mullets and metal shirts and music in place of oxygen. As the camera panned around the bedroom of Eddie Weinbauer, 'Ragman' to friends (of which there were very few), there was a lot for me to find a familiarity with: while some of the band posters on my wall might have featured different, possibly more glamorous, gentlemen than the Anthrax, Lizzy Borden, Raven and Judas Priest images plastered all over Eddie's bedroom, the sentiment was the same; Ragman and myself were all about the metal and, no matter what anyone said about how it sounded or how we looked as we tried to recreate the image of our heroes, it meant more to us than family, friends and, quite possibly, life itself.
Watching Eddie lying on his bed penning a fan letter to his idol Sammi Curr might seem a little cute in this day and age of disposable celebrity but, then, it was how it was. The obsession with rock stars in the '80s was of a particularly virulent strain; the reason why people in their forties spend a week's wages on watching bloated band members backed by hired guns in 2012 started back then. It was an innocent time, yes, but, looking back, it was as exciting as anything and I see nothing in the eyes of today's children to tell me that they have anything similar. Being a teenager in the mid-eighties, the backdrop of nuclear war and AIDS gnawing away at your tender, confused mind, was scary, it was shocking, yet it was also awesome....especially if you were a huge fan of Sammi Curr.
As Eddie enters his kitchen, Walkman headphones spitting out constant Sammi, to do his laundry (okay, so I didn't have everything in common with the guy!), a lonely television plays out in the background. On it a news reader talks about the controversy surrounding Curr while footage of the outrageous rocker biting the head off a snake onstage and covering himself in its blood fills the screen. The television set finally gets Eddie's attention and he watches footage of Sammi at a meeting unashamedly based on the infamous PMRC debacles of the decade. "We will bring you down!" Curr stabs at the infidels and Eddie is in awe as the camera flashes back to the news reader who recaps the top story of the hour: Sammi Curr, victim of a hotel fire, dead at age 38.....
"Tear Down The Walls" by Fastway, whose soundtrack is one of the major stars of this film, fills the air and Eddie, devastated, attacks every picture, every poster that laces his bedroom's every available surface. Kiss, Twisted Sister, they're all torn down and destroyed, before Eddie reaches up to grab the Sammi Curr poster that hangs over the entire room, owning it. He can't bring himself to tear it down, he just can't.
Eddie seeks solace in the company of DJ Norman 'The Nuke' Taurog, played by Gene Simmons in the most natural role of his stunted acting career, and, even though The Nuke tells a tale of the anger inside of Sammi, Eddie can see nothing but a similarity between his own problems and those of his late hero - both fighting against an enemy that just doesn't understand them. Nuke stuns our ragged hero by producing an acetate of the very last recording from Curr, a record that he intends to play at the stroke of midnight on Halloween, as instructed by the deceased denizen of rock city. As he has it backed up on a trusty C90 Nuke hands the disc (the title of which is never actually given, although the white cardboard promo sleeve is clearly marked 'Songs In The Key Of Death') to Eddie and offers the chilling statement, "He's in here....."
Back in school and Eddie is handed a Polaroid photograph of his naked self, a result of the latest heartbreaking stunt pulled by bully, and Ragman's nemesis, Tim Hainey, by Leslie, the token unreachable love interest - yes, there's always one. Feeling guilty, shamed perhaps, that she runs with the wrong crowd, she invites Eddie to a pool party that night, an invitation that he readily accepts. The dude has an unreleased album from his dead hero in his possession but, no, nothing can trump the opportunity to try out those raging teenage hormones. Of course, Eddie is met at the pool by Tim and his cronies who do their best to drown him. Leslie saves him but Eddie is convinced that she has set him up. "I'm gonna nail every one of those bastards," he dribbles. "I don't know how, I don't know when, but I'm gonna nail them," he says as he trudges back to his car (yes, every US school kid had a car in the '80s while every UK school kid took their Trick Or Treat VHS back to the video shop on a Grifter or Raleigh Burner).
Back in his bedroom, clothed in sleeveless Anthrax shirt, Eddie unleashes 'Songs In The Key Of Death' and drifts off in his easy chair, visions of Sammi Curr in his burning hotel room haunting him. He startles himself awake to find that the record is stuck on his turntable, the unmistakable sound of vintage '80s backward masking possessing the air. "You're the bait, the bait is you," the record appears to be saying as he spins it counter-clockwise. The switch has been flicked.....
In the school cafeteria the next day Eddie takes the law into his own hands, slamming a tray of food into Tim's chest and invoking a chase of epic proportions that culminates in the bully and his sheep-like followers opening up a fire extinguisher and a whole lot of trouble for themselves. The record spoke to Ragman and now, for the first time, he has one-upped his arch enemy.
Becoming more obsessed and convinced that the album is speaking directly to him, Eddie delves deeper and deeper into the backward messages littering the weighty piece of plastic. It's "all a part of the plan" the record tells him, before repeating the mantra, "metal machines, 6, 6, crush, metal machines, 6, 6, crush....."
Room 66 at school is, guess what, the metalwork shop and, surprise surprise, Tim and an accomplice arrive there to mess up Eddie. But, as "6, 6, crush" spills out of his discarded Walkman, Eddie watches as Tim's fashionable tie gets caught in machinery and a sword-sharp lathe threatens to take his vermin-like life. Eddie switches off the machine at the last moment and, another victory under his belt, speeds off in his wreck of a car, horns a-thrown and backward Curr tape a-playin'.
Back at home and Eddie's mother enters his room to put away his laundry but is taken aback by the level of horror ensconced in the album covers that surround her son's stereo. Exciter, Impaler and Megadeth horrify her into bumping his equipment, jolting it into life and scaring the very life from her fragile body. She leaves, badly shaken, as her son arrives and he proceeds to make another tape of this serious example of hi-fi to die for. This time, the stereo spits out a tape cast of pure metal which Ragman sticks to Tim's locker, labelled "a peace offering."
Later that night Tim is making out with his slutty girlfriend Genie in his car before taking a (very lengthy) piss break, during which time she gets her hands on his Walkman and places the (way classier that Eddie's) headphones over her once-fashionable hairdo. Guess which tape is inside?! As Tim appears to walk about four hundred yards from the car to relieve himself she slips into a supernatural, rock-led orgasmic trance, a spooky green mist rolling out of the speakers before proceeding to slowly undress her as she moans with lusty delight. I could actually spot the strings pulling open her clothing on my trusty old video copy of the film but so bad is the quality of the UK DVD release from Prism Leisure that this is actually harder to see. Anyway, she reaches down and unclasps her front-opening bra - like teenage boys needed any more confusion when it came to the prospective undoing of lady garments! - before, on the cusp of climax, she opens her eyes to find a monstrous cat-eyed, demon-tongued green gargoyle bearing down on her. Though it is never really made clear in the film this creature, tagged 'Skeezix' by creator Kevin Yagher, is actually the beast that appears, Eddie-like, on Sammi Curr's album covers.....except we never get to see any of Sammi's album covers in the movie. He does appear as a tattoo on Curr's chest, however.
Tim races back to the car when he hears his main squeeze's screams and, approximately 27 minutes later, he finds her unconscious, her precious teenage ears melted under the expensive headphones. When he sees the tape that she has been listening to he just knows who is to blame.
As Eddie's mother does her aerobics to a backdrop of Ozzy's evangelist reading out outrageous song lyrics on a chuckle-inducing television chat show, Tim races to confront Eddie who is protected by flame throwing Jack o' lanterns that would not have looked out of place in any eighties metal stage show. When Eddie returns to his crucial vinyl and asks if maybe they have gone too far now that Genie is in the hospital the cock rock shit really hits the fan. "No wimps, no false metal!" the record spits at him before threatening to take out the virginal love-letter made flesh that is Eddie's dream, Leslie. Terrified, Eddie tries to unplug the stereo but, oh no, the satanic sound system springs to life by itself and, power surging, the demonic and dirty rock 'n' roller Sammi Curr is reborn out of a stereo speaker in Eddie's bedroom, a backcombed product of electricity and evil.
Curr, half his iconic face scarred by the fire, cocks half a smile in the direction of the televised visage of Reverend Gilstrom before wiping Ozzy's character's life away with an electro-charged swipe of the TV screen: Sammi is now the ultimate electric warrior. Ragman baseball bats his stereo and the acetate into oblivion....but it is just too late.
Eddie gets his geeky (and pretty much only) friend Roger to break into Tim's car to retrieve the shiny tape of doom, with strict instructions to destroy it immediately. But, oh dear, Roger the tape-busting dodger cannot resist giving it an unholy spin and, lo and behold, Sammi Curr is in da house, pulling another television naysayer out of the screen in a crispy, well-done state before convincing Roger to play the terror-tape that night, Halloween night, or die.
It's the high school Halloween ball - yes, the very one that Sammi was banned from playing - and Roger is on hand to slip the C90 (or should that be C666?) into the high school death deck. Leslie, after asking Roger if he is about to play some Priest (yes, she really is a dream woman), calls Eddie to find out if he is gonna show at the ball but is cut dead when the Ragman hears the tempestuous sound of backward songs in the key of death playing out in the background. He jumps in his car but forgets that he still has his original tape in the car stereo - fuck me, if he isn't taken on a flaming road trip all the way to Hades. Escaping the vehicular slaughter, just, Eddie hotfoots it to the high school.
The director cameos as the school's principal and introduces the night's live band, The Kickers. The band's frontman - played by FX dude Kevin Yagher - is having technical difficulties and, when crouching down to check out his amp, a familiar electrified arm reaches out of the stack and shocks him into the cosmos. A blood red guitar flies through the dry ice and, suddenly, Sammi Curr is back where he belongs, onstage, Halloween night.
During the guitar break of the film's title song Curr unleashes energy thunderbolts out of the headstock of his guitar, Frehley-like, and, as costumed schoolies are wiped off the face of the planet, the people in attendance suddenly realise that this isn't some fancy Curr tribute act, but actually the demonic resurrection of the man himself, looking to kill them all. (In hindsight, this is actually slightly more attractive a proposition that watching a tribute act.) Curr solos so frenetically that he actually reduces himself to charges of energy and reappears atop the basketball hoop like a demonic vulture ready to feast on the bones of the dead.
Leslie, oblivious to the Curr-carnage taking place in the school gymnasium - Sammi, ever the rebel, wearing black-soled sneakers - strips out of her costume in the girl's bathroom for some more welcome, I mean, gratuitous bra action before a drunken Tim, his perfect Wham haircut flopping slightly, tries to force himself upon her. Leslie escapes and Tim crashes against the wall of the locker room hallway.
Eddie has arrived to save the day, he hopes. He smashes the tape to smithereens and, after seeing that Roger is okay, goes in search of Leslie. He finds Tim and, seeing the electrical charges that tell him that it'll be curr-tains for the guy if he doesn't shape up and ship out, tries to get the school bully to safety, fine chap that the Ragman is. It's too late; Sammi appears, hoists Tim into the air like a hair metal Darth Vader and, licking a long, black fingernail before sticking it into a wall socket, blows Tim into a million mucky pieces.
Eddie finds Leslie and together they must locate the circuit breakers to cut off the power and rid the school, and town, of the monstrous metal mutha. Cornered, all hope seemingly lost, Roger suddenly reappears and redeems himself by driving a bar into the power supply and making Curr disappear.
They're saved....or are they? If all the copies of 'Songs In The Key Of Death' have been destroyed, and Sammi Curr can only appear if the album is played backwards, then they must be safe, right? Oh no, The Nuke, the midnight playback of the album!
Like every other '80s movie, it's easy to pour scorn upon the dated. These films, however, have heavy holds on the memories of those who grew up with them and, for me, Trick Or Treat is always the one that I have fondest, warmest memories of.
A modest success at the box office - the movie grossed just under seven million dollars in the US (okay, it flopped!) - Trick Or Treat was one of those films that cultured a cult following on home video. Kevin Yagher was one cast and crew member who, arguably, went on to bigger and better things, working in the FX departments on films such as Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II. Director Charles Martin Smith hardly set the world on fire, his more commercial work coming in television, directing an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and, more recently, starring in a Season Two episode of cult show Fringe. Marc Price's acting career flatlined - he did star in 1992's Killer Tomatoes Eat France! - but he carved out a career for himself as a producer and creator of various comedy shows. He also followed his father, Al Bernie, into the world of stand up comedy. Glen Morgan (Roger) went on to produce episodes of hit shows like The X-Files and Millennium and movies including Final Destination and the Black Christmas remake. Ozzy Osbourne became a reality television star forced to 'mong up' for the cameras under the strict regime of his manager and, sometimes, wife. Gene Simmons became a bloated shadow of his former self.
The portrayal of Sammi Curr by Tony Fields was quite remarkable: chosen, possibly due to budget constraints, over a bona fide rock star to play the movie's anti-hero, Fields brought a camp, over the top touch of '80s metal frontman authenticity to the role. Trained as a gymnast before turning to dance, Fields starred in a number of high profile music videos - including Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' and 'Beat It' - before starring in A Chorus Line in 1985. Fields died of cancer, secondary to the AIDS virus, in 1995, aged 36.
The most recognizable face of Trick Or Treat these days will no doubt be that of Doug Savant, who played bully Tim Hainey. Having already appeared in Teen Wolf, Savant starred in Knots Landing and Melrose Place before finding fame as Felicity Huffman's husband, Tom Scavo, in hit television show (and MILF paradise) Desperate Housewives.
The real star of Trick Or Treat, however, the true unsung hero of the film, is the infamous soundtrack by Fastway. Resting on vinyl and compact disc alongside the big box video tape, (long deleted) Prism DVD and original Australian daybill in my own personal Trick Or Treat mini-shrine, this album never fails to bring a smile, and an awesome memory or two, back into my life. There are timeless metalli-moments etched into the grooves of that soundtrack that not only sum up the music of the eighties to me, but also act as some kind of time machine. Fastway, still with former Motorhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke throwing out riffs, continue to record, releasing the album 'Eat Dog Eat' in November of 2011. Dave King, vocalist on the soundtrack album and, thereby, the voice of Sammi Curr, reinvented himself as an Irish punk pioneer with Flogging Molly.
The soundtrack album stills lives inside my iPod, played on occasion, massive smile-inducing when a track appears on shuffle. It's getting it to play backwards that is proving to be rather difficult. Shame, because there are certainly still a load of bullies out there, shouting their mouths off and looking like total pricks, deserving of a little rock 'n' roll retribution.....
To pick up your copy of the 'Trick Or Treat' soundtrack album - CLICK HERE