At last, the Year of Blood takes us to the scariest night of the year, when witches and ghouls and ghosts and all manner of terrifying things take to ground, listening to their heavy metal music. Or, um, something. P.S. No, it's not Halloween anymore, but on Halloween itself, my internet was trying to die. We must deal with it.
Trick or Treat to be a slasher movie, and on top of that, an unusually blatant Halloween rip-off to boot. At any rate, that is what I believed, and this blog is predicated on the fiction that I am infallible. But no, Trick or Treat is by no stretch of the imagination a slasher movie, and indeed you could be forgiven for the first quarter at least of the film's running time for failing to realise that it's any kind of horror film whatsoever: in fact, above and all other considerations, Trick or Treat is a gentle, friendly satire of metalhead culture as it existed in the mid-'80s, when middle-aged ladies were likelier to appear on TV attesting to how metal had turned their son into a Satanist, than curl up to watch Julianne Hough singing "Sister Christian" on DVD.
The metalhead with whom we'll chiefly be concerned is Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price), a student at one of those pointedly anonymous suburban high schools that always show up in '80s movies about teenage outcasts, (and, for that matter, movies on the same topic from the '70s, '90s, and '00s as well; too early to guess about the '10s, but I have my fingers crossed), who starts the movie by learning the worst possible piece of news: his one true idol, rock star Sammi Curr, has died in a tragic car accident. Dismayed by the loss of the one person whose art ever gave a sense of meaning to his broken down life, and particularly such an arbitrary and random death, Eddie retrenches into an attitude more surly and antisocial than the one he'd already cultivated. But there a few glimmers of light: for one, he is able to get a copy of Curr's very last recording ever from local DJ Nuke (Gene Simmons of KISS, in the first and less memorable of the film's two celebrity rocker cameos; Ozzy Osbourne, as a morally outraged TV preacher, is the other), who received it just shortly before Curr's death, as part of a protest against the town community that refused to allow Curr to play at the high school Halloween dance, despite it being the very same high school that Curr himself attended back in the day. For two he's... actually, there's just the one thing. But it's as big a deal to Eddie as finding the Q document would be to a biblical theologian, and he plays it with rapt delight, cooing in awe over the frankly anonymous, scraping noise to emerge from his speakers. And this scraping gives him an idea: is it possible that Curr included, in his last ever recording, a backwards masked message?
More than possible: this is a horror movie, after all, and we've spent a lot of time setting up Eddie's metal fixation without anything vaguely horrifying happening, unless you count '80s hair and especially bland hair metal as horrifying. And you should, in both cases. The message Eddie uncovers turns out to be a fairly nonspecific bit of menacing language, but when he runs afoul of the two most dogged among his usual bullies, he acts on what seemed to have been advice given by the record, and manages to outsmart them, right into a fairly nasty case of detention.
This is but the first piece of evidence that Curr's backwards message isn't just meant for his fans as a body, but for Eddie specifically; moreover, the record apparently houses a consciousness that knows exactly what's happening at any moment. At first, Eddie enjoys the chance to get various forms of petty revenge on his enemies, until the voice on the record starts to suggest increasingly violent courses of action, and it becomes clear that the next step is murder - and for all his spittle-flecked promises to make them all pay!!!, Eddie is no killer. It's too late for that, though, and no sooner does he attempt to give up the record, spilling Pepsi on it and triggering a small electrical storm right in his bedroom, out of which the demonic spirit of Curr himself (Tony Fields) emerges, imbued with the ability to teleport in and out of any speaker or audio-playing medium, and shoot bolts of evil electricity to kill all those who remind him of his own torments as a nerdy high school outcast.
Trick or Treat wants so very badly to have it both ways, and to an unexpected degree, it gets to: on the one hand, it is a deeply sympathetic depiction of the sort of disaffected young man who would take refuge in the snarling, misanthropic poses offered by heavy metal, thereby putting him outside of "nice" society and further justifying his disaffection - the film certainly doesn't put its sociology so baldly, but it's clear enough what's going on in Eddie's mind - and on the other, it's a film that is, after all, about how a popular heavy metal star uses the notorious back masking trickery for exactly the purposes feared by so many conservative moral scolds: to make a deal with Satan to come back as a vengeful, scarred, electricity-shooting ghost. Metal is, here, both the things that causes all evil, and the thing that gives the protagonist strength to fight that evil. It's an awesome hedge that leaves the film defiantly free of any messy "perspective" to deal with; if there is a perspective to be spoken of, it's pretty obviously, "heavy metal is a thing we can use to sell movies", and it is not surprising to find that the movie was released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, the company owned by Dino De Laurentiis, a man who never met a pop culture trend he couldn't flatten out into a completely bland, non-specific cash-in. And boy, is Trick or Treat a cash in, whose litany of original songs by the band Fastway is the most absurdly vacant, commercial sort of metal, a genre primarily noteworthy even at its best for being vacant and commercial.
And yet, somehow, it manages to be a sort of dumbly charming, competent enough in its craftsmanship (it was the directorial debut of Charles Martin Smith, whom I am honor-bound to point out played Terry the Toad in American Graffiti, for that is the only interesting thing he ever did), and boosted by a performance by Price that is by no means good, but whose floppy-haired urgency is far more alive and sensible than most teen protagonists in most '80s horror. Not a terribly nice comparison to make, of course, but it is an '80s horror film, albeit one with a healthy dose of vaguely satiric comedy, and it is necessary to grade the things on a curve. The demonic Curr makeup designed by Kevin Yagher (of Chucky fame) is pretty damn terrific, and by the logic that no movie can be a complete waste of time if it has a good monster, Trick or Treat at least a good exercise in basic genre mechanics.
The one thing that it's not, really, is a good Halloween movie, or one that tries in the slightest to justify or even explain its title or setting. The denouement of the big Halloween dance where, naturally, Curr's tape gets played to the whole audience, thus freeing him to wreak all sorts of goofy, electric mischief (I'm sorry, but I just can't get over how ridiculous the concept of an electronic metal demon is), involves a few nifty sight gags about teens in costumes, in the aftermath of the carnage, but virtually none of the seasonal trappings you might expect - aye, and demand - of a movie titled Trick or Treat put in an appearance. It's a perfectly cute daft horror comedy trying too blatantly to court a subculture it doesn't understand, and that's all well and good; but weirdly the film might have been less of a disappointment, or at least less confounding, if it was the anodyne rip-off of Halloween that one might have expected.
Body Count: 8, and a good handful at least that are implied but not clearly depicted. The vast majority of these all come in a 75-second cluster about two-thirds in - this is by no means a body count picture.