November 1, 2012
Of all the holidays that have had horror movies made in their honor over the years, there is still only one undisputed champion of the genre: the spookiest holiday of them all, Halloween. In 1978, John Carpenter’s genre defining classic Halloween paved the way for several imitators, the most obvious being a film made by adult film director Gary Graver a few short years later in 1982 called Trick or Treats.
Trick or Treats begins with Joan O’Keefe (Carrie Snodgrass from The Fury) having breakfast with her husband, Malcolm (They Live’s Peter Jason) by the pool. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. Joan answers it and lets two men in white coats in. After a lengthy struggle with Malcolm, the men finally strap him into a straight jacket and lead him away while a satisfied Joan looks on. Several years later (as a title card tells the viewer), Joan is remarried to Richard Adams (David Carradine from Death Race 2000 and “Kung Fu”), who has adopted her and Malcolm’s son, Christopher (the director’s real life son, Chris Graver). On Halloween night, Joan and Richard jet off to Las Vegas for a party, leaving Linda (Drive in Massacre’s Jackelyn Giroux) to babysit Christopher while they are gone. Right from the start, Christopher plays tricks on Linda, taking joy in scaring her and making her scream. Before too long, however, the terror becomes much more than simple fun and games when Malcolm, freshly escaped from his mental institution, comes home looking for blood and vengeance.
Written and directed by Gary Graver (whose resume includes titles like Three Men and a Hooker and Cape Rear), Trick or Treats seems exactly like what it is – a horror film made by a porn director. The story is predictable, the dialogue is corny and the pacing seems to leave holes for long scenes of…something else. The plot is lifted right out of Halloween; a hospitalized lunatic escapes and comes home to exact revenge on their family. However, whereas Halloween is full of horror and suspense, Trick or Treats is full of unintentional humor. Tongue-in-cheek and exploitative, Trick or Treats is a pretty good snapshot of low budget slasher filmmaking in the eighties.
What Trick or Treats lacks in originality it makes up for in heart and ambition. It’s kind of like the little horror movie that could – it’s trying really hard to be a big-time slasher, and it won’t let its drawbacks get in its way. Although much of the film is dark and hard to see, the shadows hide some clever if not routine blood and gore effects. The musical score isn’t as haunting as that of Halloween or The Amityville Horror, but it does have some nifty electronic music reminiscent of Wendy Carlos’ work in The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. And, while most of the cast is inexperienced and green, the ensemble does benefit from having horror vets like David Carradine, Carrie Snodgrass and Steve Railsback (who simply plays Linda’s boyfriend here, but has played both Charles Manson in “Helter Skelter” and Ed Gein in Ed Gein in the past) around, if even in their limited capacities. While nowhere near as slick as its contemporaries, Trick or Treats is still an admirable film.
Although it seems to be a straightforward slasher, Trick or Treats draws inspiration from more places than Halloween. The tricks that Christopher is constantly playing on Linda involve him faking his own death, and these scenes are not unlike several that can be found in Harold and Maude. The segments inside Malcolm’s lunatic asylum remind the viewer of parts of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There is also a puzzling little film-within-a-film section involving a mad doctor and two female assistants that, for a second, looks like Graver is about to revert to his adult film ways before it starts channeling Frankenstein. Gary Graver is, above all else, a student of film, and his influences can be seen all over Trick or Treats.
Credit really does have to be given to Gary Graver; his experience working in the adult film world has taught him about every facet of film production, and he uses every bit of that experience on Trick or Treats. Not only does he write the screenplay and direct the film, but he also serves as producer. He is also his own cinematographer and film editor, and even has a Hitchcock-esque cameo. Trick or Treats is Graver’s vision on display, warts and all.
The saturated horror movie genre is filled with films that take place on or are built around the holiday of Halloween. Although forgettable when placed in context with similar films, Trick or Treats has merit that is often overlooked because of its small budget and limited production values. If one is in the mood for an under-the-radar slasher, Trick or Treats fits the bill nicely.