Before either of them were famous reality T.V. stars, Gene Simmons from Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne from Black Sabbath were serious musicians. In 1986, both rockers lent their names and talents to a heavy metal horror film called Trick or Treat, foreshadowing the career path they would follow in the decades to come. While Simmons’ and Osbourne’s names are on the front of the DVD cover, their roles are basically cameos in this hard rock shock fest that makes light of one of the most ridiculous political witch hunts in recent memory.
Trick or Treat stars Marc Price (Skippy Handelman from “Family Ties”) as Eddie Weinbauer, a typically outcast high school student who identifies more with the music of his hero, rock star Sammi Curr (played by “Solid Gold” dancer Tony Fields), than he does with any of his friends, teachers or parents. When Sammi is unexpectedly killed in a hotel fire, Eddie is devastated and goes to visit a disc jockey friend of his named Nuke (Simmons), who gives him an acetate test pressing of the latest, unreleased Sammi Curr album. When Eddie listens to it, he notices strange sounds that, when played backwards, turn out to be beyond-the-grave messages from Sammi. Sammi gives Eddie instructions on how to get his revenge on a bully named Tim (Doug Savant from “Melrose Place” and “Desperate Housewives”) who torments him at school. Eddie follows the advice and gets back at Tim, but Sammi’s messages don’t stop. In fact, through the record, Sammi tries to get Eddie to do his murderous bidding. Eddie refuses, but he lets a tape of the record get out, and, suddenly, Sammi doesn’t need Eddie to wreak his havoc anymore. Feeling responsible, Eddie thinks it is his responsibility to find a way to stop Sammi from taking over his school and killing all of his classmates.
Trick or Treat is absolutely a product of its time. Hot on the heels of the big Parents Music Resource Center hearings (the record banning Washington Wives group who is responsible for the “parental advisory” stickers that adorn albums to this day), the film capitalizes on the irrational fears of parents everywhere by making heavy metal music into the threat that they always thought it was. Director Charles Martin Smith (Dolphin Tale) creates a real danger where parents saw an imaginary one at the time – the evils of Rock Music. The movie even makes fun of the PMRC hearings, with Sammi Curr being interviewed by congress in the same way that musicians at the time were grilled about their art. Ozzy Osbourne’s cameo is as the Reverend Aaron Gilstrom, a rock & roll hating preacher who spews his opinions about music and musicians on religious television shows. Trick or Treat is actually a tongue-in-cheek metaphor for what the bible thumping right-wing conservatives thought of heavy metal music in the eighties. And it’s an entertaining watch, too.
The special makeup effects in Trick or Treat were created by Kevin Yagher, who was the designer behind Chucky from Child’s Play as well as the Crypt Keeper from the Tales from the Crypt movies. His creature effects combined with the visual effects of Doug Beswick (who did effects work on Aliens and Evil Dead 2) bring the perfect amount of camp and cheese to the stereotypical horror monsters. For example, in one scene where a young girl is listening to the bootlegged tape of Sammi’s song, the music slowly and sensually moves down her body in the form of a flurry of Beswick’s green lightning bolts. When she finally realizes that she’s being overcome by the tune, one of Yagher’s demonic dog-like monsters is snarling right on top of her. In another scene, the zombie Sammi breaks his way out of a guitar amplifier, picks up a guitar and zaps people with sparks flying out of the headstock. Although not nearly as technically advanced as some of the sci-fi films of the time, the effects are perfect for the over-the-top rock and roll fiasco story with which they share the screen. It’s perfect fare for a movie that features a member of Kiss in a bit part.
Sammi Curr’s music in Trick or Treat was written and performed by Fastway, a band that was right in the middle of the mid-eighties heavy metal explosion (and whose singer, Dave King, went on to front Irish-American punk-folk band Flogging Molly – file that one away for a “Rock & Roll Jeopardy” audition). The music is typical 80’s hair metal, and it sounds exactly like one would expect a musician who looks like Sammi Curr to sound like. Although Fastway had minor success before and after the film, their big moment in the sun as a band came with their Trick or Treat soundtrack.
While having Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne aboard definitely didn’t hurt Trick or Treat, their bit parts didn’t exactly drum up business at the box office, either, and the film had a disappointing run in theaters. These days, it serves as a reminder of a simpler time when long haired bands rocked, parents just didn’t understand and politicians had nothing better to do than worry about than the evils of music.