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Monday, February 22

Recommended Movie of the Week – a Trick or Treat Treatise, 1986

I am such a sucker for hair bands. I know I’m dating myself here (wait, that doesn’t quite sound right…) but back in the day I was a heavy metal fanatic. If a metal band was rockin’ in the early to mid-80s, odds are I was a fan. This was back when I had hair myself, and could head-bang with the best of em’… And today’s recommended movie of the week was a true 80’s child.

Trick or Treat was made in 1986, not to be confused with the instant cult-classic “Trick r’ treat” from 2009. It was directed by Charles Martin Smith, who was known at that time primarily as an actor. Matter of fact, this was his first directing job. He is much better known for his acting roles, having appeared in such classics as American Graffiti, the Untouchables, and Trick or Treat. That’s right, good ole Charles makes an appearance in his own movie as Principal Wimbley, who gets killed by a blast of electricity from reanimated rocker Sammi Curr’s guitar. Death by rock n’ roll! If I’d have directed this movie I would have had myself killed by Sammi too –how cool is that? Don’t know how the decision was made to let Charles direct, as he’d never done so before, but he does a fine job here. Charles would later go on to direct the kid’s movie Air Bud.

Trick or Treat stars Marc Price (Skippy from the TV show Family Ties) as high school nerd and heavy metal fan Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer. Eddie is a huge fan of all things metal, (like most good old fashioned American males in the 80s), especially rock n’ roller extraordinaire Sammi Curr. But just as Eddie is putting the finishing touches on a fan letter to Sammi he hears some devastating news on the television – Sammi Curr was caught in a mysterious hotel fire and pronounced dead.

The part of Sammi Curr is played by Toni Fields, a former solid gold dancer. You’d think they’d have cast someone in the lead villain role who had tons of acting experience, but Toni’s only previous experience was as a dancer in Thriller, A Chorus Line, and Captain EO. All that dancing experience gave him good rhythm, which must have come in real handy during the famous leg-slappin’ scene. Watch the movie and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The harder Sammi slaps that leg, the harder he’s about to bring the rock!

Eddie takes the death of his idol extremely hard. Let me take a second to digress here. This reminds me of when I was in college and Cliff Burton, the bass player of Metallica, died. I had a friend who was a HUGE Metallica fan. She listened to them religiously, and I remember the day Cliff died she got so pissed at me because I laughed at the fact she was wearing all black. I was as big a fan as the next guy of most metal bands, but mourning the death of someone you don’t even know by wearing all black for a week really hit me the wrong way. She wouldn’t talk to me for weeks. This movie, ridiculous as it is in many ways, definitely rang true there. But back to the movie…

Eddie mopes around school and town and eventually pays a visit to his friend Nuke, a local deejay. Nuke is played by none other than Gene Simmons of KISS fame. This is one of two famous rockers who play small parts in this movie. We’ll get to the other in a bit. Turns out Nuke knew Sammi Curr personally, and in fact has the only existing copy of an unreleased Sammi Curr record (convenient!). He gives it to Eddie to cheer him up.

Eddie takes the record - vinyl here folks, none of that CD crap, we’re talkin’ good old fashioned 12” vinyl – home and falls asleep listening to it. It conjures strange visions of Sammi in the fire that killed him. Turns out Sammi was dabblin’ in witchcraft and worshiping the devil. Eddie awakes and gets the idea to try playing the record backward and see if there are any hidden messages.

Ahh, and here you have it – backmasking! Love it! One of the truly bizarre and ridiculous 80’s themes of all times. All those anti-metal folks swore up and down that Satan was trying to steal the minds and souls (and money) of our children by putting backwards messages into records. Haha!! I still get a laugh thinking about that. The whole anti-metal crusade was an amazing phenomenon. Churches and mothers and politicians up in arms - Reminds me of the anti-comics crusade of the 50s… and this one also wound up going before congress, too. You had Frederick Wertham and his cronies leading the anti- comic book fight in the fifties, and the PMRC (Parent Music Resource Group) leading the anti-rock music campaign in the 80s. Wertham single-handedly destroyed EC comics and the horror-comics field, and the PMRC tried to do the same thing to heavy metal music… Funny thing is all they had to do was wait and it would have toppled under the weight of its own hairspray! Everything old is new again and vica-versa, you know.

Head hypocrite Tipper Gore tried to convince congress to step in and tell us what is best for us in true Orwellian fashion. While I agree that giving parents more information to make informed choices ON THEIR OWN about what is right and wrong for THEIR children, to raise them the way THEY want to, is a good thing; the way the PMRC went about it was all wrong. They attacked the music industry in a slanderous campaign, condemning them as corrupt and evil. They showed album covers and played music before congress that they personally found offensive. And that was the catch here – THEY found it offensive, so therefore they had to be offensive. It was insanity - you had card-carrying members of the Democratic Party working hand in hand with religious right-wing zealots… what’s wrong with this picture?

Obviously congress had nothing more important to do on the tax payers’ dime than listen to this bunch of judgmental bitches. Worst of all was the fact that three of the PMRC’ers had husbands WHO WERE SENATORS, the very folks they were asking to pass laws on this. Talk about a conflict of interest! That very point was raised by none other than Frank Zappa when he testified before congress in defense of this “heinous” music and the right of free speech. And that’s what all this really came down to, an attack on the first amendment.

I still get worked up thinking about this topic, twenty-five years later. Really pissed me off good. Matter of fact, one of the reasons I will never vote for Al Gore EVER for anything, besides the fact he’s a boring blowhard liar, is his wife. Ever see the South Park takeoffs on Gore? – hilarious! “I’m super-serial.”

I guarantee I’m not the only one who feels this way – Gore couldn’t even win his own “home” state when he ran for President. People here in Tennessee know better. And I put home in quotation marks because while they claim to be Tennesseans, living in Carthage TN, I don’t claim them, and I was born and raised here. They have a home in Tennessee, true, and it’s in Carthage. Big deal. When you drive into Carthage there is a sign that reads “Home of Al Gore,” and I always make sure to flip it the bird as I drive by. Besides, they spend so much time in Washington they’re Washingtonians far as I’m concerned.

Back to the PMRC for a second before I get back to today’s topic - One of the album covers the PMRC found most offensive and showed on Capitol Hill was by a group called Impaler. The ladies were all worked up about the album cover for their LP “Rise of the Mutants.” They showed pictures of the cover and talked about how awful it was… This was, honestly, probably the best thing that ever happened to Impaler. Gave them instant notoriety and placed them on the screen in Congress right beside Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, and Twisted Sister, (and gave them some great bragging rights). Not to mention increased sales! For a group of shock rockers having your album condemned by a group of uptight middle aged sexually repressed white women is a pretty good thing, I’d say.

I’m proud to admit I was in part responsible for bringing Impaler to Nashville last summer. Bill Lindsey, lead singer for the band, called me and asked if I’d help find a venue for them to play in Nashville. We’d been corresponding for a number of years, and I was happy to do so, and in fact helped find them a place to play here again next month. On Saturday March 27th at The Basement in Nashville my band, Spookhand, will be opening for Impaler, along with local rockers The Creeping Cruds, and flipping a spooky middle finger toward the PMRC in the process!

 There is a Trick or Treat tie-in here – bet you thought I’d forgotten all about our rock n’ roll masterpiece here, didn’t you? Eddie is, at one point, flipping through his record collection and what do we see but lo and behold… Impaler, Rise of the Mutants! Woo hoo! Score another one for the rockers!

This movie was made in 1986, just one year after that congressional sham of a hearing on rock music. In fact, it is almost as-if the producers really wanted to piss off the PMRC. They put that Impaler record cover in there along with a number of albums from PMRC un-approved bands including Megadeth, Exciter, and Savatage. Eddie’s room is littered with posters of offenders of the PMRC. The lead role of Sammi Curr was originally intended to be played by Blackie Lawless of the band W.A.S.P., one of the main offenders in Tipper’s anti-metal campaign. If the producer’s didn’t completely plan this to piss on Tipper’s parade they at least had it in the forefront of their minds.

I also get a huge kick out of the fact that Gene Simmons’ character is the one who gives the uber-rare Curr record to Eddie, because in a symbolic fashion that makes Kiss responsible for bringing Sammi back from the dead and starting all the trouble. You know that to this day there are still folks who swear that KISS stands for Knights in Satan’s service? Unbelievable.

 I mentioned a second famous rocker who has a bit part in this movie. It is none other than Ozzy Osbourne, of Black Sabbath fame. Man what a coup the producers of this movie scored on these castings. They had to be laughing all the way to the theater at Ozzy’s role, too. They cast the Oz man as an evangelical preacher railing about the evils of Rock and Roll! Hilarious! Ozzy plays it straight, too, even reading lyrics on television PMRC-style at one point. Sammi Curr takes care of him, however, as he no doubt would have handled Tipper, sucking the lifeforce out of Ozzy through the very television screen he’s using to attack the music.

But this all happens later. For now, Sammi is feeding messages to Eddie on how to get even with the bullies that are making his life at Lakeridge High School miserable. Chief among the bullies is actor Doug Savant, who is best known nowadays as an actor on Desperate Housewives. I have never seen an episode of that show, proudly, so I’ll just have to take the word of IMDB on that one!

Sammi starts growing more and more powerful. One evening while listening to the record Eddie accidentally spills Pepsi on the the record player, causing a backlash of electricity and allowing Sammi to spring to life! Yes!! Soda and rock n’ roll, two evils out to spoil our children’s souls and gums, working together as one to resurrect the dead! Just think how powerful he’d have been if Eddie was drinking Coke! As long as it wasn’t New Coke, that stuff sucked. This is when Sammi reaches through the TV set and sucks Ozzy’s ass into oblivion.

Man this movie must have been a blast to make. Seems everyone wanted to get killed by Sammi. Kevin Yagher did the special effects work on this movie. Kevin would go one to make quite an impact in the horror field. He worked on such genre films as Nightmare on Elm Street 2, 3 & 4 (Freddy’s makeup), Child’s Play 1, 2 & 3 & Bride of Chucky (created animatronic Chucky & Tiffany and makeup effects), Sleepy Hollow, 976-evil, and much more. Kevin also did a little acting in this film, playing the lead guitarist/singer for the band at the Halloween dance late in the film. He dies horribly at the hand of Sammi Curr – I said hand, singular, because Sammi reaches through the speaker on stage and grabs Kevin by the head, causing it to explode! Oh, now I get it, THAT’S what the PMRC was warning us about! This scene would later be copied in another heavy metal horror film, Black Roses. I’ll have to review that one another day.

Another interesting tidbit – Eddie’s best friend, Roger is played by Glen Morgan. This is actually Glen’s only acting credit. He would go on, however, to a successful Hollywood career as a writer, director, and producer. Among his credits is the wonderful 2003 Willard remake (screenplay/director), the 2006 Black Christmas remake (screenplay/director), Final Destination (screenplay/producer), and many more.

Eddie is really deep down a good guy, and can’t take the increasingly evil actions of Sammi. When the bodies start to pile he refuses to go along with Sammi’s plans and this pisses his idol off good and leads to a showdown between the two to save the town and the day.

This film is a nostalgic trip back to the 1980s. The music is all done by the band Fastway, lead by “Fast” Eddie Clark, former Motorhead guitarist. Man I used to dig that band. I gotta dig up a copy of the soundtrack for Trick or Treat. It is a very fun film, but not a really good movie. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. This movie isn’t great. But it IS enjoyable in that bad movie kind of way. Watch it for the cameos, watch it for the nostalgia, watch it for the fashion, the music, the unintentional hilariousness... Trick or Treat is a true cult classic and my choice for Recommended Movie of the Week.

1 comment:

  1. Isaw this movie master pieace when i was a kid. a friend of mine back than had taped it from cable.man was i taken by this.thinki was around 8 years at the time.
    Found it sooo col i still do.
    theres so much of eddie i can relate to.
    only i wouldn't have stopped the machine from killing the bully.