Trick or Treat: a Retrospective by Shannon Ryan

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It was the 1980s, and America had stopped panicking about communists under every bed and started panicking about Satanists under every bed.  The main way Satan was influencing America’s teens was Dungeons and Dragons but closely following the Monster Manual was evil magic on Rock and Roll songs that could only be heard when you played them backwards.

If you’re old enough to remember music before the digital age, it was stored on vinyl disks called records that rotated on special players. You could grab the record and manually reverse the direction to hear what it sounded like backwards. Little old ladies spent hundreds of hours listening to Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones a minute at a time, and then slowly backing up the record to listen for naughty words and Satanic messages.

Enter the 1986 movie Trick or Treat, about a boy who summons his favorite heavy metal musician back from hell by playing a record backward, featuring Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne, and a soundtrack by the band Fastway.

At this point, I’m going to throw out a pretty heavy spoiler alert, as there is going to be a bit of commentary and analysis ahead. However, I will refrain from commenting too much or revealing any of the absurdity contained in Act Three.

The movie starts with our hero, a high school student bullied for listening to heavy metal, Eddie Weinbauer, or as he prefers to be called, Ragman. His one true hero is Sammi Curr, a heavy metal singer who went to the same high school as him and writes lyrics like, “Rock’s chosen warriors will rule the apocalypse.” We find out that Curr will not be playing his school’s Halloween dance partly because the city council has forbidden his performance, but mostly because Curr has recently died in a hotel fire.

When Ragman visits his inappropriately older friend Nuke (Gene Simmons), a DJ at a local radio station, Nuke comforts Ragman by gifting him the only copy of Curr’s last album, given to him by Curr to play at the stroke of midnight to terrorize the community who forbade him access to the high school dance. Presumably, it’s okay for Ragman to own the only studio copy of the record because he was a really big fan and Nuke already made a tape of the album to play on Halloween.

When he falls asleep while listening to the only existing copy of a really big rock star’s final album, Ragman dreams of Sammi Curr in hell or maybe just dying in the hotel, there’s definitely a lot of fire either way. When he tries playing the record backwards, he finds it speaks directly to him, like uses his name and everything.

Fun and games ensue as Ragman uses Sammi Curr’s Satanic power to take revenge on his enemies, first by threatening his bullies with power-tool retribution in the school’s metal shop, and then, in a scene that makes the ghost sex in Ghostbusters totally seem not creepy and would totally not be okay in the Me Too era, makes a mix tape that summons a demon to rape the bully’s girlfriend.

At this point, Ragman believes the evil spirit of the heavy metal singer he’s been worshipping has gone too far and tells Sammi he’s going to end their association. However, Sammi doesn’t take this well, threatening the girl Ragman likes, Leslie, and his mother. At this point, we see the first physical manifestation of Curr, who seems to be composed of electrical fields, presumably because electricity powers electronics, and stereo systems are made from electronics. Ragman responds to the manifestation by breaking the record and his stereo system with a baseball bat.

Grounded for breaking his stereo, Ragman then enlists the help of his only age-appropriate friend, Roger, to remove the demon rape mix tape from Bully #1’s car, because for some reason he knew it was there. Roger then ignores the instruction to destroy the tape and to take it home and listen to it instead. Sammi Curr leaps out of his home stereo and threatens Roger, telling him to take the tape and play it at the school dance.

Meanwhile Ragman is at home, still grounded, giving candy to the neighborhood kids.

Roger goes to the dance, plays the tape, and nothing happens. Then the live band is introduced, Curr comes out of the amplifier, presumably because it uses electricity, and starts to sing. At this point, the high school kids seem really excited about his music, despite bullying Ragman for listening to it.

Now, I’m not one to go in for lots of literary analysis, but if the guitar is the symbol for Curr’s penis, he essentially ejaculates lightening bolts at the high school students, which then disintegrates them. Ragman then arrives at the high school and totally fails to prevent Curr from hurting more high school students. Fortunately, Roger shows up and attacks the school’s main power switch with a crowbar, which somehow takes away Curr’s power, as he is sort of powered by electricity in some non-specific way.

And so we move into Act Three with the Ragman hiding from the police, who believe he vaporized several of his classmates after some random kid pointed at him and said, “He did it!” Also, he somehow manages to forget his adult friend is going to play the record that makes the bad man appear at midnight on the radio.

In conclusion, Trick or Treat isn’t full of elements typically associated with horror movies. There is no cabin in the woods full of sharp implements. It is not a splatter fest, there really isn’t a whole lot of blood, just a whole lot of cheap lightening effects and the gratuitous destruction of a lot of electronic devices. But if you’re up for watching a movie that so absurd it’s entertaining, this might lighten the mood of your next Halloween watch party.


Shannon Ryan lives in Marion, Iowa. He writes weird, funny stories in the urban fantasy genre, featuring satanic telemarketers and awkward vampires. His latest book Panic No More is about a computer programmer harassed by a Greek god.

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