Trick or Treat (1986) Retrospective

SUMMARY

High school outcast Eddie Weinbauer is writing a letter to his hero, heavy metal musician Sammi Curr. A vulgar and infamous superstar, Sammi is a hometown hero of Eddie’s town, and an alumnus of Eddie’s own Lakeridge High School. He puts the letter in an envelope and starts doing his chores. Watching the news at the same time, following a report on Sammi’s being banned from returning to Lakeridge High to perform at the Halloween dance, Eddie is shocked to hear the worst words to ever reach his ears: Sammi Curr has died in a mysterious hotel fire. Eddie is completely devastated. He goes to his friend “Nuke”, a radio DJ who knew Sammi Curr personally. To take Eddie’s mind off the death of his idol, Nuke gives Eddie the only copy of Curr’s last and as-yet unreleased album, “Songs in the Key of Death”, on an acetate disc. Nuke has recorded the disc onto high quality tape and plans to play it in its entirety on-air at midnight on Halloween as a tribute since, according to Nuke, that was always Sammi’s plan for the album’s debut.

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Once back home, Eddie falls asleep while listening to the record and has a strange dream about the fire that killed Sammi Curr. When he wakes up he finds that the record is skipping and after listening to it for a few seconds he comes to realize that something is not quite right about the lyrics that the record is stuck on. Having previous experience with hidden lyrics, Eddie plays the record backwards, but receives more than he imagined: Sammi Curr speaking to him from beyond the grave.

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Sammi instructs Eddie on how to go about getting revenge on a group of bullies who make his school life a torment, since Sammi himself was bullied constantly in high school and he wants to now take the revenge on Eddie’s bullies that he never got to take on his own. Eddie explains the situation to his best friend Roger, who is highly skeptical of the whole thing. At first the revenge is innocent enough, but before long the plans start to become more sinister, with the potential to cause real physical harm and eventually building towards murder. Having no desire to take things so far, Eddie determines to sever ties with the dead rocker, but Sammi has no intention of letting that happen. When Eddie is alone in his room, Sammi causes some soda to spill on the record, initiating an electrical surge that gives him just the amount of energy he needs to escape out of the record and become able to carry out his murderous plans without the help of another. Eddie smashes his record player and stereo system after a personal, face-to-face visit from Sammi, hoping to make sure he never sees the dead rocker in his room again.

After Eddie’s cassette tape copy of the album puts his worst bully’s girlfriend in the hospital simply from listening to it, Eddie recruits Roger to steal the tape out of the bully’s car, and orders its destruction. Out of naivety and ignorance to the severity of the situation, Roger lies to Eddie about the tape’s destruction and instead plays it on his own stereo system, earning Roger his own visit from Sammi Curr. Sammi orders Roger to play the tape of “Songs in the Key of Death” at the high school Halloween dance, or die.

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Roger does as he is told, and goes to the dance to play the tape over the PA system. Eddie learns of the tape being played, and quickly attempts to reach the school to stop Sammi from causing any more damage. When the live band takes the stage for their performance at the dance, however, Sammi literally explodes out of the lead singer’s guitar amplifier and proceeds to steal the show. The delighted students think it is all a Halloween tribute to Sammi Curr, even as Sammi begins to fire electric bolts from the neck of his guitar, disintegrating audience members. After the first few deaths, however, panic erupts as the young revelers realize the danger is very real, and Sammi wreaks havoc as the dance attendees flee in terror.

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When Eddie reaches the school, ambulances and police cars surround the building. As he rushes to save Leslie He comes across Tim (Eddie’s bully). Eddie attempts to save Tim however Tim ignores him and is killed by Sammi. He eventually finds Leslie and the two try desperately to find the main circuit box. When they do Sammi attacks them. However before Sammi can kill them Roger knocks out the circuit box, cutting the school power and temporarily stopping Sammi. Eddie realizes that Sammi can only travel through radio signals. Eddie sets about destroying every radio he sees in an attempt to prevent Sammi from continuing his rampage, leading to a final confrontation between the young metal fan and his former idol. After reaching the radio station in a futile attempt to stop the midnight broadcast of Sammi’s demonic album, Eddie succeeds in luring Sammi (in a cassette tape) into a police car and starts baiting him with insults until he breaks out and tries to attack Eddie from behind the car’s security grill. Eddie drives on to an unfinished bridge and speeds over the edge, launching the car into a river, short-circuiting the tape and finally destroying the malevolent rocker.

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DEVELOPMENT / BEHIND THE SCENES

The project began when Dino De Laurentiis, impressed by Producers Michael Murphey and Joel Soisson’s Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, offered them a film to be called Trick or Treat. Dino had the title and a release date. That was all.

“Dino had done Halloween III,” Murphey recalls, and we really didn’t want to do anything like Halloween, or a slasher picture. We wrung our hands for about a week trying to come up with something. And we met a young writer, Rhet Topham. He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…and he laid out the story’s basic premise. We said, ‘Yeah, that’s really good.’

“Joel and I wrote it up into a seven page treatment, had it translated into Italian for Dino, and he said, ‘I love it. Go away and write the script.'” Although he admits the script evolved through several stages, Murphey insists that nothing in the previous drafts needed to be toned down. “There was a point where Dino called us in and said, ‘I want to talk to you about blood,'” Murphey recalls. “And we slouched down in our seats and said, ‘Oh God, he’s gonna tell us every 10 minutes something’s supposed to happen.”

” ‘Not so much, Dino said. “We don’t really want to see blood. Let’s have some fun with this.’ And really in terms of blood, there’s literally none in this picture.” Part of the evolution of Trick or Treat was in the treatment of the controversial subject matter of heavy metal satanism and backmasked messages.

Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. was originally set to play Sammi Curr. Then Gene Simmons was offered the role of Sammi Curr, but did not think much of the script and ultimately agreed only to a cameo as radio DJ, Nuke.  “We got very negative feedback from them. They read the satanic rock star premise as a very negative load to place on them. It seemed to justify what all these religious groups were saying. We didn’t want to do that. Ultimately. Murphey decided against casting a rock star in the role. “If there’s Ozzy upon the screen,” he maintains, “people will be thinking, “Oh, Ozzy’s having fun playing Sammi.’ And that would take a lot away from the way people would respond to the character. Then, we thought, what about putting these people in the movie against type? And they loved it.

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Murphy and Soisson were about to sign a director to TRICK OR TREAT when a friend told them that Charles Martin Smith was interested in directing and that the actor had worked closely with Carroll Ballard on NEVER CRY WOLF and with John Carpenter on STARMAN. They sent Smith a long treatment of the story. Smith flew down to Los Angeles and met with the producers. “He recognized parts of the treatment that we thought were weak,” said Murphy. “He had the same sense of humor as we did.”

Sporting a beard and an engaging grin, Charlie Martin Smith–as he’s known on the set-is now toiling behind the camera. Trick or Treat marks his directorial debut. Asked how he made the difficult transition from actor to director, Smith at first gives a Terry the Toad answer. “Clumsily.” he replies. “I don’t know. There’s a quote floating around somewhere where I told an interviewer that the one thing I’m not interested in doing is directing a film. Now, I’m directing a film. I got more and more interested in it doing Never Cry Wolf. I used that as a three-year film symposium.”

But Trick or Treat, Smith admits. is nothing like that movie.”I shy away from calling it a horror film,” explains Smith. “This is more of a monster movie, where things jump out and go ‘Boo!’ at you.

“I was attracted to the film because it was a movie that had a sense of humor, which you don’t see in a lot of films,” he said. “It has some of the traditional horror movie elements in it, but also the music element, which I like very much. I have to admit that when this came up I started to bone up on horror movies. Steal from the best is my motto.”

“I’m exhausted,” he continues. “This is real nutball moviemaking. Trick or Treat is a very ambitious movie to be making on a limited budget. It isn’t that we have so many big special effects-although we have some-but in every scene, there’s a little something, I keep saying, “When are we going to get to a scene where some little thing doesn’t happen?”

Trick or Treat involves countless special FX including optically enhancing the Sammi Curr scenes, exploding heads and detonating authority figures. Director Smith finds it all very tricky business. The hardest special FX scene?

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“Probably the big dance,” Smith says after a moment. “Just because of its enormity. There were 400 extras and everybody in Halloween costumes. And Tony doing his song. There’s music playback. There’s special effects. We were blowing up everything! It was very wearing.”

Despite his long association with George Lucas, Smith never asked Lucas for advice before tackling Trick or Treat. “I didn’t.” reveals Smith, “and I probably should have. He did give me some advice one time. I don’t know why he did because I wasn’t interested in directing. But he said, “The way to do special effects is to keep the camera moving, keep the background dark and keep cutting. ‘I did talk to Ronnie Howard before this movie. He said, “Make sure your storyboards are in good shape.’

Smith’s activities aren’t entirely restricted to being behind the lens. During the Halloween dance finale, he cameos as Eddie Weinbauer’s school principal.

“That was forced upon me by the producers,” Smith jokes. “They said I should be in this movie somewhere, and we didn’t have enough money to pay many actors. I said, ‘I’ll only do it if I do it in disguise.’ So, I got a pair of nose glasses, and used a funny voice. I get blown up.”

The choice of Charles Martin Smith as a first-time director might strike many people as peculiar. The behind the scenes story is even more bizarre. Freddy’s Revenge producers Michael Murphey and Joel Soisson had screened more than 40 candidates–none of them Smith and were about to announce their choice when a friend told them of Smith’s availability and interest in directing a film. Out of curiosity. they interviewed him.

TRICK OR TREAT, director Charles Martin Smith, on set, 1986. ©De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/cour

“It was the kind of meeting where it starts off and you allow 45 minutes for it and you wind up sitting all afternoon, Murphey recalls. “Charlie said, ‘Well, there are some good things and there are some bad things.’ We really felt that he had a sense because he recognized parts of the treatment that we felt were weak and he had the same sort of sense of humor that we do.”

Pausing only to get Dino De Laurentiis’ approval, Smith was hired. He was immediately plunged into every aspect of Trick of Treat’s evolution.

“Actually, I never saw a script,” Smith adds. “When I started on the film, it was just a treatment. The idea was there, the rock star coming back. So, I was in on the writing. My favorite idea was one that came to me on the set. After Sammi Curr has incinerated a whole lot people, I had one of our special effects guys walk through the background turning a fire extinguisher on piles of smoldering clothes.”

But the real challenge. Smith admits, was in directing the two real headbangers who play brief roles in Trick or Treat. KISS’ Gene Simmons plays DJ Norman “the Nuke” Taurog, a friend of Sammi Curr’s, while Ozzy Osbourne, in what might be called flipside casting, portrays Reverend Gillstrom, a virulent anti-heavy metal preacher.

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Heavy metal iconoclast Ozzy Osbourne appears as the Reverend Gillstrom, cast against type as a zealot who is fervently against rock. According to Smith, the heavy metal star was nervous about the role. “He had never done anything like this,” said Smith. “The part was very strange anyway, so I let him improvise a lot. What he came up with was much more interesting than the script, anyway.” Gene has got a career as an actor.” observes Smith, so it was not so different directing him as it would be directing another actor. But Ozzy had never done this before. His part was strange anyway. I felt it was better not to give Ozzy scripted lines because what he came up with was much more interesting than the script.

There’s no escaping the fact that Trick or Treat is a schizoid film. On one hand, it’s a senator’s wife’s worst nightmare, with its unflinching linking of satanism, backmasking and rock ‘n’ roll. On the other, it strongly attacks the anti-rock hysteria fostered by the P.M.R.C. It also doesn’t take itself-or any of its subject matter seriously.

“I like the fact that we’re satirizing both sides of this movie,” notes Smith. The heavy metal stuff is something that we’re just slightly doing a takeoff on in that Sammi is a pretty extreme character. He’s biting the head off a snake and spitting out the blood. It’s pretty gruesome, but not so different from what W.A.S.P. and these other groups are doing. We’re satirizing the censorship side of the battle much more pointedly. I hope we’re making a point with this, even though it’s sort of a rock ‘n’ roll monster movie.”

Murphey knows that he’s satirizing a sensitive subject, but doesn’t feel Trick or Treat will become controversial. “This is definitely an R movie,” he says. “But I can’t imagine a film generating enough negative attitude that parents would picket the theater and not allow their kids to see the movie.”

Charles Martin Smith agrees. “The point that we’re trying to make in this movie,” he notes, “is that rock & roll is not bad and that although Sammi may have become an insane demented demon back from the dead out to kill people, that doesn’t mean Eddie should stop listening to heavy metal.”

Smith feels the teenage character of Eddie is pivotal to the success of the film. If audiences don’t care about Eddie, or if his transition from nerd to kid with demonic powers to hero trying to destroy what he unleashed – doesn’t work, then it won’t matter how good or how scary the special effects are.

Charles Martin Smith & Marc Price
Charles Martin Smith & Marc Price

Marc Price looks like a typical headbanger. He’s wearing a torn black and grey T-shirt speckled with occult symbols. He’s not the bashful type. “I slept with the director,” he quips, when asked how he got the role. “I auditioned. I’m not Michael J. Fox who gets scripts up to here. The first time I auditioned was Toni Fields’ first time, too. He had just arrived and was in makeup, so I knew he was playing the part of Sammi. The scene was between me and him and I said, ‘Let’s run through it.’ We were having fun and improvising. And the casting director came out, saw us and brought us both in. We were both cast together. So, those kind of things do happen.”

In the film, Eddie is shocked by the death of his idol and seeks out Sammi’s friend, D.J. Norman “The Nuke” Taurog (Gene Simmons). The Nuke takes pity on Eddie and gives him an advance tape of Sarnmi’s unreleased last album. When Eddie plays it backwards, he finds a message. For him! With Sammi’s help from beyond the grave, Eddie proceeds to exact revenge on everyone who ever bullied him. The film sounds like an indictment of heavy metal, but Price-who admits that he’s not a big fan of heavy metal-denies this.

“After I’ve turned on Sammi and Sammi’s turned on me,” he explains, “I’ve decided I want to stop. The radio is on a heavy metal station, so I put on a muzak station. I pick up the paper and start reading. A few minutes go by, and I put the paper down and say, ‘Even death is preferable to this shit.’ And I go back to heavy metal” Price is visibly excited about being in Trick or Treat.

Tony Fields
Tony Fields

Tony Fields, looking fierce but friendly. was found sitting in a makeup chair while assistant makeup artist Alec Gillis worked on his face. Dressed in red running trunks and sneakers, his chest was covered with rubber stamp tattoos, some of which were rubbing off on the chair. Fields plays heavy metal rocker Sammi Curr, who returns from the dead after expiring in a fire.

“He’s this psychotic rock star who lives in the music airwaves and can come out through the speakers by the incantation of backmasking,” explains Fields. “He’s so many fantasies in one character-killer vampire/psychotic neurotic rock star. He’s not a vampire, but those are my associations.”

As he speaks, his face turns and the two foam latex burn appliances being attached to his cheek and chest become visible. They are the crucial part of the four-hour makeup session necessary to turn him into the not exactly-dead rocker. Despite losing 10 pounds, Fields claims he doesn’t mind the ordeal.

“I love it,” he admits. “I did Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was pretty heavy duty makeup, but nothing like this. In fact, in Thriller they did appliances for everybody else, but I walked in and they went, “That face! All we have to do is paint it.

“We’re now at the stage where every time I appear, I’m dead. I have a whole costume with five-inch platform boots that makes me 6 feet 4 inches. But also optically, they’ll be running bolts of electricity that will come off me. I walk by and light bulbs burst and the clock spins.”

Sammi Curr is the quintessential heavy metal star. On stage, he bites the heads off snakes. Off stage, he inserts satanic backmasked messages into his records. His greatest hit, “Trick or Treat.” gives the film its title. Ozzy Osbourne plays Sammi’s arch-enemy, Reverend Gillstrom, and although they’ll appear together on the screen courtesy of special FX, Fields will have no opportunity to act with Ozzy Or Gene Simmons.

“Ozzy and Gene never saw my work.” Fields points out. “But they were very, very supportive of what they saw as my look. I did a photo session with both of them and I got nothing but compliments on how authentic I looked and how I handled the guitar and myself as a rock star.”

Although Fields admits that he always wanted to be a rock star, he doesn’t play the guitar. And he will do none of his own singing in Trick or Treat. “The most difficult scene is what we’re doing today.” Fields offers. “I come out of the speaker. It’s my first appearance as Sammi, my first time back from dying. I have to mentally and physically get ready for it because it’s in a small bedroom filled with smoke. And smoke is very, very hard on me. It works almost as a depressant. So, I have to concentrate my energy up, but then focus enough to where it doesn’t go over the top.

Joel Soisson
Joel Soisson

 

Interview with  producer Joel Soisson 

Was the original draft by screenwriter Rhet Topham darker in tone?

Joel Soisson: He wrote the story and turned in a draft. Great guy. That was a case where my then partner and I Michael Murphy did a rewrite, did a couple, because we brought on Charlie Martin Smith the director and I think there were certain new directions which really preserved Rhet’s concept but made the screenplay a lot different in terms of characters, dialogue and plot. It wasn’t totally one of those cases where there were equal changes based on…I think the idea of having Gene Simmons and Ozzy had an effect on how things changed.

What changed in Rhet’s story to how it ended up?

Joel Soisson: It became kind of like an alienated youth’s version of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” because there was this guy that didn’t come out your dreams he comes out of the backwards masking of a record. Yet the way he infiltrates the real world was very similar to Freddy Krueger. Even scarring on his face probably was a little derivative in that way. I think the original idea was much darker. As I recall it was a very serious movie and that we did try lightening it up in whatever way we could. You always have to, its certainly a lot lighter than the “Nightmare’s,” but that’s sort of the tendency of trying to goof things up a little bit. I’m not a fan of straight horror actually and especially the direction horror’s taken recently with the gore porn stuff. It’s just a taste thing.

“Trick or Treat” found more life on home video and still was successful”

Joel Soisson: It had to do with the way movies were financed, how you made your money back and made a profit on films. There was this period in the mid 80s, that if you kept to a reasonable budget, 2-3 million dollars, four, which is not much different than the low budget movies of today. If anything, low budget movies have gotten cheaper, not more expensive. Everything else has gone up in price for commodities. The technology on movies has taken the price down. But you knew you’d get your money back. Even if you failed at the box office the video market was so strong that you’d basically put crap out there and make you’d get your money back. We never looked at it that way. Every movie, no matter how stupid it appears in retrospect, it’s a passion project while we’re doing it. You’re just thinking that you’re making the best damn movie ever. I know we did with “Trick or Treat” but part of that is the freedom to know that you are not being micromanaged, that it’s not a life and death situation. You’re not going to bankrupt your financing or your partnerships or bring down a studio if make a misstep.

The film industry in Wilmington was still kind of in its infancy. The paint was still fresh so to speak.

Joel Soisson: They were maybe a year old. Everything was pretty much new. I remember starting the movie, Dino who was ferociously catholic, would have the set blessed by a priest. I thought was kind of cool. So it was a great time. The combination of being on this location where people still thought movies were cool. I get very nostalgic because I felt some of that enthusiasm that I missed in L.A. even coming back now when people are still…you don’t have quite that sort of completely naïve childlike whimsical enthusiasm, but you have now professionals, now they’ve done movies – they’re in unions, they do their thing, but they’re still into it and you still feed off of it.

Marc Price
Marc Price

What did you see in Marc Price for the role of Eddie Weinbauer?

Joel Soisson: It turned out to be surprisingly hard to find someone who was right. Marc was a good actor but he was also a comedian. It was sort of a comedy horror movie so we wanted that sense of humor. Frankly he was kind of a nerdy guy he had this older adolescence, baby fat, goofy look that you could believe that he was sort of an outcast. So often they cast really cool Johnny Depp-type people. I had great times working with that guy. We had a good time. To me that was the golden age of working in the horror trade because there was so much more creative freedom back then. Once we got out here we could do pretty much whatever we wanted.

Keanu Reeves was up for the role too?

Joel Soisson: I didn’t even know of Keanu until “Bill & Ted.” Keanu came in and auditioned on “Bill & Ted” and nailed it. So no, I had no idea about Keanu. If Keanu had been mentioned for “Trick or Treat” I’d be surprised because I have no recollection of that. I’m sure I would have. So if you see Marc Price tell him he’s a filthy liar. No, I don’t recall, but I don’t think he was ever considered. I honestly don’t know who else was considered for the role. But he ad a bit of a name at that point because he was Skippy. I think he read for it so he had an audition thing where he nailed the role. I liked him in it. I thought he really felt like a likable nebbish, an everyman, but he’s certainly got the geek thing working for him. It must have worked because more people connected to that movie.

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Here’s a picture of Marc in a deleted scene, dressed up as a Conan type of warrior.

Joel Soisson: Yes! That was the Frank Frazetta painting. Wow. It was a daydream (scene). (Frazetta) always did the barbarian looks. I think it was also a fact that we were sort of doing a shout out to Dino who did “Conan” with Schwarzenegger. Totally forgot about all that.

Charlie Martin Smith as director on a horror film a left field choice at the time.

Joel Soisson: My producing partner (Michael S. Murphey) and I had been looking for directors and he had done a little movie about ice skating. It was the last thing that you’d want for a horror movie except we were already feeling we didn’t want to make just another horror movie with the normal expected guys you hired in those days to do those types of things. It was a total left field choice. Based on that premise, rightly or wrongly, somebody who was coming at it from an actor/character background and the work he did as a second unit director and “Never Cry Wolf” was another thing was interesting…how any of that tied into “Trick or Treat” I don’t have the foggiest idea. I think we literally liked the fact that what we liked most about him is that he made no sense as a director. But he’s smart. He’s played the nerd. He’s always been that guy in the movies so we figured some of that might translate. I think it was probably in meeting him that his take on the movie struck us as being right. I can’t even begin to tell you what that was now.

He seemed a good choice to work well with Marc.

Joel Soisson: Yeah, really well, because they have an actor’s rapport. One of the things you get with an actor/director is someone who understands that part of the game and can communicate it. A buddy of mine who actually did a polish on the script, just a little dialogue pass, punched up some things.

Marc said that Tony Fields stayed in character as Sammi Curr.

Joel Soisson: I don’t think he ever stopped being Sammi Curr when he was with us. Those were hard times back. I feel fortunate to have escaped most of it but I mean, the coke, and the lifestyle, and the AIDS epidemic. The threat…the threats aren’t all gone, of course. But back then they were really profound. I think they navigate them better now. I think they’re a little wiser about (it). But I don’t think there was a more perilous time to be a fringe dwelling artist in terms of, well maybe back in Gaugain’s era when VD could kill you. It felt like, for a lot of those people, life in the Hollywood film world was a party that just never stopped. I didn’t know Tony enough to know what really did him in. I was very sad to hear that he went because he was a tremendous dancer and had great acting instincts. He could have done all sorts of wild flamboyant outrageous characters but he burned hot and fast like a rock star. It was almost that life imitating art kind of thing.

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How did Fastway become associated with “Trick or Treat?

Joel Soisson: Someone that knew more about heavy metal than I did made that connection and said, ‘look, you got your struggling heavy metal band and could use some exposure? We need a soundtrack album what do you think?. They dug the premise and they wrote our songs and a lot of them were pre-recorded and we could sort of build the movie around them. I don’t know that much about Fastway, I’m not a heavy metal guy myself, they never became one of the A bands, they sort of simmered around edges for a while.

That was a tough period for Ozzy with all the press and pressure from the PMRC.

Joel Soisson: Ozzy totally dug the idea of playing a preacher. He had gone through that with the PRMC, Tipper Gore, had been sort of at the forefront of. With all the biting heads off bats and the bad press he was getting which was really good press because it launched a new era of fans. He was a delight. As an actor that just does not come easy for him.

Ozzy was your first choice?

Joel Soisson: Oh yeah. It had to be Ozzy. If you’re going to embody the complete opposite of what you’re playing then it had to be Ozzy. We were just delighted he wanted to do it.

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Gene Simmon’s character seemed to emulate famous radio DJ Wolfman Jack.

Joel Soisson: He was certainly channeling Wolfman when he did it. That’s pretty clear. He never mentioned it that I’m aware of. He might have done that in the process and might have mentioned that Charlie the director. But it is implied in the way he approached the character.

What do you remember about the band scene at Trask Coliseum?

Joel Soisson: That was fun in fact. I kept the guitar that (Sammi) used to blast people with. Cheap little Fender thing. I play a little myself and I kept it in the garage for years. Somebody stole it. Doubtful they knew it was a cherished relic from “Trick or Treat.” Even more fun shutting down the big bridge in downtown Wilmington. That was fun. We got to shut that down and send a car going off it. We got that car back out, I can’t remember now, maybe it’s still down there. That was the last shot of the movie, the car going off the bridge. We not only got a cool finale but we’re all standing on the shore cheering once everyone appeared to be okay.

Making “Trick or Treat” appears to really stand out for you.

Joel Soisson: I get more e-mails and letters on that movie than “Bill & Ted” which I would have thought would have connected with a whole lot more people but not necessarily as deeply. It connected with people. It just did. We didn’t set out to make this adolescent coming of age for heavy metal kids. I never thought it would have any staying power or any kind of real impact beyond just being a diversion for an hour and a half. I still get letters from people that it was their transformative movie from adolescence. They watched that and they adhered to it, bought the albums and followed some band and that sort of that stuff.

Have there been other experiences that come close to that period?

Joel Soisson: It’s like childbirth, since I know so much about childbirth, it’s the pain of delivery. And then, what is that hormone that women have that comes over them after childbirth that makes them forget how truly agonizing and how horrible it was so that they’ll want to do it again. I think that’s probably what happens with the film experiences as well. It’s like sports, coming together for a common goal and you get across the finish line. There’s something to that.

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SPECIAL EFFECTS

“This is not a straight horror movie,” he insists. “This is definitely different. I compare it to American Werewolf in London in that hopefully it will have the audience laughing-not from jokes-but from raw situations and trying to deal with the bizarre events. The central character. Sammi, is pretty unique looking. And there’s also Skeezix. It’s the best monster I’ve seen in a movie-ever.”

The next day, we finally get to meet Skeezix. He’s a greenish gargoyle with cat-yellow eyes. Actually, he’s a cable-controlled rod puppet. He perches on a table while a handful of operators squat before him like worshippers before a demon god. Skeezix is an apparition created by Sammi,” reveals creator Kevin Yagher, as he brings the creature to life, waving its bony arms, turning its head and wiggling its ears to the insect like clicking of cherry cables. “Iron Maiden has a zombie on their album covers. Charlie Martin Smith liked the idea of having some kind of a mascot for Sammi.  Skeezix is a name for the devil.”

Prominently noticeable is Skeezix’s unusually long, forked tongue. “The bad kid who’s giving Eddie a problem at school and his girl friend are necking in a car.” Yagher explains. “He gets out of the car to relieve himself and while he’s gone, she pops in a tape of Sammi Curr-the backmask tape and she listens to it and slowly goes into a seductive state. Then, Skeezix appears. She opens her eyes and he’s hovering over her and licking her exposed chest.”

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Skeezix is composed of eight separate pieces including the long tongue. The head, neck, arms and hands were made of foam latex while the tongue is hot poured vinyl and slips over the cable mechanics used to make it move. It’s teeth are dental acrylic and the reptilian eyes are painted acrylic. The eye lids and ears were made separately from foam. The pieces fit onto a poly foam and latex trunk. An operator works inside, entering through the back. Breathing, cheek movement, snarling mouth and a tongue are mechanically cable-controlled. The arms are moved by means of two rods which extend back from the elbows. Unfortunately, the terrific-looking monster is on screen for only a few seconds, although it took five weeks to build. According to Yagher, director Charles Martin Smith toned-down the gore aspect when he came on the production, adding a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the horror elements.

“We had problems getting good camera angles in the back seat,” Smith explained. “The car wasn’t sectioned. He was strictly supposed to be a back seat gargoyle. When we were designing him I told Yagher there were going to be two very quick cuts. Yagher also supplied the makeup for Tony Fields as Sammi Curr. Yagher’s assistant, Alec Gillis, advised that Fields’ makeup took from two to three hours to prepare and apply. Burn scars consisted of two pieces of foam latex, pre-painted to save time for Fields in the chair. The units are applied to the actor and blended. Hair pieces supplemented Fields’ own locks. Several tattoos, one of which is a rendering of Skeezix, were applied to Fields by means of rubber stamps, a time saving device Yagher initiated at the suggestion of Daniel Marks, another member of his team. Yagher also built a mechanical head and false set of hands for Curr for scenes involving fire and electricity. The head featured eyes that roll back and blink and a mouth that moves.

Yagher, cautions that the exploding heads and other shock FX in Trick or Treat aren’t going to be blood gushers. “Because Sammi is made of electricity, every explosion isn’t going to be organic, but electrical.” He also acknowledges that while Sammi’s electrical burns are a simpler job than Freddy’s fire ravaged features, they are more crucial because the burns have to blend off into Fields’ real skin. In addition to bringing the denizens of the Underworld to life, the young makeup artist makes his screen debut in a cameo role. “I play the lead guitarist in the band who gets his head blown-up by Sammi Curr,” said Yagher. “I wear a wig and act punked-out. The prop we built is just your basic wax exploding head.”

The makeup whiz isn’t the only victim of Sammi Curr’s wrath. “Mrs. Cavell, a teacher, is on the TV.” reveals Yagher, unwrapping a blackened foam mummy, “and Sammi reaches through the TV set, grabs her by the neck and yanks her through. She’s a shriveled little potato-looking thing by the time she gets out.”

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Interview with story/screenwriter Rhet Topham

“Trick or Treat” is your first film screenplay. How did you come to be on board?

Rhet Topham: Joe Rice, my agent and close friend had heard there was a writer’s ‘cattle-call’ issued by the old Dino De Laurentis film group. Two of their producers, Michael Murphy and Joel Soisson had a title (“Trick or Treat”) and a budget, but no script. I spent a weekend coming up with the idea, then went to pitch it. Half way through my story of metalhead Eddie Weinbauer and Sammi Curr, the two producers stopped me and said that this was the story they wanted to make. We spent several weeks working out the screenplay, then went into production. “Trick or Treat” was literally sold on a one-line pitch; Kid plays record backwards to unleash revengeful ghost rocker.

Some of your other writing credits include “976 Evil” and episodes of the “Freddie’s Nightmares” series. Do you prefer writing in the Horror genre?

Rhet Topham: I do prefer the horror genre for very personal reasons. When I was a pre-teen I was quite a little schemer. Every Halloween I would spend the day working myself into a fake ‘sick frenzy’ so I wouldn’t have  to go ‘trick-or-treating’ with my brothers and sisters. Instead, and without my parents knowing, I’d get to stay home and watch the ‘Creature Feature’ Halloween Marathons with this whacked-out host named Bob Wilkins.

Groups like the PMRC (Parents Music Recourse Center) were really giving Heavy Metal music a bad name around the time of the film. Did the issues at the time with Metal music play a factor in your screenplay?

Rhet Topham: Absolutely. That was the definitely the seed for the film.  At that time Tipper Gore (Al’s Wife) was running around screaming about something called ‘Rock-Porn.’ Most us metalheads thought she was full of B.S. and we also understood – without a doubt – that she was, at best, trying to shamelessly up her own political capital, and at worse; curtail free-speech. In her P.O.V. all this country’s problems were the fault of rock music. Not political corruption, not massive economic flight of American jobs and salaries to third world countries, not racism and sexism and homophobia. Not corporatocracy. No, it was all the music’s fault. Like we haven’t heard that crap before?

In fact, today’s music genres, like Rap, Hip-Hop, etc. are receiving the same kind of attention. “Trick or Treat” was a DIRECT response to these childish ravings. And in the film when you see that nice little old lady on television being interviewed (who is ultimately ripped into electronic shreds by Sammi), please do me the favor and think of all the Tipper Gores out there today playing the same tired game of “I know Morality and You Don’t”.  I certainly won’t put up with a lot of shit when it comes to attacks on the Constitution and our enshrined Personal Freedom. Neither should you. Freedom is Freedom, Either we mean it, or we don’t.

“Trick or Treat” has really gained a large Cult following over the years. It speaks to every high school “Metalhead” and outsider who grew up in the 80s. What made you base the character of Eddie Weinbauer on the local school “Metalhead”?

Rhet Topham: Eddie is me. No doubt. My middle name is Eddie. His dress, his look, his composure. hi experiences, his insight, spontaneity and chameleon-like ability to disappear in the middle of a crowd if need be…all tools of survival in High School if you’re not part of the elite in crowd (and who would want to be?).

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You had mentioned that Sammi Curr’s “original” name was going to be “Chilly Willy”. Isn’t that the cartoon penguin?!

Rhet Topham: Okay, It’s true I originally called Sammi Curr “Chilly Willy”. As kids, my older brother and I loved the penguin.  After thinking about it I thought Chilly Willy was a great play on Satan’s name, like ‘Old Scratch.’

Did you ever think the film would grow into such a popular Cult hit? Sammi Curr is practically a Cult icon among us “80s Metalheads”.

Rhet Topham: Never in my wildest imagination. I am so honored that this film has since found life after it left the big screen. VHS wasn’t as popular as it was in the 1990’s and DVD wasn’t even invented.  I really thought the film would vanish. However, there was obviously enough interest to see it through to VHS and eventually DVD. Metalheads made that happen! The surreal cult-status of Trick or Treat has kept me believing in myself – even during tougher times. In my house, we watch “Trick or Treat” and “976-Evil” every Halloween – but I don’t have to fake tonsillitis anymore!

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CONCLUSION

Well, did they butcher Topham’s script for Trick or Treat or what? “A little bit,” he concedes. “But ‘butchered’ is a hard word. It was mainstreamed to be non-offensive. I knew we were going to have trouble selling heavy metal music to a big population, so for a two-week period, Joel Soisson (co-scriptwriter, along with Michael S. Murphey) and I met at his place and various restaurants to kind of flush out a more noncontroversial version of my story. We mainstreamed a potentially violent and dangerous idea to make it palatable, to take it down with a spoonful of sugar.”

In an earlier interview, FX artist Kevin Yagher declared he was “devastated” by the fact that his nifty articulated rod puppet, known affectionately as “Skeezix,” was practically absent from the final cut. (It is featured prominently on the video box, though.) “Yagher has 20 minutes of special effects footage, the blood-and-guts stuff, that didn’t make it into the film because of that mainstream crowd,” Topham laments. “One of the funniest moments in the movie is the monster in the car. First of all, there was no monster in the story; it was to be a kind of ectoplasmic assault of this girl by Sammi Curr. The monster was quite a surprise. After the screening, I asked Joel and Michael where it came from.”

Despite the hostile reviews the film generated, Topham refuses to lay the blame elsewhere and says straightforwardly, “I’ve got no axes to grind. I still feel that the first hour of Trick or Treat was a priceless little gem. I’m paying my dues. If there are mistakes and plot inconsistencies, it’s because I’m young. It’s a growth procedure, and every time I sit down at the typewriter, I’m learning more and more. I have not yet arrived. I did my best as a 22-year-old kid walking in off the street. I tried to be as imaginative as possible.”

Before landing his first feature film credit with Trick or Treat, Topham was “a freshman at UCLA, working on my first attempt at a screenplay, when Joe Rice the third or fourth week of school. We’ve been best friends ever since.”

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All Sammi Curr music was composed by the band Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

 

CAST/CREW
Marc Price as Eddie Weinbauer
Tony Fields as Sammi Curr
Lisa Orgolini as Leslie Graham
Doug Savant as Tim Hainey
Elaine Joyce as Angie Weinbauer, Eddie’s Mother
Glen Morgan as Roger Mockus
Clare Torao as Maggie Wong-Hernandez (as Clare Nono)
Gene Simmons as Nuke (cameo)
Ozzy Osbourne as Rev. Aaron Gilstrom (cameo)
Alice Nunn as Mrs. Sylvia Cavell (cameo)
Charles Martin Smith as Mr. Wimbley (cameo)

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
sammicurrcom
StarNews
FANGORIA#57
FANGORIA#58
FANGORIA#59
GOREZONE#06

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