I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Trick or Treats

tn_trickortreatsWell, it was a pretty successful October of horror movie watching. I didn’t really get a chance to get into a serious marathon until the last couple days, and I still have a stack of leftovers rented. But I saw mostly enjoyable movies and a couple great ones that you guys were nice enough to recommend, like LONG WEEKEND and VISITING HOURS.

For actual October 31st viewing though I took a risk on one I never heard of before, just because it was an obscure one that took place on Halloween, TRICK OR TREATS from 1982. In my opinion in was not a good choice. But I did watch it, so it is my duty to document it.

You gotta respect an honest tagline like that
You gotta respect an honest tagline like that

Like HALLOWEEN four years earlier this is the story of a babysitter stalked by an escaped mental patient. Unlike HALLOWEEN she spends most of her screen time yelling at the kid she’s babysitting for harassing her with pranks and magic tricks. And while HALLOWEEN seemed like geniuses elevating a simple horror story through pure filmatism this one feels more like a bunch of people fucking around. They obviously don’t take it as seriously or expect you to.

Until the very end, when it suddenly seems like it’s trying to be shocking, this is more of a comedy than a serious horror movie. The opening is actually pretty funny – a husband (Peter Jason) and wife (Carrie Snodgress) are having breakfast in the backyard on a sunny morning, he’s reading the newspaper, suddenly some orderlies come to involuntarily incarcerate him, and the wife watches calmly as the three of them wrestle all over the backyard and into the swimming pool until they manage to drag him away screaming.

We skip ahead several years. The wife has a sleazy new boyfriend (David Carradine) and they’re going to a Halloween party so they hire Linda (Jackie Giroux), a girl from an agency  to watch after their fat little bastard (Chris Graves, son of the writer/director Gary Graves). Meanwhile, the husband guy is in the mental hospital planning an escape. He does it by jumping a nurse and stealing her clothes (including bra and wig), then he actually goes out, punches a cop and gets coffee and things while pretending to be a woman in full nurse outfit.

The kid keeps throwing smoke bombs, setting up dummies and faking his death. Meanwhile she’s getting creepy phone calls which she assumes are from the kid, but she’s wrong. This is obviously gonna be a “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” type scenario, but just in case you don’t pick up on it there’s a scene where Linda tells the kid that story, and not even a shortened version. She tells the whole damn story. The movie seems pretty sure that we’ve never heard of that story or concept before and need it explained to us in detail.

It’s hard to feel sorry for Linda, because she’s such an idiot. It takes her about 2 minutes before she’s yelling at the kid that he’s a brat. I am not a babysitter but I would think some would have a sense of humor about their kids being into Houdini and throwing down smoke pellets. This bitch can’t take it. She completely loses her cool before he’s even done anything. Then he plays dead in the swimming pool and she apparently doesn’t know how to check for a heartbeat or breathing so she’s convinced for several minutes that the kid is dead and performs CPR on him until he finally gets up and says “Thanks for the kiss, baby!”

A little bit later he pretends to cut his finger off while cutting sausage and she falls for that too and starts screaming in terror. And if that wasn’t bad enough, also he sticks his tongue out at her. I mean, can you believe that? This is one bad kid.

(by the way, if he were to fake his death a bunch of times but also fall in love with an old lady and drive around in a hearse while Cat Stevens songs play it would be considered more endearing than bratty)

I’m not sure how seriously they really want you to take the horror part at the end, but there is a fairly involved chase with Linda running around screaming and being terrorized, so I think it’s supposed to actually be scary. It’s just hard to take it seriously after the whole movie has been so broad. For example the mental illness on display at the hospital is the kind where every patient has some funny gimmick, like two of them think they’re Marc Antony and Cleopatra. And one of the nurses refers to the soon-to-be-stalker as “mad as a hatter.” I don’t think you’re supposed to say things like that in that line of work.

Steve Railsback has a small part that’s pretty funny. He’s Linda’s stupid boyfriend who talks to her on the phone from back stage at his big stage debut. The joke is he’s playing Othello and she comments that he’s too young to play Othello.

(let me explain that, it’s because he’s white, that’s why it’s funny. Movies like this aren’t supposed to be Shakespeare but they should have some basic Shakespeare based jokes)

This definitely reminds me of the sense of humor of all those ex-Roger Corman guys like Joe Dante, Allan Arkush and John Sayles. It even has Paul Bartel in it. It has all kinds of Hollywood shit: Linda is a struggling actress, she somehow lives in a house full of old movie posters, there’s a scene about two women editors. They watch a clip of a cheesy-horror-movie-within-the-cheesy-horror-movie, complain about the popularity of horror and gore, and brag that the movies are made by the editors, not the directors. So I assumed this Gary Graves was an editor for Roger Corman and this was his shot to direct.

Well, he was in fact an editor (his first editing credit was a 1966 Casey Kasem-featuring biker movie called THE GIRLS FROM THUNDER STRIP) but at that time he was also starting out as a writer/director with THE EMBRACERS. On IMDb he has 137 credits as a director and 204 as a cinematographer. He also has a detailed biography written by one of his sons and it makes a big deal about his collaboration with Orson Welles. He worked with Welles in his later years doing mostly TV shows but also some movies, for example the documentary F IS FOR FAKE. I didn’t like that movie, but I know some people who do. In fact it has a Criterion Edition.

But this guy was hugely prolific, sometimes under different names. For example he directed a huge amount of movies under this name “Robert McCallum.” In 1982 TRICK OR TREATS was the only thing he did under his own name, but under the McCallum name he did three movies, GARAGE GIRLS, SATISFACTIONS and SOCIETY AFFAIRS.

Wait a minute, I recognize some of these titles. He directed CO-ED FEVER. And SUZIE SUPERSTAR 1 and 2. Not to mention BEVERLY HILLS EXPOSED and AROUSED with Tracy Lords and 10 1/2 WEEKS. The list goes on. THREE MEN AND A HOOKER, HOME BUT NOT ALONE, SILENCE OF THE BUNS, DRIVIN’ MISS DAISY CRAZY AGAIN, CAPE REAR, THE JOI FUCK CLUB, ORAL MAJORITY 9 and 10, FLESH AND BONER, HARD-ON COPY, MAVERDICK, and of course WORKING WITH ORSON WELLES.

You know, I think I get this movie better now that I’ve skimmed those titles. It’s not very good, but I’m glad he tried. Everybody’s gotta strive for something. He wanted to keep a toe in the world of the legit, non-penetration filmmaking. Or he just wanted to be able to work with his son, and he couldn’t find a role for him in GARAGE GIRLS. I can respect what this guy Graver was doing here. I hope he was happy with what he was able to express in this.

But don’t ever rent it for Halloween. You can do better.

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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 at 2:07 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses to “Trick or Treats”

  1. Isn’t that the one with Ozzy Osbourne as a preacher or is it another different movie with that name?

  2. No that was called Trick or Treat (no plural). And it had Gene Simmons as a radio DJ in addition to Ozzy as a preacher on a daytime chatshow railing agianst “the devil’s music”.

  3. Thanks Vern, thisis one I had been trying to remember the title of. Saw it on tv years ago. You’re a life saver!

  4. Maybe this one is a sequel to TRICK OR TREAT the way ALIENS is a sequel to ALIEN and SATISFACTIONS is a sequel to SATISFACTION.

  5. Vern – Next Halloween, go review SEIZURE.

  6. Trick or Treat was directed by Charles Martin Smith, the heroic bald accountant in The Untouchables. It’s almost as odd as Bob Balaban directing Parents.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtxDJCZ2Rr8

  7. Hey Vern, did you catch The Walking Dead? I was hoping you’d do a write-up of that one. I thought it was real good, and I can’t wait to watch the rest of the season. Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

  8. Looks like I liked this one more than Vern did. I really appreciated its slightly askance view of the material, The vibe was low-key and conversational but never quite naturalistic. It really won me over in the first scene by letting the absurd, deadpan physical comedy set the pace for the action by showing it in long takes and wide shots. Trying to wrangle a full-grown man out of swimming pool is a messy, awkward business, and the camera lingers on every protracted second of it. I thought the performance in that scene by Walter Hill regular Peter Jason was a career best for him, going really mega and crazed but still keeping it ambiguous about whether he was really insane or just acting like a sane person being accused of being insane out of nowhere might act. It set the tone for a playfully arch black comedy thriller that felt like a Brian De Palma/Larry Cohen collaboration, though not quite up to the standards set by either of those filmmakers. I liked it.

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