Not all 80s slasher films are created equal. Some are truly terrifying. Some aren’t great, but have a certain charm that turns them into cult classic. And a lot of them are just terrible. Today we break down the 1982 “slasher” film Trick or Treats to see where on the watchability factor it falls!
Movie: Trick or Treats (1982)
Plot: A babysitter is stuck dealing with the prankster problem child of a wealthy family on Halloween. Unfortunately, her night is going to get worse as the boy’s deranged father has broken out of a psychiatric hospital and is on his way home to get revenge on the adulterous wife that put him there.
Killer: Malcom O’Keefe, wealthy, Wall Street Journal-reading husband by day, “stuck in his childhood” madman by night. This is all guesswork since Malcolm never receives a backstory, so we don’t really know if he’s always been crazy or his wife having him committed made him that way. We do know that he really reads The Wall Street Journal, he wears a suit when he’s home, he has a nice house, and he is violently committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Critique: I really don’t know where to begin with Trick or Treats. It’s like striving for world peace: the goal is there, but there are so many issues connecting to each other that you forget you have to start with one issue before the whole thing overwhelms you. Bet you didn’t see a connection to horror movies and world peace coming, did you? Neither did I until I tried to wrap my brain around Trick or Treats.
If we want to start off with the positive, it is any screen-time we get with Peter Jason. The man knows how to take over a scene, and with the rest of the cast treating Trick or Treats like an improv class, it’s good to see someone treating this like a film and not an audition reel.
It may not even be the fault of the cast. The way the film drags its story along, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were only a handful of people who knew they were acting in a horror movie. We have David Carradine hitting on the babysitter and hinting at some sort of connection with the prankster child, neither of which goes anywhere. We have an actor boyfriend calling the babysitter between acts of a community theater stage play of William Shakespeare’s Othello, with his only action to push the story along is telling her to call the police. We have Peter Jason dressed up as a female nurse driving a car, walking down Sunset Boulevard (I’m guessing) and taking a bus to get home after breaking out of a psychiatric hospital. People are walking aimlessly around a house when other people are off doing other things. We have a team of film editors talking about how they are the ones that turn the reels of film a director heaves at them into an actual movie that can be watched by an audience (too bad they didn’t work on Trick or Treats). And through it all, a little kid is going through “The Little Asshole’s Prankster Book” from 1975 to torture his babysitter.
But the liner notes for Trick or Treats sheds a bit of light on the film. Gary Graver wrote and directed Trick or Treats. His other writing and directing credits were under the name Robert McCallum and included titles such as Summer Camp Girls, Please Don’t Stop, Cape Rear and Flesh and Boner. Yes, he was porn director. In the horror genre, Gary worked as an editor and cinematographer, most notably for Roger Corman films. But when it came to movie plots and directing a cast, Gary was best at telling other people where they could stick it.
So if you look at Trick or Treats with the knowledge that it was written and directed by someone who was at his best writing and directing for porn, the nonsensical scene-cuts make much more sense. Unfortunately it doesn’t make the movie any better.
Scene of Awesomeness: The opening scene where Malcom O’Keefe is accosted by hospital orderlies on his home is incoherent and way too long, but exceptionally well-acted by Peter Jason. It’s a good starting point to get the story going for Trick or Treats, even if you’re struggling to see a complete plot through the rest of the film.
Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here whenever Peter Jason isn’t on the screen. Maybe what makes this scene so awesome is how bad the rest of Trick or Treats is.
Scene of Ridiculousness: You have to really go for the ride Trick or Treats is giving you when the film throws in a scene from a film editing room with Andrea and Connie. It seems like a basic set-up to show that the babysitter Linda really is an actress of sorts, while at the same time sending a warm body to the house to fill up the empty body count so far.
Of course, the writers could have sent the warm body of Linda’s actor boyfriend Bret, who is expected to show up eventually from what we can tell with the useless phone conversations they have every ten minutes.
Body Count: 1 on-camera, 1 assumed
1 stabbing on-camera ( Awesomely Overkill Award, by default )
1 assumed stabbing off-camera
1 pair of breasts, barely countable unless you really stare during the shower scene. So I’ve heard…
Actors/Actresses of Note: The most famous name in the cast is David Carradine, who ends up with about five minutes of screen time. Peter Jason isn’t as big of a name, but he’s had countless roles in film and television, and could be picked out in almost any John Carpenter movie. The rest of the more main cast, consisting of Carrie Snodgrass, Steve Railsback and Jacqueline Giroux, all have a decent Hollywood reel. And the hospital nurse was The Log Lady from Twin Peaks! So it makes sense that Trick or Treats was treated like a promo reel for every cast member.
Quote: “Now Malcolm O’Keefe, who was committed to this institution many years ago, ah, has just been recently made a trustee, isn’t that right?” – TV reporter : yes, everyone affiliated with that hospital is apparently crazy, patients and staff alike.
Watchability: 1.5 out of 5. I’m conflicted about how low to put Trick or Treats because I know it’s a terrible horror film for all the wrong reasons, but I’m not sure if this trainwreck is worth watching at least once, which means it probably is. I may have to watch it again just to put together the pieces of the fractured plot.