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Review posted January 8, 2019 by Slasher Index

Trick or Treats

VA 4138 - Vestron Video | 1984 | VHS | Slipcase
Summary
"This sensational suspense thriller centers on a young boy’s Halloween hi-jinks and a true madman’s thirst for revenge. Next time your doorbell rings, be prepared… because it’s TRICK OR TREATS!"
Body

The title and cover art for this one both seemed promising. It shows what appears to be a severed head in a torn and bloodied trick or treat bag. Nice. The same could even be said for its very familiar plot - an escaped mental patient chases down a babysitter on Halloween night. Now, I know what you're thinking. This is just another Halloween clone, right? Wrong. In fact, I can't imagine anyone involved with this film thinking they were actually making a serious horror film. It no doubt lifts some cues from Carpenter's film, but only to parody it. There are far more attempts at laughs than scares (and at both it fails). From Christopher's silly pranks to Peter Jason running around in drag, clearly this was not intended to be a horror film.

 

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It begins with two orderlies chasing a wealthy man, Malcolm, up a tree. As we find out later, Joan, his wife, had him committed so she could move her new boyfriend in, a magician named Richard. Four years later on Halloween night, she calls Linda, a badly aging teenager, to ask her if she could babysit their son, Christopher (played by the director's actual son). Of course, she accepts. The boy spends the night driving Linda crazy with pranks and magic while his father plans his escape from the insane asylum. Lifting an outfit from a psychiatric nurse (who's conveniently wearing a wig), he leaves the asylum in total drag - boobs and all. After being groped on the street by a drunk, he robs a nasty back alley bum of his filthy clothes. He eventually makes it back to his old home, where the hunt for his ex-wife begins (of course it matters not that his son is inside). Shortly thereafter, Linda's friend arrives to drop off a videocassette. When Malcolm encounters her, he stabs her, thinking she was Joan. His response? "You're not Joan... idiot." When Malcolm finally crosses paths with Linda, Graver probably spends ten or so minutes of the running time having these two run in circles in the house, until eventually, Malcolm gets his head caught in the trick guillotine and is actually killed (sold at a toy store near you). The final shot is a freeze frame of Christopher raising a blade above Linda's head.

 

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Gary Graver has had a super long career, having shot over 200 movies, mostly b-movies. From exploitation to alien erotica, he's done it all. By the time he directed Trick or Treats in 1983, he had already photographed several semi well-known horror flicks, such as Doctor Dracula and The Toolbox Murders. Certainly he knew how horror flicks were made, so what happened with this film? Again, the only explanation is that he didn't intend on making a horror film, despite its eventual marketing. One scene in the film has two of Linda's friends editing a horror film. The two briefly discuss horror, with one confessing (and I'm paraphrasing): "They don't exactly turn me on... I think people will always be interested in the latest monster that can pop up, or how much more blood could be spilled or how many more guts can be ripped out." Perhaps this was Graver's way of asking us, "why does everything have to be a horror movie?"

 

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Despite his wealth of experience, the quality of his work was never very consistent. Compare Midnight Intruders (1973) to Blood Mania (1970) and you'll see what I mean. In this film, the pace is weak and it has some incredibly disjointed and dark scenes (especially on the VHS). Perhaps to add some credibility to the film, he got his bar buddies to make brief appearances. Steve Railsbeck, Paul Bartel, R. Michael Stringer and David Carradine all do their pal Gary a favor. Unfortunately, nothing can save this movie. Not even an Orson Welles credit as the film's "magical consultant." With all the awful things people say about this movie, I must admit, after a recent rewatch on Blu-ray, I can appreciate what Gary was trying to do. Simply put, the film is an homage to Halloween, hi-jinks and pranks... not horror films. I absolutely loved how trick or treaters arrived at the house all throughout the movie. They have virtually no impact on the plot, but are there merely because its Halloween and they should be. A few other things I appreciate - the circus and magic references, the fun childhood pranks, Christopher's character, the silly movie-within-a-movie on the editing bed... I found all these quite fun. But at the end of the day, none can rescue this movie from its awful pacing.

Several years ago, Code Red released a fresh HD transfer on Blu-ray. The new print makes the film more watchable as it pulls out details from many of the dark shots in the movie. The disc also has a cast commentary track. Although I have listened to it, all I could remember is how terrible the sound quality was. Below is my original VHS review from nearly 10 years ago.

 

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