Trick or Treat: the Movie That Got Me through My Sophomore Year

For about a year in high school, Trick or Treat (a low budget horror movie dealing with heavy metal) was the most important movie in my life. My family had moved to a one-horse town where the main activity for teenagers was “cruising,” driving around aimlessly in cars and grouping in parking lots, trying to arrange meeting spots or procure alcohol.

I was a heavy metal kid, and there was a very small contingent of these people at my new school. They were harder to pick out than at my last high school, where there was a definite heavy metal uniform and no way of mistaking your affiliation. In this new town, I might see some longish hair and a T-shirt for a heavy metal band. But this might just mean that they liked the band. What I was interested in was did they live for the music? No-compromising dress and hair was an indicator for me that they did. It took awhile to get to know people, and I was called a few names and even told point-blank by one junior girl in study hall (who I’m sure had the best intentions) that I would have to change my hair and dress if I wanted to get along with people.

I don’t know anyone who comes out of that age unscathed. It’s the cruelest time, I think, because you are ruled by your peers. You haven’t learned how to behave or think in nuances yet and are controlled by galloping hormones to boot. Junior high and high school seems to be one big Lord of the Flies, and I congratulate anyone who makes it out alive—really, it feels like a war sometimes. Luckily we are given a few tools to make those years more bearable—music, books, and movies, and the heroes that are born of them.

In those dark days of being the new kid in a place that didn’t see this too often, I was dependent on my stereo and a stack of black VCR tapes on which me and my sister had recorded horror movies from cable channels. Our favorite movie at this time was Trick or Treat starring Marc Price (of Family Ties fame) as Eddie Weinbauer, the awkward heavy metal kid at his high school. He’s a fuckup and teased mercilessly by the popular clique, but that’s okay because he’s got his rock god Sammi Curr, who happens to come from the exact same town but got out. Looking a lot like Nikki Sixx circa mid-1980s, Sammi Curr has made it big in heavy metal and taken on legislative groups similar to the PMRC—remember that one?

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It’s easy to forget that heavy metal once scared the shit out of people and that’s what Trick or Treat plays on—those long-ago fears that if you played a Judas Priest record backwards you would be compelled to commit suicide or sell your soul to the devil. Eddie understands what heavy metal really is, though—it’s borrowed power for when you’re feeling weak and vulnerable.

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Eddie writes to his hero Sammi Curr and is able to minimize his high school bullying because Curr gets him through it. He signs off his letters with Ragman, the heavy metal identity he’s created for himself, but then he discovers that Curr has perished in a hotel fire.

There are a few cameos in Trick or Treat by heavy metal icons, and to look at the DVD cover you might think that Ozzy Osbourne (as a reverend) and Gene Simmons (as a DJ named Nuke) are the stars of this movie. Between the two of them, though, they share maybe seven minutes tops. They are funny minutes with Osbourne mimicking the groups that came after him, parsing his lyrics to show the moral depravity in them. And Nuke helps to put the plot of Trick or Treat in action.

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Nuke is friends with Eddie, and out of fan love, he gives him Sammi Curr’s unreleased record, which he plans on playing publicly for the first time on Halloween eve. Somewhat consoled, Eddie takes it home and falls asleep listening to it. That’s when he discovers that there are hidden messages on the record that tell him how to get even with the kids that pick on him. Within a week of listening to and following those messages, Eddie goes from powerless to powerful.

The role of Sammi Curr (both pre-fire and after he is conjured by the backward-playing record) was originally supposed to go to Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. It ended up going to Tony Fields instead, a former Solid Gold dancer of all things—how un­–heavy metal is that? He’s not bad as the satanic rocker—there’s a real sense of evil and menace that comes off him in the early part of the movie, but by the end, the movie’s devolved into camp and that scare is over.

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That wasn’t what appealed to me that sophomore year, though. It was the idea that I could make heads roll when I felt least able.

 

Heavy Metal Memories, or Being a Lady in the ’80s

One of the great things about being a military brat is the ability to transform yourself when you move somewhere else. A lot of people live in the same place for all of their elementary, middle, and high school years, and they might get pigeonholed for a few standout events that they didn’t even intend. Then they’re forever known as the brain, the athlete, or the burnout. With the military, my sister and I were able to make ourselves over every couple of years or so because we would move to a place where nobody knew us. Nobody had ever met us; it was a clean slate.

I think my favorite metamorphosis happened, though, when my dad was out of the military. I was a freshman in high school and so shy and awkward that I could go for days without speaking. I wrote poetry that rhymed and hung out in the art room during lunch painting so I didn’t have to interact with others. I owned a pastel-pink sweater and wore it proudly.

Now, my younger sister, Kristi, was in junior high and having a hard time with school authorities, who thought she was on drugs (she wasn’t). She was into metal, had a thing for Blackie Lawless, and wore leopard-print spandex with her hair dyed black and cut in a Joan Jett shag. Her world revolved around music, and the heights of ecstasy came when she was able to go to concerts.

My parents were pretty liberal, but they had their limits—one was Kristi could not go to metal concerts by herself. My mother accompanied her to a few, but I imagine nothing can be more embarrassing than having your mom in tow at a Mötley Crüe concert. That’s how I came into the picture. Kristi wanted to go to a KISS concert but without Mom and Dad, so she leaned on me. It wasn’t too hard to convince me. Concert tickets were still pretty cheap then, running around $20, which I could easily afford with my babysitting money.

Before we went to the concert, Kristi insisted on dressing me. She said I would look out of place, so I let her. She ratted my virgin hair, so thin it couldn’t hold a bobby pin properly; did my makeup with lots of black eyeliner; and dressed me in some of her clothes—a red-and-black striped shirt, black tank top, black spandex, and black high-heeled boots left over from my Madonna Desperately Seeking Susan phase. I was a woman transformed and felt completely weird and freaked out. It was like I was in a costume. I never knew my hair could go so high.

Waiting on line to go through the metal detectors, I got pissed at Kristi as I surveyed the crowd. Barely anybody was dressed like us; they wore jeans and T-shirts and looked comfortable. They could blend. Me, I was now more than six feet tall with my high-heeled boots and teased hair, and so … glittery. People stared and I hated it. Once we cleared the metal detectors, Kristi ditched me to hit the floor, telling me that was the best place to be because you could get up close.

I was mad. I wanted to hide in the bleachers and just get the whole concert over with. I went and picked out a seat all by my lonesome, sat down with my arms crossed, and just glowered, hating everybody. Now, usually when I pulled my pissed teen routine, everybody just ignored me. Not this time. This time it seemed like people were afraid of me, giving me wary glances, and though the place was packed, I had a semicircle of space around me until the last minute. And even then, rather than ignoring me and plunking themselves down like they usually did, people asked me first. “Excuse me, miss”—gesturing toward the seats—“are those empty? Are you waiting for your friends?”

I think I shrugged my shoulders, afraid to speak, but inside, I thought, Holy shit! People are afraid of me. This is genius! A transformation came over me: I sat up taller, I straightened my shoulders, and when the band came on, I stood up with everybody else and stayed on my feet the whole night. It was cathartic seeing these loud bands, knowing the lyrics and being able to sing out loud without worrying about anybody commenting on my off-key voice, and having beer spilled on me. I liked Gene Simmons with his tough-guy look but not Paul Stanley so much with his idiotic stage patter between songs. He said the band had been in Madison, Wisconsin, the night before, the dairy state, and he could tell because all the girls had huge breasts. Immediately that set off a douche bag alert, and I hated him for the rest of my metal days. Gene Simmons was a little more reserved back then. Had he opened his mouth, I’m sure I would have hated him too.

After that, I had my metal metamorphosis. I liked the music because it was angry for the most part, which was how I felt inside. I loved the fashion associated with metal because it set me apart. I already felt like a freak, but putting that on display made me become braver than I would have ever believed. My hair went from blonde to red, then redder and redder, and high—how high I would tease it. And the wardrobe was pretty cheap. From thriftier times in our family, my sister and I had learned how to use scissors and a needle, and we were able to transform plain T-shirts to cropped tops and so on, though Kristi was always better at it than me. She had a pair of artfully frayed jeans and had sewn a snakeskin scarf in as a back panel. How I coveted them. Of course, my ass was always an inch bigger than hers so I could never borrow them.