Color, 1982, 91m.
Directed by Gary Graver
Starring Jackelyn Giroux, Peter Jason, Chris Graver, David Carradine, Carrie Snodgress, Steve Railsback, Jillian Kesner
Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Promoted as a slasher film but almost impossible to classify, Trick or Treats is a truly odd offering from director Gary Graver, whose passion for performing magic (encouraged under his apprenticeship with Orson Welles, whose tricks were reportedly incorporated here) reached its apex here with the story of an oddly overage babysitter and her precocious charge, a sadistic little kid with a penchant of nasty magic tricks and cruel pranks. There's also a rampaging maniac on hand, too, though it takes almost an hour for him to get out of an asylum and do anything remotely threatening.
While reading the paper one morning by the pool, wealthy businessman Malcolm O'Keefe (They Live's Jason) is surprised when his treacherous wife, Joan (The Fury's Snodgress), ushers a couple of men in white coats (played by professional football players Dan Pastorini and Looker's Tim Rossovich!) into their home to haul him off to a mental institution. Pandemonium ensues around the pool before Malcolm is finally subdued and carted away in a straitjacket, and we flash forward several years to find Joan now married to Richard (Carradine), the presumed cause of her husband's removal. Joan's son, Christopher (Graver's son Chris), is looking forward to Halloween night and tormenting the adults around him more than usual, and this time his primary target is babysitter Linda (Giroux), an aspiring actress whose boyfriend, Bret (Lifeforce's Railsback, Giroux's husband), isn't happy she's going to miss his play and tells her so via several phone calls. Meanwhile Malcolm very slowly breaks out of the loony bin by impersonating a nurse, having a few misadventures across Los Angeles (still in drag), and stealing the clothing of a couple of bums including a drunk Paul Bartel. While little Christopher pushes Linda to the brink of sanity, will she be able to realize in time that there's a far greater danger in store on Halloween?
Apparently some kind of commentary on the nature of horror filmmaking, Trick or Treats arrived at an odd time in Graver's career just after he had finished the drive-in celebrity skin classic Texas Lightning and was in the middle of a feverish stream of adult films under the alias Robert McCallum, highlighted by the golden age favorite Amanda by Night. He must have called in quite a few favors to assemble his cast, with the most notable names participating in storylines that literally go nowhere at all. Most of the film was actually shot at Snodgress' house, and most of the cast seems to be personally connected in one way or another apart from the married Railsback and Giroux. Aside from his son, Graver's wife at the time, Jillian Kesner (star of the astounding Firecracker and Raw Force), has a bizarre role as one of Linda's pals, a film editor working in front of a poster for Al Adamson's Dracula vs. Frankenstein (which Graver shot) on a vampire/Frankenstein tribute to the Adamson aesthetic. There's even a discussion about the role of a director (or lack thereof) and the nature of watching and making horror movies, so it's surprising this one hasn't been trotted out among all the other supposed inspirations for Scream. By any objective standard it's a pretty terrible movie (and definitely a non starter as a horror film), but as a drive-in insider's commentary on his own industry with a lot of famous friends in tow, it's more than a little fascinating and one of the strangest choices you could make for Halloween viewing.
Barely released to theaters at the height of the slasher craze, Trick or Treats became a VHS staple for years courtesy of a Vestron release that was even darker, softer, and paler than usual for them. It was utterly impossible to tell what was going on for much of the final half hour, making the film seem like much more of a chore to get through than it actually is. Approached as a colorful oddball comedy with horror overtones, it makes for a diverting view on the 2013 DVD edition from Code Red, whose transfer is (not surprisingly) about a kabillion times better than the tape. Sourced from the original 35mm negative and transferred in HD, it looks way better than you'd have any right to expect and even comes outfitted as a special edition to boot. The biggest extra is an audio commentary with Giroux, Jason, Chris Graver and cinematographer R. Michael Stringer. Sean Graver ostensibly moderates, but it's really a random free for all as everyone laughs a lot and swaps random anecdotes about the film (like Snodgress' ex, Neil Young, popping by during the shoot). It's tough to tell who's talking at times since no one introduces themselves at all, but if you're a fan, there's a lot of information to be found here. Also included is a four-minute phone interview with Railsback (who mainly talks about his close friendship with Graver and gets very emotional at the end), a photo gallery, and bonus trailers for Neon Maniacs, Shakma, Devil's Express, and Top of the Heap.
Reviewed on January 6, 2014.