I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Halloween and Metal: Trick or Treat


by Johnathon Davis
Nov. 11, 2011
I’d like to begin by saying this is a film of several layers. The casual viewer will see a film about a metalhead misfit in high school getting kicked around by jerks and getting revenge through a ghost until things go horribly awry forcing him to set things right. But there is actually a whole lot more going on here if you scratch beneath the surface. But before we start going too deep into that, how about a (slightly) more fleshed out description of the plot...

Our story follows Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer - metalhead and misfit who is stuck at the bottom of every preppy kid prank at school. The only thing keeping his head screwed on straight is the music of his hero Sammi Curr who dies in a fire leaving Eddie a distraught mess with nowhere to run. He seeks solace in local DJ “Nuke” (played by Gene Simmons) who hands him the sole existing acetate of Curr’s unreleased album ominously telling him “He’d want you to have it”. Later that night the bullies corner and nearly kill him at a pool party. Leaving the party and vowing revenge, he goes home and puts the precious acetate on his turntable to find a backmasked message to him from the spirit of Sammi Curr. The spiral of at first innocent payback begins to get out of control, leaving nobody but Eddie to stop it...

No doubt some of you are annoyed that I refuse to tell you play by play the ENTIRE plot of the movie. Sorry folks but the idea here is to actually get you to actually see the film in question because quite frankly I feel it is a pretty well executed horror flick. All the right bits of the formula are here: the social misfit, an awesome soundtrack by Fastway, crummy bullies you love to hate, babes, rad 80’s metal posters and some social consciousness/coming of age messages to boot! Last I checked these things being thrown into a blender and then being poured out into a tall frosty glass roughly resembles this movie sans the cherry and whip cream.

As I so dutifully promised to you several paragraphs ago, we will now have a look at world events that give this film its teeth for anybody who is paying attention to it. Put on your carnage visors and take a trip with me back to the mid 1980’s. A group of vindictive “Washington wives” (oh sorry I meant to say concerned parents) led by Tipper Gore rallied themselves and formed an organisation called the Parental Music Resource Center (or PMRC for short). The PMRC was absolutely hellbent on getting regulations put into action to rate music deemed offensive by their “panel of experts”. It seemed nobody was safe- especially when it came to Rock and Heavy Metal groups.

Heavy Metal has since been blamed over and over for “corrupting youth” with “subliminal messages” designed to make fans commit suicide or “enter into pacts with the devil” (please read quoted words in the most snobby sarcastic fundamentalist preacher voice you can muster). This is of course complete and utter rubbish. A key piece of their arguments rested on hidden messages being placed on records via backmasking, which is a recording technique that involves having pieces of a song run backwards to reveal something else when played backward. This technique was famously used by The Beatles on their 1966 album Revolver and many others since. Lists of bands with content deemed questionable, violent, or otherwise offensive were compiled. In 1985 things famously came to a head when Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver all sat before the PMRC board on national television letting anyone with a brain who wasn’t already convinced as such that the whole thing was ridiculous. But of course things kept going. Jello Biafra of the punk band Dead Kennedys had his home raided in April of 1986 by police after the PMRC alleged he was distributing pornography because of a poster of H.R. Giger’s painting Penis Landscape that was included with the album Frankenchrist. Dragged through an exhaustive and prolonged trial, Jello was made a sacrificial lamb.

Trick Or Treat was released during Halloween week 1986, and these events have an obvious influence on the story. Not only is backmasking a prominent feature but for a small portion of the film Eddie prominently wears an Alternative Tentacles Records tee shirt! Please try and tell me these things are a coincidence.

Horror films have long been an outlet for social commentary and criticism (look no further than Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film Gojira if you need an obvious example) but very seldom do American films have such sharp teeth as this one. While the public at large nowadays does not really seem to notice and younger generations have no rememberence of “Parental Advisory” stickers, the watchful eyes of nerds like me the references are simply far too obvious to ignore. Keep this in mind should you ever pick a copy of this up, as there is always more than meets the eye.

Any film which has the line “No false Metal” in it is A-OK in my book.

SOURCES USED:

http://www.providencephoenix.com/archive/music/97/07/10/JELLO.html

Jello Biafra - High Priest Of Harmful Matter - CD album on Alternative Tentacles Records. Catalog number VIRUS66CD first released in 1989

Various youtube clips of the televised portions of the trial hearings and statements from Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver in 1985

Last and not least the complete transcript of the trial. The backmasking references specifically are talked about on page 118 in the testimony of Dr. Joe Stussey http://www.joesapt.net/superlink/shrg99-529/
Johnathon lives in Portland, Oregon. He makes collages. He also writes things for Network Awesome, as well as his weekly movie review blog which can be found at http://fshomevideo.blogspot.com. You should read it, it's really terrific.