Is “Trick Or Treat” the Best Metal Movie Ever?

 I was searching for the band Fastway on YouTube the other night, when I came across a grand surprise: Some super cool person had posted the entire movie “Trick Or Treat” on the site.

 

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Holy crap! I hadn’t seen this 1986 horror-metal B-movie masterpiece since I snuck into it years before I was old enough to drive. Is “Trick Or Treat” worth your time? Read and decide for yourself. Metal movie review time, roll the clip!

First, a word about the soundtrack. Fastway was one of those 1980s era also-ran bands that were unfairly lumped in with Ratt, Motley Crue, Poison and the rest of the “hair metal” gang. Frankly, that’s too bad: With former Motorhead guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke and vocalist Dave King, Fastway was way better than the Aquanet metal set. “Fastway,” “All Fired Up” and the “Trick Or Treat” soundtrack were all tight little albums that drew on blues, metal and classic rock. It’s a shame these guys couldn’t rise above the hairspray smog that blemished so much of the ’80s metal scene.

Don’t believe me? Here’s Fastway’s video for “After Midnight” from the “Trick Or Treat” soundtrack right here (by the way, that’s actor Tony Fields, not Dave King, pretending to sing):

You can still find the soundtrack on Amazon.com for cheap, so look it up. But let’s talk about the movie.

First of all, the headbanger is played by Marc Price, a.k.a. “Skippy” from the TV show “Family Ties.” WHOO, SKIPPY! Man, that mullet is you. You’re finally gonna get some of that fine Mallory Keaton action for sure with a look that suave.

 Uh, or not. Here, decide for yourself.

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Skippy, er, Marc Price (left) with Gene Simmons

 

If you faithful readers, both of you, are under the age of 28, you probably have no idea who “Skippy” or “Mallory Keaton” are, and have never heard of “Family Ties.” Maybe you’re better off that way, so don’t bother to Google them.

Anyway, The Skipster plays Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer, a metalhead stereotype with poor fashion sense, an invisible “bully me, I’m a dork” sign on his back and an unsightly mancrush on Sammi Curr, a rocker who bears an uncanny resemblance to Nikki Sixx.  When not writing obsessive, lonely letters to Sammi, Ragman spends his days getting picked on by the high school preps, hanging out with people even nerdier than himself and pining for pretty preppie Leslie (Lisa Orgolini).

After Sammi bites it in a mysterious fire, Ragman’s DJ buddy Nuke (Gene Simmons, or Gene $immon$ for all you haters), gives Rags a record Sammi cut just before he died. When Rags plays the record, it sounds like gibberish, or maybe “lite jazz” … until Rags spins it backwards.

Through the magic of Satanic subliminal “backward masking” (there’s a nod to you, “my sweet Satan”), Sammi tells Ragman how to retaliate against the preppie jockheads who torment him. It all goes great at first … but the record also allows Sammi to come back from the dead as an electromagnetic, bolt-throwing, radiowave-inhabitating spirit who can pop out of stereos and speakers when his record is played. Oh no!

Once released, Sammi fries an anti-metal TV preacher (Ozzy Osbourne, who probably prepared for the role by watching the PMRC hearings and the protests outside his own concerts), turns into a goofy demon – the costume was probably rescued from the “Muppets” reject pile – and humps an airhead preppie girl, thrashes, nukes and microwaves various teens through the hellfire-and-brimstone power of metal and decides that Leslie must die. Naturally, it’s up to Skippy/Ragman to save the day. It’s Metal vs. Mullet in a duel to the death! Whoo hoo!

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So what’s good about “Trick Or Treat”? Well: 1) The Fastway soundtrack is freakin’ outstanding; 2) The high school dance/Sammi rock out scene is great — seriously, a guy in a Humpty Dumpty costume gets incinerated by the evilness of metal: How can you not love that? 3) Lisa Orgolini is cute enough, even if she does stay infuriatingly clothed for most of the flick; 4) Skippy displays solid acting chops as the believable, put-upon Ragman (anyone who ever slavishly followed a metal band will relate when Rags writes that Sammi’s music is the only thing that gets him through his crappy day); and, uh … oh yeah; 5) The “demon hump” scene is pretty freaky, if not exactly “super freaky” in a Rick James sort of way.

What’s not so great? Except for Ragman/Skippy, most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional. The bad preppies are universally mean (except for Leslie, who must have a yen for whipped-puppy types like Skippy). As Sammi, Tony Fields spends most of the movie sneering, bulging out his eyes and otherwise biting holes through the scenery. The Ragman/Leslie love interest seemed pretty far-fetched, too: Sure, he wants to jump her bones, but what, precisely, does she see in him? Sad-sack mulletheads don’t exactly scream, “I’m a good provider, capable of siring quality offspring,” now do they?

But those are minor quibbles: No one rents a flick like “Trick Or Treat” looking for crap like character development or nuanced, believable relationships. Hell no: They wanna see preppie kids get obliterated by the blackened, awesome power of metal. On that score, you won’t be disappointed: More bratty teens get zapped in “Trick Or Treat” than walked down the aisle with you in your graduating class.

But is “Trick Or Treat” the best metal movie ever? It’s reactionary, to be sure (Moral: Metal Bad), but it’s funny enough to warrant a watch. If anything, it’s a revealing look at the “backward masking” fear-craze that swept the nation in the 1980s, when people were convinced Ozzy, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin and even Electric Light Orchestra were hiding Satanic messages on their records. As usual, the mainstream’s fear makes for great comedy in retrospect.

Or just rent it cuz it’s a hoot. As Gene says, “iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s Party Time!”

Interview: Pelican bringing intricate instrumentals to Louisville Nov. 18

Pelican, metal outside the lines

Pelican: Metal outside the lines (Photo by Mathieu Carriere)

Musically, Pelican straddles several worlds.

The Chicago instrumental band has been praised by the metal press. Decibel Magazine picked the band’s shimmering yet occasionally crushing “City of Echoes” as one of the best metal albums of 2007.

Meanwhile, the band was lauded in the New York Times in its 2005 article, “Heavy Metal Gets An M.F.A.” The Times labeled the band “Art Metal,” and seemed somewhat surprised to find a large crossover audience at the band’s shows. Also, the respectable Allmusic Guide (which consistently gives the band’s albums four-star ratings) doesn’t even consider Pelican metal at all: The Web site’s review of “City of Echoes” lists the band as “post rock” (whatever that is) or experimental pop/rock.

Drummer Larry Herweg says the band’s sound is steeped in metal, but has an appeal outside the strict metal world.

“I almost feel a lot of the straight metal fans are a minority at our shows,” Herweg said, during a phone interview as the band left NYC for its next stop on the “Champions of Sound” tour. “I think we’re just a popular in indie rock and hardcore circles.

“We all love metal and listen to our fair share, but we try to incorporate as many different genres, to make it interesting for us and the listeners.”

Musical labels are as common as weeds in metal, but they’re also confining and a drag. The best bands in metal are those that refuse to be boxed into one neat little package or another – and Pelican are definitely impossible to classify.

The metal influences are evident: Songs like “Drought,” “March To The Sea” and “Dead Between The Walls” are heavy as skyscrapers. But other tracks only hint at metal, while songs like “Sirius” or the drop-dead gorgeous “A Delicate Sense of Balance” avoid any trace of heaviness at all.

Perhaps Allmusic said it best in the site’s review of “City of Echoes”: “As a band they’ve refused to take the easy way out or paint themselves into a corner or play to expectations. They’ve moved forward without losing sight of what makes them unique, and by doing so, they’ve moved the entire instrumental heavy music genre forward as well.”

Herweg said musical influences range from Metallica and Slayer to 1990s-era “grunge” bands Quicksand, Hum and Failure. The band’s instrumental compositions, which often clock in at the 10 to 12 minute mark, are the product of continuous work, Herweg said.

“We usually (work on) songs for quite a while before we play them live,” Herweg said. “We definitely take our time with songs. Sometimes, we’re playing a song for a year before we play it live, making sure everyone is comfortable with their parts.”

Even after a song has been recorded and committed to disc, some songs undergo continued changes on the road, Herweg. When asked, Herweg – an admitted perfectionist – said he is unsure he ever considers a song truly finished.

“Any time I’ve ever thought that, especially when (we) tour on it, I always find something I want to change,” Herweg said. “… They get slower, they get faster and different parts end up turning into something else. ”

Even a song like “March To The Sea,” which has been part of the band’s regular set list for years, is constantly morphing and changing on-stage.

“We’ve changed that song numerous times,” he said. “It makes it interesting for us.”

The band has eschewed adding vocals – the video for “Dead Between The Walls” chronicles a vocalist trying to find the band in the desert, only to arrive at the moment the final chord fades out. But Herweg said the band never says never when it comes to the possibility of adding words to the music.

“I’m not opposed to it,” Herweg said. Recently, the band loaned the song “Mammoth” to These Arms Are Snakes, who layered vocals over the track. But if vocals are ever introduced to new Pelican compositions, it will be done by baby steps, Herweg said.

“If it was something we decided to do, it would be a slow process – doing one song,” Herweg said. “There are a lot of people who like that we don’t (have) the singer.”

Pelican will perform with Kayo Dot and Stephen Brodsky as part of the “Champions of Sound” tour, at 8 p.m. Tuesday Nov. 18 at Uncle Pleasant’s in Louisville. Tickets are $12, and are available at www.ticketweb.com

Check out Pelican at: www.myspace.com/pelican

And, just for fun, here’s a link to the band’s most recent vid, “Dead Between The Walls.”