Babysitters have more than Michael Myers to fear on Halloween night when a maniac is on the loose in Gary Graver's TRICK OR TREATS, on DVD from Code Red Releasing.
On Halloween night, struggling actress Linda (Jacqueline Giroux, ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS) has to miss her boyfriend's (LIFEFORCE's Steve Railsback, Giroux's then-husband) opening as Othello to babysit Christopher (Christopher Graver, the director's son), the extremely obnoxious prankster son of Joan (Carrie Snodgress, THE FURY) and her magician second husband Richard (David Carradine, Q: THE WINGED SERPENT) who are performing at a party in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the laundry list of pranks Christopher plays on Linda desensitize her to the real danger: Joan's husband Malcolm (Peter Jason, PRINCE OF DARKNESS), a former industrialist who she arranged to have committed to an insane asylum. Tonight, he has escaped with revenge on his mind ("No, you're crazy. I'm mad!") and is making his way home.
HALLOWEEN or its sequels have nothing to worry about from TRICK OR TREATS. Slasher fans looking for a formerly unheralded classic will be disappointed, but slasher fans who have to see it all – as well as fans of Graver's output as cinematographer and director – will find this to be a compelling train wreck of a film. As obnoxious as little Christopher is, it's hard to sympathize with Linda since she continually falls for the kid's pranks which do not exactly escalate and are not that impressive even at their most elaborate (despite Orson Welles himself – for whom Graver shot the uncompleted THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND – serving as magic consultant) and because Jason is the more entertaining performer. Even more problematic is the film's complete lack of suspense or atmosphere as it goes by the numbers in vignettes rife with opportunities to shake things up (not just alluding to "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" but actually spending a few minutes to recite it), despite some slick camerawork and lighting by Graver and his regular assistant cameraman/grip R. Michael Stringer (DOUBLE EXPOSURE) who also appears as an asylum inmate. Rather than a minimalist synth score, here we get a selection of library tracks that neither add nor detract from the experience. It's far more interesting for its cast which also includes cameos by Paul Bartel (EATING RAOUL) as a wino, Catherine Coulson (The Log Lady from TWIN PEAKS) as the asylum's head nurse, John Blyth Barrymore (half-brother of Drew) in a film-within-a-film, and Graver himself as a diner owner (Graver's wife Jillian Kesner [STUDENT BODIES] appears as a film editor friend of Linda's who participates in a scene reflexively commenting on horror moviemaking and then drops by the house to get murdered).
Released in the early 1980s on VHS by Vestron Video, TRICK OR TREATS gets a significant overhaul here in an HD-mastered progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer in which Graver's and Stringer's use of color gels and colorful props and set decoration is distinct from the murk of the older transfer (the second unit neon lights during the Vegas sequence really pop off the screen). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is in great condition with little hiss or other damage (presumably the elements have not been touched since the Vestron transfer). Extras start off with a busy commentary featuring stars Giroux, Jason, and Christopher Graver, as well as cinematographer Stringer, moderated by Sean Graver. Christopher Graver recalls going to various theaters with his father to promote the film, as well as being interviewed with his father. Besides memories of the departed Gary Graver, they also fondly recall Snodgress and Carradine (who flustered Giroux by going off book in his scenes with her), the little touches Snodgress, Carradine, and Railsback added to their smaller roles, shooting in Snodgress' actual home, and that the original version of the "severed head in the bag" poster had an eye visible through the tear in the bag (the newspapers did not want to print it so they switched to having an ear visible). They do try to pass the film off as a spoof, but it really only seems enjoyable as such when accompanied by their reactions on this track. Graver clarifies Welles' involvement in the film was loaning several of the magic props. Overall the track offers more cozy accompaniment than analysis, but it's nice to have some of the surviving participants involved after so many years.
Railsback appears separately in a short audio interview (4:06) in which he has little to say about the film itself but he does get a bit emotional about the late Graver – who he met on the 1976 TV movie CHARLIE SIRINGO – Kesner, and Snodgress (who also appeared in the ED GEIN film he made in 2000). The package also includes a photo gallery with behind the scenes stills and a clipping of an article on Graver's multi-tasking on the film, as well as trailers for NEON MANIACS, SHAKMA, DEVIL'S EXPRESS, and TOP OF THE HEAP. (Eric Contenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS