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1978’s Halloween was not the first slasher by a long shot; it wasn't even the first to use a holiday as a backdrop. The film was, however, (arguably) the catalyst that propelled the subgenre into the popular culture hive mind. It gave Americans their most accessible killer in a mask and final girl combo while solidifying several horror genre tropes for the mainstream. By the budgets of the time, it was inexpensive, but with meager resources, John Carpenter created a simplistic masterpiece as well as a nuanced blueprint that begged to be followed. Just as Halloween had pulled heavily from those that came before, it too inspired others. The successful release cemented masked killers and teen victims as an entertaining way to print money at the start of the 80s and changed horror forever. An army of teenage murdering, (often) calendar-marking prowlers invaded the screen throughout the era and has bled into every generation since. Halloween is directly responsible for big-screen killers, now considered classics themselves, with established lasting trends of their own. The flow of influence branches out like a circulatory system pumping blood into an entire section of cinema--that I happen to love more than most things on this earth. Of course, it’s an extensive gene pool, so It goes without saying that not every one of Micheal Meyers spawnlings can kick off a worldwide sensation like Jason Voorhees. So along with the impactful tributes that further evolved the tradition, we have films like Trick or Treats (1982).
A pair of wasps are enjoying a morning by the pool, Malcolm O'Keefe (Peter Jason) with his newspaper and his wife Joan O'Keefe (Carrie Snodgress) with her scowl. A loud knock at the front door of their large house interrupts the mood, and Mrs. O'Keefe goes inside to answer. It turns out to be the funny-farm collection service Joan has called to have her husband hauled away. Taken by surprise, Malcolm puts up a loud fight that eventually lands in the pool, but the mental-health professionals strong-arm him and take him by force. Four years pass--the ex-couple's child is a young teenager, and Joan is remarried to a slightly shady guy named Richard Adams (David Carradine). All the while, Malcolm has been locked up in an insane asylum, playing cards with a lively cast of peers. It happens to be Halloween night, and mom is taking the new hubby to a party, so they call on their very mature looking babysitter Linda (Jacqueline Giroux). Even though it seems like she has plans, Linda agrees to take on watching over little Christopher (Chris Graver), who she knows from experience is a spoiled, hyperactive asshole. Her night is then spent dealing with the hellspawn’s pranks, and talking to her thespian boyfriend on the phone--that is until Christopher's dad decides to make a break from the loony bin. A rubber adventure of nonsense follows as Linda works to survive the crazed, betrayed Malcolm, battle a best-selling book’s worth of lousy parenting, and make it through the night without killing the kid herself.
Whether purposeful or not, Trick or Treats walks a drunken line between parody and rip off. Entire elements feel like tongue in cheek references to 79's Halloween without shame, in the style of a timid Airplane! (1980) or Hot Shots! (1991). At the same time, moments often linger or drag seemingly to bring tension, crafting a confused, almost unmanageable mood. This happens from the get-go, starting with Mr. O'Keefe getting hauled away by male nurses. At first, I laughed my ass off watching the man in the suit struggle and wail like he was in a prank cut from Police Academy (1984),  assuming it was being presented as comedy. That was until the scene dug in. O'Keefe's pleas become before more pitiful, and I started to second guess my assumptions. Ultimately, this left me chuckling again because either way, it's fucked up, and the kind of thing I find humor in, but the questionable content only continues from there. About fifteen minutes in, it becomes clear that the movie is a roller coaster of awkwardly mixed signals as each scene is going to be equally unbalanced and broken. Linda's struggles with Christopher feel like the annoying set-up for a straight to video Home Alone sequel where a recast Kevin tortures and then warmly teams up with a sassy babysitter. Only instead of being crafty, the kid is a piece of shit, and there are no burglars (or whatever French Stewart played in Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House) just a trio of untrustworthy parental figures. There are a few inspired gags and leads thrown around that hint at some kind of point, but any dynamic meaning is left out of the final product. While the events are always illogical, it doesn't leave much up in the air plot-wise, completing its story's arc for whatever it's worth. That's not to say it explains anyone's behavior, only that it has a conflict and resolution. If you assume everyone in this particular reality is a cartoon narcissist that acts out at random, it makes perfect sense. As a slasher, it flops, and the execution is too alien to be a full blown parody. Best I can figure; it's a malformed attempt at making a genre horror flick for kids that went horribly wrong. I spend the whole watch slightly to incredibly baffled and not due to insane scripted content, but because the mood is erratic as a crackhead. Luckily, it also moves along at a rambunctious speed, prancing through its mounds of unfinished fluff. The extended chapters without fan service are filled with over the top presentation and detail that seemingly work like duct tape on the incomplete pieces. I wouldn't call it surreal, but it feels like it's been taped from cable in another universe. At the very least, its antics can be funny, although I'm never sure if I'm laughing with it or at it.
In the beautiful grimy pit of low budget stab em up cinema, the movie's production value is relatively elevated in some regards. Stylized, well-crafted sets are placed with thought out, exaggerated framing. The picture, lighting, and sound are comparable to a studio comedy from the same era, while the editing seems to be a few steps above a Charles Band dinosaur film. The whole thing would seem somewhat competent if the same aspects didn't spend the run-time fighting everything else in the movie. It is as if the script and the execution take turns on the irreverent dark comedy angle, or that finishing was hijacked in post by an unconnected, sociopathic third party. In any case, while most of the handy work is functional on its own, the film never really assembles a complete style or flow and ends up ultimately broken. At its most solid, several scenes invoke a sense of Creepshow (1982) meets Christmas Vacation (1989) using a mix of generic suburban visuals, cartoon sound effects, and nostalgia, but it never carves out a pattern. While the editing is probably the culprit when it comes to the cohesion problems, it also brings a bouncing pace and avoids deadfalls even through the sometimes annoying filler. The body count is low, with only short spurts of moderate gore. Like with the practical blood, there is a little nudity, but nothing a few more frantic cuts couldn't turn into a family rental if partnered with just a few more adventurous background tunes. 
Trick or Treats (not to be confused with 1986s Trick or Treat or Trick 'r Treat from 2007) was written and directed by the late Gary Graver. During his career, The filmmaker laid hands on over three hundred films and worked alongside a range of legendary names, most notably as a cinematographer. In the early 70s, he partnered with Orson Welles collaborating on several projects until Welles’ death in 1985, including the fabled (and now recently released) The Other Side of the Wind. Starting with Moonshine County Express in 1977, Graver also shot for a string of pictures for Roger Corman, pairing him with David Carradine for the first time with Deathsport (1978) as well as Ron Howard for Grand Theft Auto (1977). Along with a shit ton of softcore porn directed under the alias "Robert McCallum," Gravers reach extends from the The Toolbox Murders (1978) to Disney television, with a body of work spanning fifty years. The prolific boundary-crossing auteur continued to provide cinematography and fulfill other roles until his death in 2006, his last projects being released posthumously until 2018.
Video Vixen and future director of Global Universal Film Group Inc, Jacqueline Giroux takes the lead as the unlucky, underpaid babysitter Linda. She doesn't carry herself like a high schooler, but I'm going to assume that's part of the satire, as she single-handedly saves a few scenes. Apparently, she also makes uncredited appearances in classics like Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, but I couldn't point her out for you. From the roles I can recall, this is her most involved, and she rides out the goofball-take in stride. Her bestie is Jillian Kesner, who two years earlier mastered the art of naked kung fu as Susanne "fuck this gi" Carter in Firecracker (1981). Unfortunately for her character, however, she must have left all the moves in the Philippines. Carrie Snodgress plays Joan O'Keefe-Adams, and also provided her home to serve as the primary location. She and Graver had worked together previously on The Attic (1980), but she is probably most known for mainstream releases like Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) and Pale Rider (1985). Snodgress has got her role pretty dialed in, packing a variety of pretentious stares and a fittingly piercing delivery. It's hard to tell who the real antagonist is in this tale, but she is by far the most believable pick, and I mean that with praise. Celebrated character actor Peter Jason plays the "psychopath" father, Malcolm O'Keefe. Jason pops up in a ton of stuff, but I don't think I have ever seen him quite as hammy, which is saying something. Riding a line between George Kennedy and Rodney Dangerfield, It's probably not his most beloved role, but he seems to be having a blast. His character is so inconsistent, it’s as if the seasoned vet couldn't make sense of the final script and decided to try out different personalities with each read. Later in the 80s, he would play Gilbert in John Carpenter's They Live (1988) and would continue to appear in the director's films until Ghosts of Mars (2001). Chris Graver, the director's son, stars as self-satisfied prankster Christopher. If anything could make me turn this film off, it would be him. That being said, I can't hold it against him; almost every horror kid actor sucks, and it's partly written into the script. The legendary Kwai Chang Caine himself has a smaller part as the new husband. He is just doing what he did in every quick cash cameo, as in just playing David Carradine--but as an unwanted potential stepdad that works pretty well (I miss you, David Carridine). 
For a goofy slasher, this seasonal entry doesn't get a lot of love in my experience. As of now, there is plenty of Halloween horror to choose from, and most of the complaints Trick or Treats receives are valid or at least understandable. As stated above, it's a badly stirred mix of straight knock-off and almost slapstick elements, and to top it off, there are large portions of the film dedicated to annoying kid hijinks with no end-game. On the flip side, I am too confused by its intentions to be bored at any given moment. It's a bad movie, without a doubt, and unless the point was to troll Carpenter fans, it is likely a failure on several layers. However, it's not a "bad" I can't sit through and enjoy. There is an orgy of different films inside taking the form of a holiday special, and the spirit feels genuine. It's like an unexplained inside joke that's still funny because everyone involved is red-faced and giggling. Somehow, it's both uniform as fuck and unique at the same time (like a helpful police officer), making it stand out in a sea of similar content. I think some of the beef stems from "what could have been," as the film is riddled with unused potential. It's easy to imagine several better (or at least equally interesting) possible final products had the film chosen one of the paths it brushes by wildly. It's a mess, undeniably, but a festive one that can break up the possible monotony of a holiday marathon (or at least give you time to make some food). My palette is um…more broad than the average viewer when it comes to shitty films, but I can think of multiple examples within the same niche, and concocted of the same elements that are less palatable. I also still watch those films, so take that for what it's worth. Something does bug me, though. Can you just call a psychiatric hospital on someone like that to have them hauled off? Do you ring them up and tell them your spouse is a nut, and they swing by to grab their ass? If so, I need to be more careful in my human interactions.
In the family of Halloween horror, Trick or Treats is the goofy, deadbeat uncle who only gets invited half the time, says deep shit at the wrong moment, and tells dirty jokes to the children. It never hits its mark, I think. I actually have no idea what its intentions are, but I can say it's a memorably bizarre example of a Halloween clone. It looks like a kid's movie when really it's just a broken adult comedy with awkward attempts at drama. And while it's fun to talk shit, I don't get the real hate the film receives. It's not a proper slasher, a comedy, or even a functional film, but mismatched weirdness is fun enough for me. Unlike the case of your shady uncle, I would say ignore the advice of others and slip it in this season. If it doesn't sound like your type of gig, there are plenty of great alternatives from the same thematic family tree to pick from. A lot of them still have annoying kids in them, though, so watch out for that.
1h 31min | 1982
Director: Gary Graver
Writer: Gary Graver


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