Trick or Treats is a 1982 suspense thriller filled with a bevy of acclaimed actors hoping to casually ride the newly minted wave of slasher genre films. On Halloween night an escaped mental patient seeks revenge on his wife but mistakenly finds a babysitter in his house instead. Starring Jaqueline Giroux, David Carradine, and Steve Railsback the film could be an excellent spoof of the slasher genre but fails to deliver on any front. Code Red brings the cult classic to Blu-ray with a satisfying A/V presentation and enough special features to please fans of the film. Unless you’re a diehard fan I’d say it's worth a look but that's about it.
“Do you think people will ever get tired of these films?”
‘Tis the season for all boutique labels to dig out those hidden gems to fulfill the desires of a rabid fan base hellbent on owning every obscure film set during the most wonderful time of the year. Fans clamoring for the latest restoration of no-budget oddities will surely no doubt be aware of the weird Halloween flick Trick or Treats, its collection of famous faces, and its connection to the great Orson Welles.
The film opens with the idyllic setting of upper-class couple Joan (Carrie Snodgrass, The Fury) and Malcolm (Peter Jason, Streets of Fire) enjoying breakfast poolside. Suddenly two attendants from a mental hospital arrive and subdue Malcolm in a scene of agonizing tedium and sustained silliness culminating in the three men falling into the pool as the plotting wife looks on in satisfaction. Several years later Joan has remarried the dashing socialite Richard (David Carradine, Death Race 2000). We meet their spoiled and whiny son Chris who is clearly obsessed with magic.
Linda (Jacqueline Giroux, Sweet Sugar) is a working actress who babysits for extra money on the side. Tonight she misses out on her boyfriend Bret’s (Steve Railsback) performance of Othello to look after Chris. Richard puts the moves on Linda in an awkward drunken flirty stammer while Joan looks on. Carradine accidentally bumps into a pumpkin decoration while exiting the scene causing this reviewer to hit the rewind button numerous times. For the next hour, we cut between the elaborate hijinks of the kid and Malcolm escaping from the mental hospital seeking revenge on his wife. When Malcolm finally makes it home we’re treated to a lumbering cat-and-mouse chase in which the actors are clearly lost as they move about the house. It’s cute at first.
Trick or Treats has the solid premise of a psychotic man terrorizing the innocent babysitter but unfortunately, it never raises the stakes or develops the story. Worst of all this no-budget thriller fails to use its limited sets to its advantage. The mental hospital where Malcolm has been kept for years is just a gray curtain behind a series of tables and chairs. The house where most of the action takes place is the actual home of actress Carrie Snodgrass!
The most inspired bit from the film feels cut from a different movie altogether. Two foxy film editors are cutting together some scenes from a softcore horror film that gives us a well-deserved break from the non-action of Tricks or Treats. In the cutaway we see two bimbo medical assistants putting a body together with a mad doctor played by (John Blyth Barrymore, Full Moon High). He shouts, "Nurse, give me head!" providing the best line from the movie. Linda phones the editors who have spliced together an audition reel for her. They balk at the stupidity of horror films and their audiences hinting at a subtext for the film but sadly this element goes nowhere.
Performances are groan-worthy at times with exchanges having gaps of silence leading me to believe lines were forgotten or cameras were left rolling too long. Spatial awareness of the actors is suspect as we see actors bumping into things, awkwardly reaching for objects, or unaware of how to walk through a space. Giroux is perfectly cast as the babysitter offering a performance that rides the fine line between genuine and camp. Chris Graver is great as the annoying kid terrorizing the babysitter with his elaborate magic tricks. He resembles a tiny Orson Welles who is ironically credited as “magical advisor” on this trainwreck. Railsback is hamming it up as local theatre dude Bret offering the most endearing performance of the film. I wish we had more scenes with him but sadly he is dropped too early as well. Notable cameos include Paul Bartel as the bum and Catherine Coulson as Nurse Reeves who you may already know as The Log Lady from Twin Peaks.
Trick or Treats plays out like the ramblings of theatre buddies who wanna capitalize on the emerging slasher craze during their third glass of wine. Setups look great with effective lighting and camera placement establishing the slasher vibe quite effectively. Sadly, the follow-through with Malcolm returning home and the drivel between the actors plays like a rough draft. Are we sending up the genre here or attempting to make a legitimate horror film? Director Gary Graves’ extensive cinematography work and high-profile creative relationships are on display here in pieces that never quite gel.
My favorite moment from Trick or Treats happens while Linda is handing out candy to the neighborhood kids. When two costumed brothers stop by to trick or treat Giroux plays the scene coolly but things take a turn when one of the kids realizes she hasn’t put real candy into his pumpkin bucket. The look of sheer disappointment on the kid’s face as he looks up to Giroux is genuine. She notices instantly and grabs another handful of candy which quickly changes his frown and the scene moves on. A delightful moment that showcases the threads holding this tiny production together. I can see why this cult oddity has such a dedicated fanbase though it may require repeat viewings to fully realize its potential.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Trick or Treats answers the door on Blu-ray thanks to Code Red. The film is housed in a standard keepcase with slipcover. Loading the disc loads offers the Code Red logo before landing on the static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
Trick or Treats arrives on Blu-ray with an anamorphic widescreen presentation in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The AVC encoded 1080p image offers a significant upgrade for the film which should please fans and those looking to skirt bootleg copies floating around online. Primaries on the film are dull yet discernible within the dimly lit scenes. Colors appear slightly washed out with saturation issues apparent throughout the film.
While this Blu-ray provides an upgrade in image quality the transfer is anything but spectacular with specks, lines, and dirt a constant menace. Focus issues are present in motion and during scenes of improvised camera movement. Skin tones are even in closeups though take on a reddish hue in medium shots. A softness permeates the image giving the proceedings a TV-movie atmosphere. Fine detail is confined to interior closeups and medium interior shots. Exteriors are awash in high grain level and noise while interiors produce solid black levels with film-like grain.
Many have commented on the sheer darkness of the film that renders most scenes hard to discern, especially the later kill scenes in the attic. Code Red’s transfer lightens the image up a bit while offering detail levels far better than previous home video versions.
Trick or Treats scares the babysitter with a new DTS HD-MA 2.0 Mono track. Offering a solid audio experience for the film, the track provides a pleasing accompaniment to the improved visuals. Dialogue exchanges are prominent without hiss or pop detected. Effects and music tracks are well defined rarely crushing levels even during the heightened sequences within the house.
Code Red offers some interesting special features here most notably the commentary track which should be your starting point if you enjoyed the film. Avoid Katarina’s Bucketlist mode unless you’re familiar with her horror hosting sensibilities.
Trick or Treats is a fun Halloween oddity filled with cult cameos, groan-worthy dialogue, and plenty of head-scratching antics. As a slasher, it fails miserably but works surprisingly well as a workshopped spoof commenting on the genre. After a few viewings, I can see why it has achieved such a dedicated following. Code Red brings the cult classic to Blu-ray with a satisfying A/V presentation and enough special features to please fans of the film. Unless you’re a diehard fan I’d say it's Worth A Look at best.