Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treats (1982) dir. Gary Graver

Logline: Linda (Jacqueline Giroux), a struggling actress and part-time babysitter, takes an assignment on Halloween night that has her looking after the obnoxious, prank-pulling brat (Chris Graver) of two stage magicians. Coincidentally, the boy's biological father, Malcolm (Peter Jason), a wrongly committed mental patient, happens to break out of his confinement on the very same night and start his long, sexually ambiguous trek home to achieve his revenge.

Crime in the Past: A woman has her grumpy husband committed to an insane asylum over breakfast, because apparently this is a thing that you can do.

Bodycount: A mere 3 reasons to treat in fear of trick reprisals.

Themes/Moral Code: A moral message as old as Aesop and less clever than The Muppets, and even then the film doesn't take the time to develop it into a consistent variation on a theme, after no less than having the protagonist explicitly reference and retell the damn fable on screen. Sophisticated this is not.

A sub-theme: stepdads suck. A second: babysitting sucks. A third: children are inherently evil. This last one I concur with.

Killer's Motivation: Poor Malcolm. Enjoying your breakfast you were until your wicked wife, Joan (Carrie Snodgress), sicked those straight-jacket wielding orderlies on you, engaging you in a poolside tussle that nearly rivals a certain legendary alleyway tussle in its protraction. You spent the next four years in a psych ward for seemingly no reason at all while your wife went on to become a famous stage magician and marry a lecherous David Carradine, who would go on to raise your rotund, insufferable progeny as his own. Fed up at this injustice, you will plan and scheme. You will, on Halloween night, choke out a nurse and steal her uniform to escape your mental prison. You will walk the streets in this outfit and be propositioned by bums and sleazy suited drunks alike, despite the fact that you are an overweight middle-aged man in a dress. You will not take kindly to this, though it opens up potential doors of identity to you that you never knew were unlocked. (Yes, you can be beautiful.) You will eventually threaten a drunken Paul Bartel and steal his clothing. From there, you will continue on your journey home to your wife, murdering a woman who maybe sorta looks like her on the way before realizing your mistake. You will finally arrive. You will break into your own house, which you missed so dearly all this time, and stalk around, eventually seeing who you think is your wife but is in actuality the babysitter dressed up in her nightgown for reasons entirely plot-driven. You will chase her, for awhile, and in return you will be guillotined by her and your own son. This is your life, Malcolm. There is nothing one can do to make it poetic.

Final Girl: Linda the babysitting actress ain't bad, as far as these things go. She's career-driven, independent enough to refuse her boyfriend's every request, and always willing to speak her mind (as in the case of telling her young charge's mother what a rotten prick he is over the phone). But, boy, is she gullible. Every fake suicide and scare tactic performed by the boy she's babysitting sends her into wailing and flailing hysterics. And, because this happens nearly twenty times over a single evening, we begin to question whether this was adapted from the Extended 12'' Mix of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" or if Linda's memory for traumatic frights extends only as far as one trip around the circumference of the fishbowl.

Evaluation: The tagline on the above poster for Gary Graver's Trick or Treats attests to there still being truth in advertising, at least as recently as 1982. An abysmal excuse to highlight the director's husky son pulling off some amateur magician fake-outs while copping a 'tude as the other performers grin and bear it*, the film is what one with a grievous head injury might mistakenly label "a comedy." It is, rather, a spoof so dimwitted that its dubiously humorous intentions double back and devour themselves, creating an ouroboros of candy corn-infused inanity. In one critical scene of meta-reflection, a pair of female film editors congratulate themselves for being true artists in their efforts to salvage a barely salvageable horror movie in the editing room. What we're allowed to glimpse of this resuscitated film involves Dracula in the midst of creating Frankenstein's monster and instructing his two female assistants to "give [him] head!" This is anti-irony. Unsurprisingly, director Gary Graver's filmography is littered primarily by pornographic films, a large number of them being early '90s porn parodies of then-current blockbusters, the best titles of which are Cape Rear (1992) and the Joi Fuck Club (1993). Trick or Treats, an ostensibly legitimate filmmaking effort, boasts in its credits that Orson Welles served as "Magical Advisor." Unfortunately, he never advised the film to disappear.

*The film's only stellar performance belongs to the great Steve Railsback, who (literally) phones in his role as the heroine's high-energy boyfriend preparing for his debut on stage in the role of Othello. He knows he's a little young to be playing Othello, he tells her as he aimlessly swings around his wooden sword, but he can always drop the pitch of his voice, he says, demonstrating his finest Eeyore impression, in order to acquire the requisite gravitas.

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