31 Days of Hell: Trick or Treats (1982) - Reviewed

The Other Side of the Wind cinematographer/uncredited director on F for Fake Gary Graver spent a lot of time hanging out with Orson Welles as an apprentice, learning the ways of becoming a magician under Welles mentorship, before embarking on a career mostly directing pornography.  Much like the makers of The Prey who also ordinarily did porn for a living, Graver sought to try and make a real film amid his mainstay of outputting smut. 

Channeling his penchant for trickery into something resembling a narrative feature, Graver wrote and directed the offbeat and peculiar Halloween horror flick Trick or Treats, a kind of slasher/magic tricks bonanza about a babysitter named Linda (Jackelyn Giroux) stuck watching a precocious brat (Chris Graver) who proceeds to terrorize the woman with a never-ending slew of increasingly mean-spirited practical jokes.  Think of the ongoing attention getting antics unleashed in Harold and Maude and you have a rough idea of what this little monster has in store for our hapless babysitter.

On the side is a narrative involving the boy’s psychotic and murderous father Malcolm (Peter Jason) who escapes a mental institution dressed in drag after his Machiavellian wife Joan (Carrie Snodgress) has him committed to marry her true lover Richard (David Carradine in an unlikely cameo).  Meanwhile Linda is busy trying to calm the nerves of her boyfriend/actor Bret (Steve Railsback) when she can’t attend his stage play as her movie-editor friend (Jillian Kesner) offers to keep her company for the night.  With all the varied chess pieces slowly coming together, the players are fixing to unleash bloodshed on a night full of all manners of Trick or Treats.

An obviously messy hodgepodge from the outset, it’s difficult to say just what Gary Graver was going for with this one.  Though ostensibly steeped in the horror genre and being a Halloween film, it never really becomes frightening and is mostly a comical showcase of the boy coming up with more elaborate practical jokes to assail Linda with than David Copperfield.  The film doesn’t really work as a horror film and is all over the map in terms of the scale of the story, including one oddball sequence where news reporters commenting on the escapee from the mental institution are overrun by the inmates.

That’s not to say there isn’t some measure of fun to be had here, as the scenarios grow more and more laughably ridiculous with time.  The opening scene alone of two orderlies coming to capture Malcolm that spills into and out of a swimming pool for minutes on end is something you’re not likely to see in any other Halloween film in your lifetime.  On the one hand, there’s a certain amount of meta horror here paving the way for snarky send ups like Scream or The Horror Star.  On the other hand, it goes so far all over the map that it’s hard to tell which genre of film we’re watching anymore.  

The amount of underutilized A-list stars that come and go in this thing will catch the attention of some though Railsback disappointingly doesn’t go crazy here like in Lifeforce.  As with the filmmakers behind The Prey, the film's writer-director naturally returned to making porn after trying his hand at making a regular film that wasn't directed by Orson Welles.  Trick or Treats isn’t my first choice of film to throw on the TV at Halloween parties, but the practical jokes are silly and kind of fun.

--Andrew Kotwicki