Terror Tracks: Sammi Curr Lives! The Satanic Panic of Trick or Treat
Our society has always been complex, but it hasn’t been until the last decade that the complexities of our society have been given the overdue opportunity to have a true public voice. But of course with any rising cultural shift, there will be a reaction from those that cling fast to antiquated ideals. But it wasn’t so long ago that public divisiveness felt, for lack of a better term, simpler. Though simple, they held a similar amount of ignorance. And in the 1980s that ignorance took the form of the “Satanic Panic”.
“Satanic Panic” is a form of moral panic that erupted in the late 70s and early 80s, the fire stoked by claims of satanic ritual abuse throughout the nation. Behind every Dungeons and Dragons game, in every heavy metal album, Satan and his minions were lurking to snatch your children away into the night. It was, of course, all malarky. As Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, told io9:
"A lot of it was having a spiritual vacuum, created by the fact that the 1960s promise of this cosmic, spiritual consciousness didn't really pan out…I think it led to a cynicism that led to kind of a cultural paranoia: there is no meaning. There was already an uptick in fundamentalist Christianity. The Reagan Right had begun to dominate politics. And it was the beginning of a cultural war; that's when the Parents Music Resource Center started to put labels on album covers to warn against profanity or even references to the occult. It was a perfectly ripe stew for [Satanic Panic.] In a way, believing that Satan is running the world is still [offering] a kind of order to things, in a world that can feel very disorderly."
And what better place to look for the Devil than in heavy metal?
Satanic imagery, of course, is a historical motif for horror fiction. As a society built upon religion where, for all the light in the world, an opposite darkness must exist, we instinctively fear that which is perceived as evil. So it has been used, however haphazardly, tracing back to the first documented horror film by Georges Méliès “Le Manoir du Diable” in 1896. But unbeknownst to Mario Bava and Boris Karloff, their film Black Sabbath would be the seed for a young Ozzy Osbourne to sew horror into heavy metal for generations to come. All of this just makes his screen debut in 1986’s heavy metal horror classic Trick or Treat all the more fitting.
If you’re a fan of Trick or Treat you’ve had this conversation:
“Oh yeah, I’m watching Trick or Treat this Halloween.”
“Oh nice! I love that one, Dougherty is great-”
“No, no...Trick OR Treat. The other one.”
A slick heavy metal riff on Freddy Krueger, Trick or Treat (or the extremely more metal title Death at 33 RPM) plays like a perfect double bill for Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2. After metal icon Sammi Curr dies in a mysterious hotel fire he begins to communicate from beyond the grave, via hidden messages in his albums, to his number one fan, Eddie, who accidentally sets him free to...kinda do what Sammi Curr does? He definitely incinerates people, some clear pyro power here, but not much more motivation than your typical musician: to get their sound out their to as many people as possible and, in Currs case, I guess flame broil them? It doesn’t matter because the film is riot that, if you’re like me, is burned in your memory from the hallowed aisles of Blockbuster. Appreciation with age, the film holds up remarkably well as a slasher franchise that failed to launch, mimicking just enough of wry wit of Freddy Krueger while still clearly trying to be its own thing. And, for the most part, it works! I dare you to not have a blast when you turn this on at your next movie night. But, and I feel like it must be said, know your audience. This is the OTHER “Trick or Treat” after all.
And with every great heavy metal horror film, there is a heavy metal horror soundtrack. Trick or Treat came courtesy from UK metal band Fastway. Providing the high rock tenor for Sammi Curr was Dave King, whose sound is almost unrecognizable now as the founder of Irish Punk band Flogging Molly, and on guitar was "Fast" Eddie Clarke, former member of Motörhead. It was a perfect mix of fast heavy metal that you felt cool blasting in your car stereo. The titular anthem is no different.
As metal as the song is, compared to the music of today, the song feels as rebellious as a grumpy five year old. But don’t let that detract you, because the charm lies in the innocence that purely “rock and roll” will make you a BAD ASS.
Suddenly everything's alright
Everything is cool
Hey dudes I like your style
It's the way it should
Maybe you'll see
Someone's put a spell on me
Rock and roll
Rockin' on a midnight
Steal your soul
The bass drums quake like a musical cue to pump your fist in the air because #ROCKNROLL. We have a simple story here of a cool dude who we can only presuppose was not that cool before, but thanks to #ROCKNROLL everything is just “the way it should.” Note here there’s not much for parents to get really upset about except for the general notion that #ROCKNROLL is bad for teens. The tiny insidious lyrics feel more like afterthoughts, left behind simply to bait parental control to get the vapors.
Knock, knock, knockin'
For a sweet surprise
It's a trick or treat
See my face true up in the skies
If ever we should meet
I mean, let’s not fool ourselves here, they kind of just threw the title in there so treat could rhyme with meet, but really the second lyric here is kind of sweet. You know, for a heavy metal song from a horror movie.
For the rest of the song we have an endless repeat of the chorus, some notable breakdowns where the crowd is instructed to chant “Rock! Rock!” along with Curr by way of King, ending with a crescendo as they “rock it on down”. The track is a great daytime jam, and if I’m being perfectly honest, a very kid friendly track for all you Metalhead Moms and Dads who want to get your tykes started early. The movie, too, is a must see. While still flying well under the radar, the OTHER Trick or Treat is starting to see a small but mighty return to the cultural conscience with some choice t-shirts and pins, and outside of a some moderately legit looking releases floating around on eBay, we are long overdue for the film to get the respect it deserves in the physical media market. With the success of Jason Lei Howdens’ Deathgasm and the anticipation of its sequel, heavy metal horror could be making a tiny come back. Make sure to check out Trick Or Treat to be ahead of the curve! And as always: SAMMI CURR LIVES!