It wasn’t a huge success at the time, but “Trick or Treat” has since become a cult classic among horror and music fans. Both adored and ridiculed – it stars a young Marc “Skippy” Price of TV’s “Family Ties” and features rock stars Gene Simmons of KISS and Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath in small roles – “Trick or Treat” is mentioned on countless horror websites. the entertainment site Ain’t it Cool News recently included it in its celebration of cult Halloween movies.
Joel Soisson, who was in Wilmington last summer as a producer of “Piranha 3DD,” which is scheduled for release next year, was a co-writer and co-producer on “Trick or Treat.”
Soisson and then-producing partner Michael S. Murphey, also a “Treat” co-writer, were line producers on 1985′s “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.” Soon after its release, Soisson said he was contacted by the Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis, who founded DEG, Wilmington’s first movie studio.
“He calls me,” Soisson said, slipping into an Italian accent, “and says, ‘you come and work with me now. I want you to make Trick and Treat.’ ”
De Laurentiis presented Soisson and Murphey with a Stephen King story about a guy going door to door with a pumpkin on his head, but Soisson thought it was terrible.
“He says, ‘OK, you think it’s awful. tell me what you want and I make it. just give you a few million dollars.’ “
Rhet Topham, who was eventually given story credit for “Trick or Treat,” pitched the producers an idea about a kid who plays a record backwards, making a rock star named Sammi Curr come back from the dead. Soisson and Murphey liked the idea, and thought the Sammi Curr character could be turned into a franchise like “Nightmare.”
“(De Laurentiis) kept going, ‘I want Freddy Krueger,’” Soisson said. “That’s where this whole Sammi Curr idea came from … (Curr) didn’t come out your dreams, he comes out of a record. yet the way he infiltrates the real world was similar to Freddy (and) the scarring on his face was derivative in that way.”
The movie was written during a time when Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) were in full swing, accusing some artists of delivering Satanic messages, while critics claimed the PMRC was trying to censor artists. Osbourne and the band Judas Priest had been slapped with lawsuits claiming their music led to teen suicides.
“That’s one of the reasons we jumped in,” Soisson said. “Almost the reason for making the movie was to have fun, because the whole Satan thing was ridiculously overblown.”
Topham originally turned in a draft that was very dark. Soisson and Murphey tried to lighten it up and brought in director Charlie Martin Smith. An actor in “American Graffiti” and “Starman,” Smith had few directing credits. but the producers didn’t want to make just another horror movie and they liked that Smith made little sense as a director.
The main character in “Trick or Treat” is a nerdy heavy metal kid named Eddie Weinbauer, who was played by Marc Price, the nerdy neighbor Skippy from “Family Ties,” which was a big TV hit at the time.
“I wasn’t that familiar with Skippy,” Soisson said. “Marc was a good actor but also a comedian. it was a comedy horror movie and you could believe he was an outcast.”
Price points to the director, Smith, as to why he was cast.
“Let’s face it,” Price said. “He played Toad (in “American Graffiti”), nerdy characters, and here was this nerdy kid. what a great director for an actor because he was an actor first.”
Sossion remembers beginning the movie with the set being blessed by a Catholic priest.
“Dino was ferociously Catholic,” Soisson said. “We were happy to take it.”
Soisson recalled the Wilmington community as being more than welcoming.
“It was, ‘come on in, trample my lawn and break my furniture and scratch my antiques.’ they just want to be involved in the movie business. it was refreshing because in L.A., you get chased out of neighborhoods.”
Soisson remembers getting permission to shut down the Isabel Holmes Bridge and sending a car off it for the film’s finale.
“That was one of the things I loved about Wilmington. If you did that in L.A. it would be, ‘We want to shut down a bridge and drive a car off it in rush hour. what do you think?’ ‘Uh, no. We don’t think that’s a good idea.’ here in Wilmington it’s, ‘Yeah! Let’s do it. why not’? It’s part of that can-do attitude. I’m sure the people who were waiting two hours while we did that were not appreciating Wilmington’s can-do attitude, but we sure did.”
The actor Tony Fields (“A Chorus Line”) was hired to play Sammi Curr. Price said Fields, who died in 1995, would remain in character to intimidate him.
“He really was flamboyant, bigger than life,” Soisson said. “I don’t think he ever stopped being Sammie Curr when he was with us.”
KISS bassist Simmons played radio DJ Nuke. Soisson said he believes Simmons’ agent accepted the role without telling him.
“Gene had no interest in doing this movie. he came in with a bit of an attitude,” Soisson said. “It sounds like I’m slamming Gene. I’m actually not. in a way I have more respect for the man. he comes in and does a professional job when he’s clearly not there on his choice.”
Osborne, conversely, relished the idea of playing a preacher.
“I think he liked playing the other end where he’s the preacher, railing against people like himself,” Soisson said. “He was a delight, (but) he was so nervous … I think now he’s a lot better before the camera … but back then acting was not an easy thing for him.”
“It was an important role for (Osbourne) because he was the guy who was accused of lending a hand by his music’s lyrics to someone’s suicide. so this was an important opportunity for him to play one of the very people coming after him to show the absurdity of it.”
Soisson said he still gets letters and emails about “Trick or Treat.” the movie has gone in and out of print but can be seen on YouTube.
“I never thought it would have staying power or any real impact,” Soisson said. ” We never got a letter from Tipper, though. Not sure if she saw it.”