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Monday, August 12, 2019 | Retrospective

After the box-office bonanza of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987), every big studio wanted a horror movie franchise cash cow character. And, in particular, some were savvy enough to realize that Freddy Krueger’s basic concept as a character allowed for a certain plot/imagery flexibility (as opposed to a hulking mute like Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees) , while also requiring a larger effects budget to assure the promise of that cinematic “wow!” That first factor meant there was also more opportunity to “target the demographic” (that is to say, youth culture, re: Freddy on MTV) and, that second factor? Well, while it might seem like a drawback, a mutable practical effects budget is an easy way to disguise some, shall we say, “creative bookkeeping”? So the race was on to magic-up another Krueger, and this series of articles, which I’ve called the KRUEGER ALSO-RANS, examines four 80’s horror films and their central characters through this lens – that is, attempts by various studies to copy the success of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET by deliberately creating a franchise-ready character who eschewed the lumbering, silent slasher model and instead embraced the cinematic “rubber reality” approach used by our joking, twisted dream ghoul. None were successful. I’ll follow the examination with some thoughts on sequel and remake potential.

Let’s start off with a film that was released *before* DREAM WARRIORS, 1986’s TRICK OR TREAT. Eddie Weinbauer (aka Ragman), played by Marc Price (aka “Skippy” from FAMILY TIES), is a nice-guy burnout/metalhead alienated from his peers (“airheads and braindeads are everywhere” he tells his journal) and a target for jock bullies. But when his hero, Alice-Cooperesque shock rock star Sammie Curr (Tony Fields) dies (at age 35!) in a hotel fire started while he was performing a Satanic ritual, Eddie is gifted a rare acetate of the star’s last recording (“Songs In The Key Of Death”, natch). Playing it backwards, he unwittingly releases the electrically charged, half-burned spirit of the demonic rocker, who now is able to “jump” into various devices, but with a weakness to water (he gets ignominiously trapped in a toilet at one point). As Curr wreaks havoc, and tries to seduce the teen into homicidal actions, the film builds to a “ticking clock” climax – can Eddie get to the radio station before midnight on Halloween, when they premiere the Curr recording for all the listeners (and, one presume, allowing Sammi to increase his power exponentially)?

“Sammi seems a more natural fit for MTV than Freddy”

This is a strange, uneven movie, alternating its horror plot with moments of goofiness: Curr mischievously possesses a car, which leads to explosions and chase/crashes; he also possess clean-cut New Wave band “The Kickers” to be his sidemen at the school dance massacre (so CARRIE gets referenced as well). The actual climax has no thematic resonance, just a slightly inventive way to defeat the menace. While Sammi manifests some “reality bending” by distorting morality preacher Ozzy Osbourne’s face on TV, and initially appears by emerging from a stereo speaker, the conceit isn’t exploited effectively. Price (who unfortunately resembles a youthful Jay Leno) is game enough, but the real problem is the concept that has its cake and eats it as well: the movie expresses outrage at parents and authority figures for condemning Heavy Metal music for Satanism and violence, then unleashes a demonic, homicidal Metal musician on its characters.

COULD HAVE BEEN: TRICK OR TREAT (despite a bland and generic title that wrongfoots audience expectations) was not a bad concept for a franchise starter – one could see, for example, tie-ins to music videos released with each film (and the inclusion of a performance scene) and Sammi (note the trade-markable spelling) seems a more natural fit for MTV than Freddy. For sequels, more might have been made of Curr’s past… but along with that confused theme mentioned earlier is another hurdle: despite all his flash, Sammi Curr has almost no personality, panache, or even good lines. He’s a flat, hollow Xerox of a shock/glam rocker. Perhaps, with a deliberate contrast (satanic speed metal band find that dusty old acetate?) and better writing, Sammi could return…

Shawn Garrett
Shawn M. Garrett is the co-editor of PSEUDOPOD, the premiere horror fiction podcast, and is either the dumbest smart man or the smartest dumb man you ever met. Thanks to a youth spent in the company of Richard Matheson, Vincent Price, Carl Kolchak & Jupiter Jones, he has pursued a life-long interest in the thrilling, the horrific and the mysterious – be it in print, film, art or audio. He has worked as a sewerage groundskeeper, audio transcription editor, pornography enabler, insurance letter writer – he was once paid by Marvel Comics to pastiche the voice of Stan Lee in promotional materials and he spends his days converting old pulp fiction into digital form for minimal pay. He now lives near the ocean in a small metal box and he hopes that becoming a Yuggothian brain-in-a-jar is a viable future, as there is NO WAY he will ever read all the books he has on his lists, or listen to all the music he wants to hear. Everything that he is he owes to his late sister Susan, a shining star in the pre-internet world of fan-fiction, who left this world unexpectedly in 2010. He spends an inordinate amount of time reading, writing and watching movies.