"Trick or Treat" screen writer Mr. Rhet Topham tells us about Sammi, Ragman, and his "Halloween Flu"...
Joe Rice, my agent and close friend had heard there was a writer's 'cattle-call' issued by the old Dino De Laurentis film group. Two of their producers, Michael Murphy and Joel Soisson had a title ("Trick or Treat") and a budget, but no script. I spent a weekend coming up with the idea, then went to pitch it. Half way through my story of metalhead Eddie Weinbauer and Sammi Curr, the two producers stopped me and said that this was the story they wanted to make. We spent several weeks working out the screenplay, then went into production. "Trick or Treat" was literally sold on a one-line pitch; Kid plays record backwards to unleash revengeful ghost rocker.
Some of your other writing credits include "976 Evil" and episodes of the "Freddie's Nightmares" series. Do you prefer writing in the Horror genre?
I do perfer the horror genre for very personal reasons. When I was a pre-teen I was quite a little schemer. Every Halloween I would spend the day working myself into a fake 'sick frenzy' so I wouldn't have to go 'trick-or-treating' with my brothers and sisters. Instead, and without my parents knowing, I'd get to stay home and watch the 'Creature Feature' Halloween Marathons with this whacked-out host named Bob Wilkins.
Halloween Night became Filmmaking 101 for me: William Castle, George Romero, Dario Argentio, Tobe Hooper, Wes craven. And years later, meeting and working with some of them made my trickery all the sweeter.
Today, its such a tough genre with so many genius director/writers before me and so many more brilliant minds after me. I'd love to expand from the genre into others one day, but only after I finally succeed in scaring the shit out of myself!
Groups like the PMRC (Parents Music Recourse Center) were really giving Heavy Metal music a bad name around the time of the film. Did the issues at the time with Metal music play a factor in your screenplay?
Absolutely. That was the definately the seed for the film. At that time Tipper Gore (Al's Wife) was running around screaming about something called 'Rock-Porn.' Most us us metalheads thought she was full of B.S. and we also understood - without a doubt - that she was, at best, trying to shamelessly up her own political capital, and at worse; curtail free-speech.
In her P.O.V. all this country's problems were the fault of rock music. Not political corruption, not massive economic flight of american jobs and salaries to third world countries, not racism and sexism and homophobia. Not corporatocracy. No, it was all the music's fault. Like we haven't heard that crap before?
In fact, today's music genres, like Rap, Hip-Hop, etc. are receiving the same kind of attention. "Trick or Treat" was a DIRECT response to these childish ravings. And in the film when you see that nice little old lady on television being interviewed (who is ultimately ripped into electronic shreds by Sammi), please do me the favor and think of all the Tipper Gores out there today playing the same tired game of "I know Morality and You Don't". I certainly won't put up with a lot of shit when it comes to attacks on the Constitution and our enshrined Personal Freedom. Neither should you. Freedom is Freedom, Either we mean it, or we don't.
"Trick or Treat" has really gained a large Cult following over the years. It speaks to every high school "Metalhead" and outsider who grew up in the 80s. What made you base the character of Eddie Weinbauer on the local school "Metalhead"?
Eddie is me. No doubt. My middle name is Eddie. His dress, his look, his composure. hi experiences, his insight, spotanaiety and cameleon-like abillity to disappear in the middle of a crowd if need be...all tools of survival in High School if you're not part of the elite in crowd (and who would want to be?).
The way we see Eddie dressed and groomed in Trick Or Treat was the exact way I showed up at Producers Murphy and Soisson's office for that first fateful pitch. I was totally surprised and honored that they reproduced my visage, knowingly or not, in the form of actor Marc Price. When I met him I felt as if I was looking in a mirror. I was only 25 when they made Trick Or Treat, so our ages, body types were very similar.
We were extremely fortunate in that decade to live through Metal Classic. Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison. I consider them the godfathers of Metal. Other favorites: The Who, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and of course KISS and Ozzy. Look at those names! I get wood just thinking about how intense the music was in the 80's. Did I say that? Uh - I did.
2006 is the 20 year anniversary of "Trick or Treat". How do you think the film holds up today? It's certainly a perfect snapshot of what times were like in 1986!
As it is, I love the film. My original draft was not so campy. I was hoping to write the next "Exorcist." In our genre, who isn't?
One day the producers convinced me that this movie, that the spirit of the thing, it's true zeitgeist, was more about kicking back, grabbing a six-pack, maybe a bong, and watching Eddie scramble to re-cork the genie's bottle he ultimately unleashed. With Curr morphing out of stereo speakers and shooting death-rays from his guitar could it be anything else?
That this movie is not the typical horror flick, so what? It's really ours, just for us metalheads. Rock's Chosen Warriors. And there's no other like it. And that makes me proud; to have been part of it and to be discussing it with you today.
You had mentioned that Sammi Curr's "original" name was going to be "Chilly Willy". Isn't that the cartoon penguin?!
Okay, It's true I originally called Sammi Curr "Chilly Willy". As kids, my older brother and I loved the penguin. After thinking about it I thought Chilly Willy was a great play on Satan's name, like 'Old Scratch.'
Did you ever think the film would grow into such a popular Cult hit? Sammi Curr is practically a Cult icon among us "80s Metalheads".
Never in my wildest imagination. I am so honored that this film has since found life after it left the big screen. VHS wasn't as popular as it was in the 1990's and DVD wasn't even invented. I really thought the film would vanish. However, there was obviously enough interest to see it through to VHS and eventually DVD. Metalheads made that happen!
The surreal cult-status of Trick or Treat has kept me believing in myself - even during tougher times. In my house, we watch "Trick or Treat" and "976-Evil" every Halloween - but I don't have to fake tonsillitis anymore!
What projects have you been involved with recently?
You mean after returning from my 13 year absence due to Alien Abduction?
Joe Rice and I have just finished writing a gruesome screenplay called "Scraper Joe." It's the story of an average 'joe' who cleans up dead bodies after fatal traffic accidents. One night he flips out and massacres everyone on a subway car. I originally told the story, off the cuff, around a campfire 15 years ago during a funeral wake on a beach in Malibu.
We hope to produce it with Joe's brother, Wayne Rice, who's just finished shooting "Killer Pad" (directed by Robert Englund). Perhaps we'll all actually see "Scraper Joe" on the big screen - or little? Doesn't matter which, y'all just need to meet "Scraper Joe"
Anything you'd like to add?
'Trick or Treat' is filled with inside jokes - so many that I couldn't believe they made it to screen. But the one people ask me about the most is Sammi Curr's nickname for Eddie: 'Ragman.' It's on his car license plate.
What does it mean? Here it is, then, the secret revealed:
'A Ragman' is an anagram for 'anagram.' Hello, Dan Brown?
Thank you, sammicurr.com. Thanks to all you wicked metalheads for keeping Sammi Curr alive and kicking. He may be gone, but he's not forgotten.
thanks to Mr. Topham for a killer interview!
Nail 'em All!