Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TerrorVision (1986): Horror through the TV

TerrorVision (1986)
dir: Ted Nicolaou

"This is music. Mu-sic. It's almost as important as food.  This is TV. T-V. Next to food and music, this is mankind's greatest invention." - Suzy Putterman, TerrorVision

TerrorVision is the spectacle of pseudo-family-friendly late night television gone berzerk. Where else would you have a pair of braindead punk rock teenagers and their violent ADD-riddled little brother decide that a killer alien that came through the television could be a trainable pet?  And, why would they team up with a sexed-up late night horror host in the vein of Elvira to try to destroy this trash alien that came through their satellite to assimilate them?

Oh yes, TerrorVision is that hard-to-define movie that is far out in left field abusing horror and sci-fi tropes to make a ridiculous comedy and becoming rather undefinable in the process.  I remember it being in the horror section of my video store, but had I rented it as a horror I might have deemed it stupid, and not scary and a waste of time.  Had it landed in the comedy section, it would have required a complete change of video art (see right).  Sure, it has the tagline "People of Earth: your planet is about to be destroyed...sorry for the inconvenience" but the rest of the box looks like an actual horror movie, and wouldn't rent well in the comedy section.  So, it would get shuffled off to the cult section for being undefinable.

TerrorVision is a cult movie for people with...particular tastes.  It's a bag of the best 80's tropes that is collected, twisted and turned into one satirical movie.  At the center is the nuclear three-generation family that has decided to buy a satellite system that eventually eats everything in its path. The nuclear family has two swinger parents, a militant war veteran grandfather, a bubble-headed MTV addicted baby punk teenage daughter, and the ADD-riddled son who is more fully aware of everything than anybody else in the film.

At this point, I should also mention that the parents are played by Gerrit Graham (Beef from Phantom of the Paradise) and the always amazing Mary Woronov (Mrs. Bland from Eating Raoul, Calamity Jane from Death Race 2000).  And, the son is played by...Chad Allen?!  Yeah, this movie is one of those movies that is as ridiculous and means it too.

Soon after getting their new satellite dish, it is attacked by a beam from Pluton, which beams down a grotesque eating-machine alien that consumes everything in its path.  But, first the parents go out to pick up another swinging couple, Suzy, the daughter, goes on a date with her boyfriend O.D., and Grandpa is left to babysit Sherman, the son.  

The movie wears its bubbleheaded satire of tropes on its sleeve.  The swinger couples are as sleazy and over-the-top as ever, and both of them like it, except for the bisexual come-ons of the Greek swinger which gets a belligerent response from Dad. There are stupid sexy art prints on the wall, which includes one of my favorite paintings ever: a surreal Dali-esque four-breasted iron (featured in closeup at 29:27). They have a giant indoor swimming pool cum jacuzzi that they keep at 98.6 degrees ("It's like floating in your mother's womb").  The daughter purses her lips and headbangs to W.A.S.P.  Grandpa has two airplanes glued to his helmet.  This is a movie that sends everything over the top.  

When the alien comes around and kills people, it doesn't just consume its prey, it also retains the ability to pose as the prey.  It can use the heads and bodies it consumed in a lure-type facsimile and can imitate people.  The son and daughter try training the alien as a pet, even trying to teach it how to speak (this is after it killed Grandpa, the parents, and the swinger couple) like in E.T.  

Sure, the movie doesn't have anything smart to say.  Hell, it's even abusing the trope of "your tv is out to kill you."  But, that doesn't belie how stupid funny it is, and it intends it too.  It isn't going for insight.  It isn't going for social commentary, except to possibly comment on the trope-iness of generic social commentary movies.  It's purely silly and a gigantic cartoon of a trashy z-movie.  I haven't even mentioned the Elvira-esque Medusa who arrives last minute for some reason after being called by Sherman all evening.  I also haven't mentioned the amazing intro song by The Fibonaccis, an 80s art house band whose lead singer was also a patient in Dr Caligari.

It's easy to see why people hate this movie.  It's cheesy, the acting is bad, the effects are hilariously campy, it's intentionally dumb, it's silly with lots of horror tropes.  It does everything backwards.  But, if you have that special sensibility, you'll love this movie.

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