Satire is tough to pull off, especially if A) you’re in the sci-fi and/or horror genre and B) you aren’t Paul Verhoven, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it the old college try, even if you lack more subtlety than a speed dating Pepé La Pew.
This brings us to TerrorVision, a sci-fi/horror/comedy brought to us by low budget kingpin Charles Band under his Empire International Pictures banner (before Empire died and became Full Moon Features – his second empire…), that’s as much a stranger to nuanced comedy than Batman is to healthy working hours and which sees a nuclear family go into meltdown when their brand new satellite dish brings in more than just pornos and foreign language game shows.
Prepare for a wealth of sledgehammer satire and more slimy rubber creature effects than you can point a dish at we focus on a lesser known creature feature that decidedly puts the goo into goofy.
The Putterman’s are the worst example of the 80’s American dream you could imagine; arrogant, obnoxious and featuring less taste than Marge Simpson’s corn cob kitchen curtains – but they’re also well off and smug patriarch Stanley is just putting the finishing touches to the Do-It-Yourself 100, a hideous as fuck TV dish that means he can feel superior to his neighbours by having hundreds of new channels he’ll never have time to watch. As he and his wife Raquel get ready to go out for a night of swinging (yup, you read that right), MTV obsessed Cindy Lauper lookalike daughter Suzy waits for her metaller boyfriend O.D. to arrive (“Is that Irish?”) while survivalist grandfather and grandson duo Pops and Sherman settle in for a night of back to back horror movies. However, the Do-It-Youself 100 manages to lock onto a signal from outer space and draws in a large, icky, slobbering mutant known as a Hungry Beast (could we not have spent more than 36 seconds coming up with that name, guys?), something that’s originally treated like a pet on it’s home planet but must be zapped away once they mutate into the tentacled, fish-eyed, slimy pile of shit that this thing has become. Teleporting itself out of the Putterman’s many TV sets at will, the Hungry Beast immediately gets to work living up to it’s name by dissolving Pops and lapping up what remains but no one wants to believe Sherman, chalking it up to one of his “attacks” (Kevin McAllister had more responsible parents). As Stanley and Raquel bring back a willing couple to get their swing on with, it seems the Hungry Beast won’t be the only thing eating out tonight in Casa Del Putterman, but will a potentially world threatening disaster be averted when Sherman, Suzy and O.D. inadvertently appeal to the Hungry Beast’s more domesticated instincts?
So right from the opening credits and it’s memorable theme song, it’s obvious that writer/director Ted Nicolaou (a Charles Band regular) has no interest in making anything remotely approaching restraint and creates a agonisingly garish world so positively drowning in kitsch, even John Walters might suggest that he slows his roll a little.
If the setting and tone is loud and camp then that’s nothing compared to the characters that fill it, all of whom overact to the point where they make the characters in the Nickelodeon cartoon Rugrats look like the tight lipped denizens of Downton Abbey. Cult actors like Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov (hardly strangers to overblown performances with Phantom Of The Paradise and Eating Raoul between them respectively) gurn their way – literally – through humor so broad it could plug the plot holes in a Michael Bay movie although eagle eyed viewers may spot John Gries – Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico himself – buried under a ton of Whitesnake hair as O.D.. However, there’s a method to the director’s madness and the large performances – which beat sitcom Married: With Children to the punch by about a year – are supposed to signify the obnoxious and crass keeping-up-with-the-Jones attitude of the time.
Unfortunately, what scuppers TerrorVision’s aim at being taken “seriously” despite it’s still-topical premise, is that satire only works if you’re witty and that’s where the movie starts to get a bad reception. Film is trying so hard to be a grossly outlandish comedy it actually manages to counteract it’s own jokes making virtually scene feel like it’s awkwardly too long.
Every now and then though, something manages to stick (alien slime has a habit of doing that) and for some reason I’ve always been a sucker for the ludicrous, rubbery design of the Hungry Beast which is kind of what you’d get if Carpenter’s The Thing absorbed a victim that’s off their fucking tits on LSD – or at the very least what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft got wankered on absinthe. With it’s numerous, differently-sized eyeballs (a third one sits on the end of a worryingly Hentai-ish tentacle), a random pincer arm and a huge ragged tongue that can cause hurricane level suction (steady now), it’s a creature design that simply makes no logical sense whatsoever, and therefore I utterly adore it like it’s the world’s most ghastly puppy. It also has the rather nifty ability to regurgitate the heads of it’s digested victims and even puppeteer them as to throw off suspicion and in the film’s best moment, suggests that all the adults it’s eaten are actually still alive and indulging in one big orgy, much to the trauma of their gossed out kids. Responsible for this toothy lump of ravenous, brown mush is the late John Carl Buchler, a godsend of Empire’s output back in the day (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Trolls) who somehow makes this literal sack of wet, panting crap weirdly endearing.
One thing that manages to save the film is that for all it’s leaden pace and irritating characters, TerrorVision actually succeeds better if you laugh at it rather than with it which manages to give it another lease of life thanks to purveyors of the more trashy end of popular culture.
But with a sharper script, better honed comedic timing and a monster that’s more intimidating as a wet Furby, you might actually have the germ of something here as despite it’s many faults, TerrorVision is impressively cruel with it’s body count as the Hungry Beast relentlessly chomps through it’s cast mates regardless of age, parentage or gender.
Flawed, but fun in spite of itself in a way it’s filmmakers probably wasn’t planning for, TerrorVision is hardly a classic, but it still gets an ok, if fuzzy, reception…