Written and Directed by: Ted Nicolaou
Starring: Diane Franklin, Mary Woronov, Gerrit Graham
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďThis is TV. T-V. Next to food and music, this is mankind's greatest invention."
TerrorVision might be one of the most 80s movies ever made, which is either praise or criticism, depending on your persuasion. In my case, itís a little bit of both; while I appreciate the filmís gaudy, neon-tinted aesthetic and its cockeyed approach, it also wallows in the decadeís shallower qualities, particularly its cartoonish sense of stupidity. The film feels so obvious and over-the-top that you almost feel like it must be trying to illuminate something; instead, itís just shining a big, neon light on how vapid the 80s could be.
Stanley Putterman (Chad Allen) is another suburban yokel whose latest obsession is his new satellite television system. After it malfunctions, he attempts to fix it himself, which only results in damaging it even further. When he claims his tweaks are going to open a whole new dimension of programming, he never expects it to literally happen when his receiver opens a portal to an alien planet. Instead of watching a monster movie until midnight, the family instead has to endure one when a gooey, sentient blob is transmitted into their living room.
If Videodrome and Critters had a baby but decided to abort it, the fetus would probably look a lot like TerrorVision. It takes the gooey, body horror sensibilities of the former and the latterís tongue-in-cheek monster movie slant of the latter and practically nukes them in a microwave. The result is expectedly a malformed, half-baked mess that becomes a bit of a chore despite a relatively brisk running time (had TerrorVision actually run over 90 minutes, I think it would have required a Surgeon Generalís Warning). Even though itís clearly done in the spirit of harmless, brainless creature features like the ones glimpsed on the Stanleysí TV set, TerrorVision is excessively grating in a way those films rarely were. Sure, the cheapest of Cormanís cheapies were often dull and monotonous, but this movie is like that and wants to thumb your nose in it as the characters engage in a race to out-stupid one another.
At no point is the film played straight, which isnít necessarily a bad thing; however, it veers on such a curve that it careens off the track pretty early. Nearly every performance is broader than broad, with nearly every actor portraying some manner of slack-jawed asshole or another, and most of them spend their time stumbling around the house waiting to get absorbed by the monster. Upon first intruding into the Stanley household, it preys on the young son and the grandfather, a shell-shocked, paranoiac ex-vet with a makeshift bomb shelter. It does him no good, so the monster unfortunately moves on to an even more insufferable set: the parents and their swinger partners, who peddle through some painfully unfunny interactions (such as Stanley showing off all of his luxuries in full-on Yuppie mode) before the creature puts them out of their misery (sort ofóarguably the worst part about TerrorVision is that the monster actually absorbs his victims, thus keeping them around to deliver more horrific dialogue as part of a giant, Cronenbergian gummy apparatus).
By the time the film reaches its third act, it finally decides to switch gears from the kid helplessly insisting that a monster has killed everyone. Instead, his sister (Diane Franklin as a rainbow-haired Valley Girl) and her metalhead boyfriend (Jon Gries with a set of obviously fake rocker locks) come home, discover the monster, and proceed to treat it like itís E.T. (and of course thereís an overt reference to E.T. just in case you didnít get it). This one gets pretty tedious in a hurry, and even its obvious tongue-in-cheek approach doesnít make it any easier to swallow. It wants you to laugh along with it, but itís hard to even laugh at it since itís such a repetitive slog that never quite goes anywhere and certainly betrays one of its best qualities: the garish, exaggerated production design thatís full of bizarre flourishes, such as all of the obviously erotic art deco stuff hanging in plain sight. TerrorVision transports you to an almost nightmarishly heightened 80s set but refuses to actually have anything interesting happen with in it, save for some inspired effects moments (among the crew here are John Carl Buechler and Robert Kurtzman).
Even worse, it comes with little to no wit or satire directed towards it subject; if you were to briefly glance at TerrorVision, you might assume that itís some kind of pointed barb towards the eraís excess and vapidity, or perhaps even an indictment of Yuppie, suburban scum. However, it merely holds up a mirror and reflects the 80s ugly underbelly, as TerrorVision is a pretty empty, joyless endeavor thatís somehow excessive but not at all provocative. If nothing else, it does perhaps provide an interesting glimpse at the Band brood before they hatched Full Moon; both Albert and Charles serve as producers, while Richard provides the filmís mostly forgettable score. Three years later, they founded the company that made them famous in video stores across America, so TerrorVision is a reminder of what these guys were capable of before Charles got obsessed with preying on anyone with an irrational fear of diminutive psychopaths (my unofficial tally reveals that about 87% of Full Moonís output involves dolls or shrunken dudes of some form). Anyway, TerrorVision is that sort of movie: a curiosity at best, but Iím not so sure it has much to offer outside of its effects and its skewed, elevated aesthetic.
Give it up for Scream Factory, though: youíd think TerrorVision were a true gem based off of their recently-released special edition. Not only does the film get both a DVD and Blu-ray presentation, but thereís also a horde of extras, including a commentary with writer/director Ted Nicolaou, Franklin, and Gries, a making-of retrospective featuring most of the cast and crew, and a poster/still gallery. Even better, you can justify owning this film since it comes packed with the much superior Video Dead, which makes for a nice ďkiller TVĒ double featureóif you can actually make it through TerrorVision first, of course. Its heart obviously started in the right placeóNicolaou obviously has some affinity for old monster movies (and even has an obvious homage to Elvira in the form of Jennifer Richardsís buxom horror host), but that love is eventually distorted into an almost contemptuous, empty-headed final product whose gooey, slimy effects provide the sole highlights. Rent it!
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