Microwave Massacre (1983) [Blu-ray review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-08-15 03:30

Microwave Massacre (1983)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: August 16th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

Just as soon as the slasher boom exploded in earnest, filmmakers were just as eager to goof on it. Look no further than 1981: considered by many to be the genre’s golden year, it also unleashed the trio of Student Bodies, Wacko, and Saturday the 14th , all of which sought out to undercut (or, in the case of the latter, capitalize on) the craze. The likes of Pandemonium and an increasingly tongue-in-cheek set of slashers would follow, but little did anyone know that this bunch was actually late to the party. Unbeknownst to them (or, hell, anyone), Wayne Berwick and a group of friends were toiling away on Microwave Massacre as far back as 1978, only to see their little pet project languish for five years before it finally crested on the slasher wave right into video stores.

Certainly one of the more eccentric efforts of the period, Microwave Massacre is (to borrow a phrase from Pieces) exactly what you think it is: sad-sack construction worker Donald (Jackie Vernon) is a pitiful son of a bitch whose wife refuses to prepare him a proper meal. Content to nuke everything in her state-of-the-art, refrigerator-sized microwave, she serves up strange faux-gourmet meals when Donald would much rather have a simple boloney and cheese sandwich. One day, this lack of lunchmeat becomes too much for Donald’s sanity, and he winds up killing his wife in a drunken outburst by bludgeoning her with a salt shaker. Fighting a wicked hangover the next day, he’s shocked to discover the wife’s corpse, which he eventually stores away in a freezer with some other meat. When he fucks up one night and accidentally eats some of his wife’s remains, he realizes the taste of human meat isn’t so bad; in fact, it reignites his libido and promptly sends him on a killing spree to procure more meat, which he cooks up and serves to his buddies.

An anachronism in more ways than one, Microwave Massacre was first produced in 1978 and released in 1983, yet feels like it belongs on a shelf besides late-80s SOV splatter goofs. While it obviously wasn’t shot-on-video, it carries that same “let’s make a movie because we fucking can” sort of vibe, where a bunch of buddies got together and impossibly stitched together some semblance of a film. They did so despite obviously having very little expertise, a fact that still somehow didn’t keep them from wrangling in Jackie Vernon to play a goddamned insane cannibal.

The result feels less like a proper slasher spoof (understandable, given the chronology) and more like an (even more) low-rent take on Blood Feast. Like Herschell Gordon Lewis before them, Berwick and company dispense with any manner of pretense. As if the title didn’t make it abundantly clear, Microwave Massacre is pure, exploitative nonsense, a film that’s been engineered for maximum bad taste just for the sake of it. Please note that this is not a criticism so much as an obligation. In fact, it’s probably fair to say it’s a bit of an endorsement, albeit with the obvious caveat that Microwave Massacre is a bit of an…acquired taste.

And in this respect, I’m not so much referring to the gore—unlike HGL, Berwick doesn’t rely on heavy splatter to create distaste. In fact, audiences might be surprised to discover how little explicit gore there is in a movie titled Microwave Massacre (also: the relatively small number of microwave-induced massacres). Some small gushes of blood and some laughably fake severed body parts come up pretty short of filling the gore quotient for a movie with this kind of title, leaving Berwick to compensate through an offbeat sense of humor.

Really, “offbeat” doesn’t begin to describe whatever the hell is going on here. I’m not quite sure the English language has quite perfected the right word to describe Microwave Massacre. Even calling it “absurd” feels like an understatement when it opens with a girl strolling down the street down to Donald’s construction site, where she inexplicably removes her top a shoves her breasts through a hole in a gate. Naturally, all the horndogs come running, only to be frustrated when the blonde bombshell pulls them away. It’s an exchange that’s apropos of absolutely nothing, making it the perfect overture for Microwave Massacre, a film that effuses complete nonsense for 76 minutes (a merciful runtime that keeps the film on just the right side of tolerability).

Basically, nobody acts like a normal human being here. A collection of utterly strange moments follows that indelible opening image: Donald opens his lunchbox to reveal a giant, uncooked lobster resting between two slices of bread; at one point, he asks for six-foot wide cookie sheets to bake a human victim, only to be told they’re out of that popular size; he watches a news broadcast that randomly censors words but allows explicit language to slip through; and, again, the titular microwave is a comically oversized behemoth that makes no practical sense. In many ways, it’s reflective of the film itself: big, broad, certainly stupid as hell, and all the performers follow its lead. Microwave Massacre is one of those films that would totally, completely confound extraterrestrial anthropologists if it were mankind’s only remaining cultural artifact.

They might be especially bewildered by the presence of Vernon, a stand-up actor with only a handful of screen credits. It comes as no surprise that this film essentially becomes a vehicle for him to do an extended riff on his own shtick, a self-deprecating, finicky routine that’s totally at odds with his psychotic turn here. Vernon almost seems too gentle and unassuming as this poor schlub, who routinely drowns his sorrows at a bar, much to the bartender’s perpetual annoyance: of all the unbelievable things that occur, the most far-fetched might be his ability to continually woo babes back to his home. Compounding the weirdness is the revelation that you’ve almost surely heard his voice in a completely different capacity: you hear that distinctive, disarming lilt in his voice and realize it belongs to Frosty the Snowman. As if Microwave Massacre couldn’t be any more fucked up, you add this layer of trauma to complete the uncanny effect.

What a goddamn weird movie this one is—if I had to compare it to anything else, I’d say it mostly reminds me of the Screwballs films, a couple of teen sex comedy efforts that seemingly take place in another dimension (read: Canada’s attempt to recreate an American high school setting). I’m not just saying that because these films share an affinity for shoving an abundance of breasts into the camera, either. Like those films, Microwave Massacre is an utter farce compounded by slipshod filmmaking: nearly every performance feels like someone trying to act, the editing is shaggy, the effects are unconvincing, and the photography is generally pedestrian.

Nothing about it should work, but this is one of those impossible, alchemic cocktails that commands your attention, if only because it exploits a morbid sense of curiosity. “Just how much more insane (and inane, if I’m being honest) can this get?” you wonder before watching a bewildered Jackie Vernon scratch his head at a neighbor using a dildo as a garden spade.

The disc:

In what may be the ultimate confirmation that we’re living in a blessed era for cult video, Microwave Massacre is set to bow on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video. I don’t know if anyone ever expected to see those words strung together in a sentence before, but I am glad to prove otherwise. It’s a nice release, too, headlined by a presentation that’s miles ahead of its VHS incarnation: if nothing else, the film is vibrant, and the transfer accurately reflects that.

Arrow’s produced some worthwhile supplements as well, starting with a commentary with writer/actor Craig Muckler and moderator Mike Tristano. The other centerpiece here is “My Microwave Massacre Memoirs,” a 22-minute retrospective that attempts to explain just how this impossible thing exists. Muckler appears here, too, along with Berwick and actor Loren Schein. Collectively, these three piece together something approaching a story that actually stretches back to Berwick’s childhood, which was often spent on the sets of his father’s films (Irvin Berwick directed stuff like The Monster of Piedras Blancas and Malibu High). With a foot ostensibly in the door, the younger Berwick managed to put together enough funding for this lark of a movie, which would endure various issues during its five-year odyssey towards gaining a release. What’s most obvious here is just how much these guys were flying by the seats of their pants, as various anecdotes confirm what you suspect while watching Microwave Massacre: that this was indeed just a bunch of dudes that banded together to scratch out a movie. Hell, at times, they had to practically will it into existence.

Naturally, they can’t help but address the possibility of a sequel towards the end. You scoff, but it wouldn’t be the first cult movie to inspire a bewildering sequel (as I type this, a Manos sequel as just completed filming, according to various reports). Their ideas are hardly fully-formed, and they’re probably just goofing, which is right in line with Microwave Massacre, a film that feels like a bizarre combination of a joke and a dare.

Other special features include a trailer, reversible artwork, and the original treatment/synopsis (accessible via DVD-ROM).
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