Directed by: Wayne Berwick
Written by: Thomas Singer
Starring: Jackie Vernon
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“I'm so hungry, I could eat a whore."
Once upon a time, the standard weapons in horror movies were limited to crude weapons, such as knives, axes, pitchforks, and the like. With modern technology advancing year-to-year, horror filmmakers always seem to take advantage of new tools and instruments with which to dismember and mutilate their film’s intended victims. In the 1970s, chainsaws and power tools were all the rage. Never to be left behind by technology, it was only a matter of time before the horror genre eventually found a way to put the 1980s cooking sensation known as the microwave oven to a good, macabre use. The result is 1983’s notorious cult classic, Microwave Massacre. In my parents’ video store way back when, I remember seeing the artwork on the oversized original VHS release of the film by Midnight Video and thinking that the film must be the most disgusting, horrific film ever made. Oh the thoughts that a great 80s video cover can inspire. Years later, I’m finally seeing the film for the first time. Did it live up to the film I’d already built up in my head for all these years?
After a brief prologue featuring a closing shot on a decaying skull inside a microwave, the credits open with a close up of a very busty chest bouncing down the street. The owner of the busty chest walks past a construction site, encountering a group of gawking workers. One of the men (Donald, played by comedian Jackie Vernon) can’t even bring himself to check her out because he’s so depressed about the lackluster lunch his wife prepared him. Poor Donald hasn’t eaten a decent meal in a long, long time, and now, his wife has gotten a brand new microwave oven in order to prepare his meals in from now on. With each meal worse than the one before, Donald can finally take no more. In a fit of rage, he murders his wife one night and in order to hide the body, he dismembers her and puts her in the fridge. Waking up for a late night snack, he accidentally grabs one of her body parts and gives it a good nibble. It’s no surprise that he ends up liking what he’s eating and decides to bring it to work for the next day’s lunch. Curious about the new meat Donald is enjoying, his co-workers try a bit of his wife’s flesh. They too, fall instantly in love with the tender though “old and tough” meat. Donald promises a much better grade of meat the next day, and thus, the wheels of the plot are in motion. Will Donald’s work buddies find out what they’ve been eating all this time? Will anyone wise up to what Donald is doing?
The film works best as a dark comedy rather than straight horror. There really aren’t any scenes that even try to go for real scares or suspense. There isn’t any scary music, dark atmosphere, or creepy sound effects. The story is played pretty broad. For the level of pure cheese the movie contains, the script is actually surprisingly witty and clever at times. Despite the title, the film is far from a gory bloodbath. Most of the killings occur off-screen, so the gore is pretty much limited to severed body parts. The microwave used in the film is around the size of a refrigerator. I know that some of the earliest microwaves were fairly huge in the 80s (we still have one around the house somewhere that is every bit as big as a TV set) but this is a tad ridiculous. Actually, in any other movie, this would have been ridiculous. In the world presented here, it strangely fits. For the plot to move forward, the film operates on kind of a bizarre level that you just kind of have to excuse. Almost every girl in the neighborhood seems to be either a prostitute or a sex-starved nympho…and of course, they all want to hop in the sack with Jackie. Now, no offense or disrespect to the late Mr. Vernon, but a chick-magnet he was not. Of course, for the sake of the film, you just have to sort of accept certain lapses in logic and just go with it. If the film took itself seriously, I would never ask a viewer to “leave their brain at the door”, but in this case, I think it would help considerably.
Though bad at times, the acting is passable for the material. Most of the actors play the story for laughs, and it works. If you watch this movie and think that Jackie Vernon’s voice seems somewhat familiar, you are indeed correct. He provided the voice of Frosty the Snowman on the popular animated classic that is broadcast on network TV every Christmas season. Jackie does his dopey best with the material and after seeing the movie, I honestly can’t imagine anybody else playing this role. He’s a pretty random person to suddenly appear out of nowhere in a horror film. It’s also pretty bizarre hearing the voice of Frosty the Snowman coming from someone who’s picking up hookers and murdering them for food. “Hap-py birth-day!” The film’s art direction was done by the ever-talented Robert A. Burns (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling) although, his talents were pretty much wasted here. The only thing in the film that resembled anything in his earlier work was the decayed skull at the beginning. The film’s musical score is also pretty lousy, representing a true low point in the history of bad 80s synth scores.
If there is an 80s horror film that begs for a remake, it is this one. With a more serious tone and a great deal more blood and gore, Microwave Massacre could’ve been a legit stomach-turner. As it stands, I can’t imagine anyone losing his or her lunch over any of the violence in the film. The writer and director were pretty much never heard from again. Perhaps out of shame or perhaps out of circumstance…but really, I don’t fault them at all with the finished film. I could say plenty more about the bad aspects of the movie and its multitude of shortcomings on nearly every creative and technical level imaginable, but honestly, I enjoyed Microwave Massacre. I enjoyed it for what it was. It wasn’t long enough to be dull (76 minutes), and it fully maintained my interest throughout (the countless bare breasts helped considerably, of course). The story was just cheesy, harmless fun. I can imagine someone popping this one in the DVD player during a party and everyone having a blast. I’d sure like to have been a fly on the wall during the early scripting sessions on the film. I bet Craig Muckler and Thomas Singer had a blast coming up with some of the dialogue and cannibalism gags.
Again, Microwave Massacre works best as a grim comedy, and as such, I believe the filmmakers had their hearts firmly in the right place. It may not be the most well-made horror film of the 80s, but it’s a fun, harmless movie that is what it is and aspires to be nothing more. You can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers grew up admiring the films of H.G. Lewis, as the godfather’s spirit of corny bravado comes through in many of the set pieces. If you’re more into serious horror, you might want to steer clear. The fact is, however, I simply cannot give a bad review to a film that features a line like “I’m so hungry, I could eat a whore.” I just can’t do it. That’s the moment when the film really won me over. “The worst horror film of all time”? Not even close. Surprisingly, Microwave Massacre might just be among my top ten favorite horror/comedies of all time, if I were to ever make such a list. It’s a perfectly acceptable timewaster, and in the right setting could play very big among the right group of friends. Rent it!
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