Grotesque (1988)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-08-23 08:08

Written by: Joe Tornatore and Mikel Angel
Directed by: Joe Tornatore
Starring: Linda Blair, Tab Hunter, and Donna Wilkes

Reviewed by: Brett G.

There is a fate worse than death.

Iím not going to lie--I donít even know where to start with Grotesque. However, thatís okay because Iím not sure anyone involved knew where to start or finish when they were making it. If you think thatís a condemnation, think again; Iím actually damning this sucker with faint praise because it actually manages to be quite entertaining despite how terribly nonsensical it is.

Lisa (Linda Blair, far removed from stardom) and her friend (Donna Wilkes, even further removed) need a relaxing getaway, so they decide to head up to her parentsí mountain retreat. Her father (Guy Stockwell) is a well-known horror film director, so this abode attracts the attention of a group of ďpunkersĒ (not punks, if weíre to believe this script), who decide to bum-rush the place because theyíre convinced it houses a stash of money or cocaine (or maybe both). They begin to terrorize the family before theyíre stalked by something possibly inhuman thatís roaming the grounds.

Thatís just the first half hour or so; after that, Grotesque doesnít so much go off the rails as much as it spectacularly crashes right before your eyes. Beginning life as an absurd home invasion flick, it quickly bombs its way through being a police procedural and a revenge movie before wrapping itself up in goofy meta fashion. It actually begins that way, too, as the opening credits are set against this terrible looking scene that apparently involves witchcraft and definitely features a droning monologue. I experienced great relief when it was revealed to be Stockwellís latest movie, which his producer hails as being great (when it clearly isnít). As Grotesque then actually unfolds, it doesnít really prove to be much better than that movie-within-the-movie, but it doesnít manage to be too boring. Saddled with ridiculous dialogue, botched line readings, and performances that range from ďbonkersĒ to ďsleepwalking,Ē itís pretty woeful--unless, of course, you like this stuff.

And if youíve made it to this paragraph, you probably do like this stuff, so letís get down to business about Grotesque. From a horror perspective, that first half hour is pretty good (if not typical) stuff; itís directed with the flair of a made-for-television movie, but the isolated, snowbound setting works well enough. Tornatore occasionally finds some inspired visuals, especially when heís taking advantage of the fact that Stockwellís playing a horror director. Naturally, the house is littered with masks and props; there must have been a surplus of Silver Shamrock masks because they make a cameo here. One appears in glorious fashion when one of the female punkers decides to wear one during sex (which of course is the natural thing to do when youíre in the middle of murdering an entire family).

Other familiar faces abound, at least for about 20 minutes at a time. That includes Linda Blair, who literally disappears from the third act despite her top billing; carrying an associate producer credit (which surely was responsible for said top billing), Blair must have only been on set for a day or so (thatís how it plays at least). Her friend is minor scream queen Donna Wilkes, who will always be known as Jackie, the shrill, annoying one that Bruce the Second let get away in Jaws 2. Here, sheís just one of the sleepwalkers whoís just zoned out for most of her screen-time. Tab Hunter was sort of a Hollywood stalwart who shows up here as Blairís uncle, and Robert ZíDar even pops up as one of the punkers (again, thatís apparently the technical term). Speaking of them, their leader (Brad Wilson) is brought to life by a preposterous ďangry young manĒ performance thatís reminiscent of a coked-up Billy Idol. Oh, and George ďBuckĒ Flower is inexplicably credited as the filmís pre-production coordinator (sadly, he does not double as an on-screen bum, perhaps for the first time in the history of cinema).

Did I mention something about the possibly inhuman beast roaming around? Well, there is; I seriously had to check my watch around the half hour mark because I was wondering if I was going to actually have to endure an hour of Linda Blair fighting off a bunch of yuppie-hating scumbags. But thatís when the other insane shoe dropped and Grotesque began to gloriously spiral out of control; Iím not going to spoil just how and why thereís a monster living in some hidden quarters located within the family cabin--to do so would be to ruin one of the approximately 9 twists (maybe only a slight exaggeration) the film has to offer. However, rest assured that itís a wild ride thatíll have you pondering if someone switched the disc in your DVD player. Thatís how far gone this movie eventually manages to be, but the end actually manages to be a cute nod for horror fans despite the utter lack of reasoning behind it.

Grotesque is a fairly awful movie that somehow manages to have a nasty mean streak and a cheekiness in the span of its 90 minutes; Iím almost positive its script was culled together from discarded pages of other scripts to form a misshapen Frankensteinís monster of bad ideas and even poorer execution. Perhaps because itís so grotesque, itís never been released on DVD--until now. We can thank Shout Factory, who is releasing it as part of their ďVampires, Mummies, & MonstersĒ collection along with 3 other films. It seems to be the throwaway title of the bunch, as it receives no special features and an average (at best) presentation. The 4:3 transfer is a notch above VHS in quality and especially lacks detail, but the soundtrack fares much better, as everythingís loud and clear. Oddly enough, this release is part of the Roger Corman Cult Classics series even though the King of the Bs had nothing to do with it. Maybe heís retroactively claiming crappy movies to go along with the others in his oeuvre. At any rate, Grotesque lives up to its definition: ďa very ugly or comically distorted figure.Ē Thatís what Webster says, anyway. Rent it!

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