Tuesday, November 6, 2012

TerrorVision (1986)

Written by: Ted Nicolaou
Directed by: Ted Nicolaou
Starring: Diane Franklin, Mary Woronov, Gerrit Graham

Watching a movie that has attained cult status – no matter how minor that cult may be – years after the fact is always a bit of a dodgy proposition. Even if you haven't personally had anyone rave about it to you, just being aware that people hold it in high regard can't help but raise your expectations some. The best you can do is remember the people in any given b-movie's cult have probably loved it since they first saw it as a kid, and when seen in that light, I can see how this flick has a following. Had I caught it on the Sci-Fi Channel back when my parents first got their satellite dish and the channel's name was still spelled in a way that didn't insult their audience's intelligence, or watched it during one of our all-night movie marathons in high school, it would probably be regarded as a minor classic around these parts too. As it is, I want to like the movie but it just falls flat.

A distant alien planet has developed an extremely green alternative to landfills – they digitize their waste and zap it off into space. Unfortunately for the Puttermans, their brand new state-of-the-art satellite dish is pointed in just the right direction to catch one of these signals, and this particular signal just happens to contain a ravenous mutant hellbeast that now has the ability to jump out of the screen of any active television.

Mr. and Mrs. Putterman head off to meet another couple for a night of swinging, leaving their son Sherman home with his crazy grandfather, an ex-soldier who is obsessed with lizard tails as a renewable food source. The slimy creature begins to interrupt the signal of the local horror host, Medusa (and judging by the sets and her costume, her show is budgeted a good deal higher than Midwest horror show icon Svengoolie), but the pair just think it's part of one of the monster movies she's showing. Well, until it pops out of the TV and eats Grandpa, anyway. About that time the Puttermans come home with their playmates, and Sherman is sent to bed under threat of medication if he keeps on about the monster that ate Grandpa. Before long, all the adults in the house have been consumed, and when sister Suzy and her boyfriend OD (this couple are one of those examples of how people outside the burgeoning punk and metal subcultures not only didn't have any idea how their members behaved, but even that they were two completely different groups) get home an attempt to tame the monster turns to disaster.

The alien waste disposal specialist, whose broadcast pleas for the Earth to turn off all its TVs for the next couple of centuries til the creature starves to death have gone ignored, arrives to explain that the creature is a Hungry Beast, a pet on his home planet. They're very friendly, but prone to random catastrophic mutations that turn them into one-monster locust plagues capable of devastating an entire planet. He's about to recapture the creature when Medusa arrives in response to a phone call Sherman made asking for her help. Unfortunately, she bashes the wrong alien over the head and no one can figure out how to work the alien's laser pistol, the only weapon on the planet capable of hurting the Hungry Beast. Oops.

TerrorVision was written and directed by Ted Nicolaou, one of Charles Band's most prolific Full Moon Pictures directors. It reminds me a lot of a later flick he made called Bad Channels, and indeed the two could be seen as companion pieces. In that one, the evil alien used radio waves instead of TV signals, but the idea is basically the same; watchable but ultimately unremarkable sci-fi comedies that seem like they should be a lot better than they are. At least Bad Channels had one really memorable song on the soundtrack in Sykotik Sinfoney's “Manic Depresso”.

I'm surprised by the R rating, because with the exception of a few instances of cursing there's nothing a younger audience couldn't see here. I can almost hear you thinking, Didn't you say the parents engaged in swinging? They do, yes, but there's no nudity, and while adult viewers would know what was going on, younger viewers would be led by the lack of nudity or indeed almost any kind of physical contact to believe swinging was nothing more than a dip in a swimming pool and taking a weird nap all in the same bed. Or they would if the internet didn't mean that 10-year-olds already know what donkey shows and Cleveland steamers are these days. And the monster's attacks are, if not exactly played for laughs, extremely cartoonish and very slimy but otherwise bloodless.

The movie's dysfunctional family and broad hints at teen drug use and unusual sexual practices make the whole thing feel like it should be a whole lot sleazier than it is, and it would definitely have been more entertaining if the sleaze had been the driving force, like John Waters and Frank Hennenlotter doing the Home Alone remake from hell. But there's no sense of Nicolaou wanting to go that route only to be reined in by the Band family. I think this flick is exactly the vision the filmmaker saw in his head, and that's cool. It's just not funny enough to make up for not being nearly upsetting enough either.


  1. I agree with you completely about this one. Honestly, I don't see the appeal. It's never as funny as it thinks it is (unless mugging actors counts as comedy), and it's surprisingly tame, considering the subject matter. Excellent review.

  2. The Sykotik Sinfoney full album is finally available. You can order it online. It's not bad. Reminds me of super-early Mr. Bungle.

  3. Thanks for the compliment Barry. And I agree, they definitely sound like self-titled album era Bungle. "Manic Depresso" not quite so much, but they have one other song on the Bad Channels soundtrack that wears its influence on its sleeve...or sheet music...whatever.

  4. That would be Mr. Cool. There's some other good songs on their album. I just can't believe it took so long for it to finally be released. As soon as Bad Channels came out, I started searching. That was how freaking long ago? Sheesh. BTW, nice to see you, again. Not sure if you remember me being on the Tomb, as well. Those were good times, until my life got too crazy to do any half-way decent work.

  5. Did you post on the Tomb under a different name? I remember there being a few semi-regular writers in addition to the boss, myself, Nix and Fistula. I remember going to the record store and searching in vain for Sykotik Sinfoney several times after seeing Bad Channels on Sci Fi. I finally tracked down a copy of the movie soundtrack, which aside from the Sykotik tracks is uniformly awful. It's really odd that their album would get released two decades after anyone but people who remember that movie would possibly care.

  6. I was Nix. I believe we're friends on Facebook, sir. NixEclips? Anyway, Blue Oyster Cult's soundtrack was interesting, but the other songs were, yes, terrible. I can't remember the site to order the full disc from, but SS used to perform live long before that movie came out. You can find some live stuff on YouTube.

  7. Ah. It didn't occur to me to just do the obvious thing and click the name. Because then I would have not looked like a moron.

  8. Dude, I kept asking my wife who the hell you were. I finally put it all together (the Cinemasochist thing helped) and here we are. I've tried to contact Anubis, but no luck. Keep the fire going. I hope to, as well. Perhaps we could do some unknown project, together. Hit me on FB.