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Entries in TerrorVision [1986] (1)

Friday
Mar092012

TerrorVision (1986)

My Pet Monster

I have no idea how people reacted to TerrorVision in 1986, but I suspect modern audiences will see it as an exercise in patience. From the establishing shot of the planet "Pluton"--which is so obviously a cheap, tabletop model that I expected the camera to pan up to a little boy building it--to the Pee Wee's Playhouse level of over-acting on the part of everyone involved, the film begs to be turned off. It's as if writer/director Ted Nicolaou sent a message to his unfortunate viewers, "No, it's okay. We made this thing [to pay off mob debts/fulfill a studio obligation/on a dare]; you don't actually have to sit through it."

Fortunately, my policy against cutting out on movies forced me to watch the whole, wacky mess. Despite its title and eerie poster, TerrorVision isn't strictly a horror film: it's more like an extended episode of HBO's Tales from the Crypt, crossed with the John Ritter movie, Stay Tuned. Throw in a bit of E.T., and there you have it.*

The film stars Diane Franklin and Chad Allen as siblings Suzy and Sherman Putterman. They live with their sex-obsessed parents and survivalist grandfather in a remote California compound. Suzy has a big date with her new, punk-rockin' boyfriend, O.D. (Jonathan Gries), and Sherman is preoccupied with the strange TV signals coming from the family's just-installed satellite dish. These transmissions turn out to be the digitized life-force of an escaped Plutonian monster who uses the power of television to seduce and devour its prey. Most anyone who encounters the creature has their brain sucked out,** reducing them to steaming piles of jelly.

I love that the film is neatly divided in two. The first half centers on Mom and Dad Putterman. Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel (Mary Woronov) want nothing more than to shoo their daughter out of the house and tuck Sherman away in the bomb shelter with Grampa (Bert Remsen) so they can swing with a sexy, new couple they met on the scene. Their youngest keeps getting in the way, with his stories of monsters and space rays, and Stanley can't stop bragging about his elaborate sex den to Spiro (Alejandro Rey), the Greek stud whom he thinks is interested in bedding his wife. The fact that Spiro is gay turns the first forty minutes of TerrorVision into the kind of Misunderstanding Sitcom that defined the 80s.

I'd hoped against hope that the presence of spunky, adorable kids wouldn't mean the adults were doomed to die. But the parents and their party guests are disposed of in sufficiently dramatic fashion. My heart sank a bit, because Stanley and Raquel are the kind of wildly entertaining, obnoxious freaks that entire franchises are built on. The film quickly switches gears and becomes a kids-and-their-secret-monster story. O.D. and Suzy return home to find everyone melted except Sherman, and eventually come face-to-gruesome-face with the monster. They all but ignore the warnings of an English-speaking space alien to destroy all televisions and satellite receivers "for the next 200 years", and instead devise a scheme to get the monster on television and become rich.

The rest of the movie has to be seen to be believed, and I highly encourage you to do so. Sure, TerrorVision is a gaudy, pre-Joel-Schumacher Joel Schumacher spectacle of outrageous costumes, Bizarro-World lighting and sets, and acting that transports the viewer to an alternate universe where the word "subtlety" has yet to be invented. But what else can one expect from a piece of Me Generation exploitation co-produced by Charles "Evil Bong" Band?

If the movie doesn't give you an aneurism, you'll probably fall in love with it--especially the ending, which is a jaw-dropping bit of nastiness that I didn't expect. I may not care for Nicolaou's sensibilities as a dialogue writer, but he's true to the story's premise and doesn't fudge on seeing it through to the only sensible conclusion. This and John Carl Buechler's disgusting yet quaint practical monster effects make TerrorVision a minor masterpiece of forgotten cinema.

Yeah, that's a pretentious thing to say; an impossible standard for most films to live up to. But what the hell? I've seen maybe three films as strange as this one. I don't mean movies that are deliberately bizarre, but those whose very existence is a puzzle that I'm not sure I want solved. TerrorVision is a hodgepodge of genres, tones, acting styles, and messages that bounce off each other like errant TV signals. They re-assemble on the screen, but are further fractured upon transmission to the human brain. If that's not a screaming-from-the-mountaintops endorsement, I don't know what is.

*If E.T. were a homicidal mutant.

**Strangely, there's very little gore in this "R"-rated movie; most of the eviscerations involve green goo instead of red blood.