Diane Franklin will be appearing at this October’s Chiller Theatre. Phil reviews her film TERRORVISION, which falls into the In Its Own Universe category of flicks. Enjoy it on Netflix Instant.
In my old age, I’m growing to like flicks that exist in their own universe. Take MEGA SHARK vs. GIANT OCTOPUS. It lives completely outside the realm of all logic, establishing its own set of outlandish rules that apply only within itself. It relishes in being an outsider, and I respect its maverick spirit, After all, it takes fortitude to sidestep the cookie cutter in Hollywood. Another In Its Own Universe flick that is just as out there but quite a bit better is Ted Nicolaou’s TERRORVISION; a concoction of 1950s programmer and 1980s MTV sensibility stirred by an alien who enters our world through a satellite dish. See what I mean?
TERRORVISION starts off on Planet Pluton, at a mutant disposal facility. One of the mutants escapes, and ping pongs off some planets before it find Earth, where we meet the Puttermans. As Stanely putters with his new satellite, wife Raquel does aerobics; rocker daughter Suzy prepares for her date with O.D.; military man Grampa eats lizard tails while Suzy’s little brother Sherman, a soldier-in-training, gets the drop on the old man. As Stanley and Raquel prepare to go out swinging, Grampa fidgets with the control and the TV lands on “Medusa’s Midnight Breastathon” –make that Horrorthon. When Grampa and Sherman fall asleep watching the set, a fleshy alien with lots of appendages and teeth comes out of the television, and things go insane for the rest of the film.
That plot crunch only scratches the surface. There’s also head eating, green blood, alien imitation of people, a bomb shelter, a second swinging couple, an indoor pool with lights and jet streams, a horror host with one of the biggest chests I’ve ever seen on a woman and an even bigger Jersey accent, and a video from metal band W.A.S.P. Grampa mistakes the alien for a burglar, Stanley and Raquel mistake one of the swingers for a heterosexual, and O.D. mistakes a monster with a lot of teeth for a friend. There’s high hair, low art, and a creature design by John Carl Buechler. And there’s the large satellite dish in the backyard, a sign of high tech in the 80s.
Atmosphere is one of the key elements in any horror flick, and here it’s absolutely zany. The set design is where it all begins. The Puttermans’ home is a dedication to Reaganism gone wild, with the pool, the dish, and even the bomb shelter. By their ownership of these things, the Puttermans should be the ultimate 80s family, keeping up with the Joneses and such. Their house is sprawling, with a nice backyard for barbecues and alien invasion.
And then I looked at the artwork hung all over the house. It’s all art deco stuff that focuses on naked women and sex. Nipples protrude on every wall, in paintings that would fit more in a bachelor’s den than a family home. Raging consumerism perverts purity, and meets perversion head on. Brilliant.
The character types also sell the 80s culture. Grampa and Sherman represent the rampant militarism in our defense against the Soviet “aliens.” Suzy and O.D. are byproducts of the MTV generation. Stanley and Raquel are holdovers from the swinging 70s, and fit oddly into the decade. Medusa the horror host sells sex and violence with her ample cleavage and tangled snakes on her head. Even the alien is an 80s archetype; all he wants to do is to consume all he can. Ain’t that America? But it’s like Nicolaou found these characters in the Generic Stereotype Generator, and then warped them far out of whack. In a John Hughes movie, these would have been caricatures. In a Ted Nicolaou movie, they’re all distinctly insane. Just look at the alien, who’s asymmetrical in places, a goofy beast from another world. In a straight horror flick, all those teeth would have elicited terror; here, Buechler’s design and Nicolaou’s direction play the thing for laughs.
But let’s face it: this flick really belongs in the 1950s, because it’s got the sensibilities of a programmer. I gather Nicolaou intended this, because he includes clips from actual 50s programmers. When I’m watching a TV set in this flick and the gorilla with the TV head from ROBOT MONSTER comes on my screen, I’m fully aware of TERRORVISION’s purpose.
The one thing that really sells TERRORVISION is that every actor buys in. Bert Remsen as Grampa, and Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov as Stanley and Raquel are old pros who play the material to sweet perfection, with a psycho enthusiasm. The younger actors match them note for note; Chad Allen as Sherman and Diane Franklin as Suzy understand the verve this flick needed, and they provide it in spades. None of the performers look down on the material, which is good. Had they, it would have ruined the vibe Nicolau was going for.
Not everything works. There’s an ill fitting sequence toward the end where the Putterman kids and O.D. try to domesticate the alien by getting him into heavy metal and TV dinners. I’m also not thrilled with the flat performance by John Gries as O.D., but it doesn’t kill things. And the last scene of the film takes the prominence off the Puttermans, who I followed the whole film, placing it on a minor character. Mostly, I wish I would have gotten more of Diane Franklin. After the film introduces her briefly in the opening act, she disappears on her date until it’s more than halfway over. She’s pitch perfect in spoofing an 80s Valley girl; and she was so good in BETTER OFF DEAD. More of her here would have enhanced events.
I feel compelled to note that this is the second film I’ve reviewed for DE off Netflix Instant which involved a monster coming out of a television program. The other was THE VIDEO DEAD, which is also an In Its Own Universe flick. That universe sucked. If you’re choosing between the two, go with TERRORVISION. A suggestion the movie’s abbreviated title itself suggests, TV.
TERRORVISION is certainly not for everybody. But if you’re like me, and enjoy a good IIOU flick, you should take a trip into its universe. You just need to turn on your TV.