Tuesday, April 9, 2013

TERRORVISION

Director: Ted Nicolaou (USA, 1986)

Written and directed by Ted Nicolaou for Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, TerrorVision has always been one of my favourite low-budget genre films from the 1980s, a garishly lurid comic book come to life which satirises virtually everything that was prominent in the disposable pop culture canvas of that decade – satellite television, the aerobics fitness craze, valley girls, MTV, swinging suburbia, new wave, heavy metal, military survivalists and ostentatious interior decorating.

The Puttermans are the ultimate caricature of grotesque eighties suburbia. Mom and dad Raquel and Stanley (Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham) are would-be swingers wanting to spice up their love lives while trying to deal with their highly dysfunctional family. Grampa (Burt Remsen) is a survivalist with an armoury of high-tech weapons at his disposal should enemy troops suddenly appear on his doorstep. Young son Sherman (Chad Allen) plays war games with Grampa and is prone to fits (a typical 80s Prozac child), while teenage daughter Suzie (Diane Franklin) is a hyper Cyndi Lauper wannabe and probably the most (relatively) normal member of the family.

Thrown into this oddball mix is Suzie’s metal head stoner boyfriend O.D. (Jon Gries), swinging couple Spiro and Cherry (Alejandro Rey and Randi Brooks) whom Stanley and Raquel bring home for a bit of fun in the Olympic-sized Jacuzzi, and a buxom but obnoxious TV horror hostess named Medusa (played by Jennifer Richards in an obvious spin on Cassandra Peterson’s Elvira character). Oh, I should also mention the big ugly blob of an alien monster that has been banished from the planet Pluto via some strange intergalactic beam which is intercepted by Stanley’s temperamental new satellite dish, causing the monster to intermittently materialise inside the Putterman’s house, chewing on the residents and guests and leaving them a puddle of gooey gelatin.

Like many of the low-budget AIP monster movies of the 1950s,TerrorVision was initially conceived as a piece of poster art, around which Nicolaou was given free reign to write a screenplay, opting to deliver a surreal, goofy comedy satire that works so well primarily because of its larger than life characters, all of which are brought to cartoonish life by the wonderful ensemble of actors. Particularly entertaining to watch are Diane Franklin and Jon Gries, who really disappear into their roles and create a terrific onscreen chemistry, as do Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham. Former Flying Nun star Alejandro Rey is also amusing as the sleazy but cheerful Greek swinger Spiro, whose eyes are set not on Raquel but on "manly man" Stanley (Rey would die of lung cancer not long after the film’s release, at the young age of 57).

Filmed in Italy at the old Dino De Laurentis studios, TerrorVision also boasts memorable production design by Giovanni Natalucci, a tacky mixture of Playboy mansion and art deco from Hell, which compounds the alternate reality of the film and creates the perfect playhouse for these exaggerated characters to run amok in. The ludicrous monster, built by eighties effects maestro John Carl Buechler is also an inspired creation, funny and repulsive and with its own sense of personality and character. The film additionally benefits from a cool new wave-tinged soundtrack (from Richard Band) and theme song by the Fibonaccis (in the making-of featurette, director Nicolaou talks about screening a rough cut of the film to both Frank Zappa and Lux Interior of the Cramps, in hopes of getting them to do the soundtrack. Unfortunately, they both passed the opportunity up for different reasons).

Shout! Factory’s BluRay/DVD combo pack of TerrorVision (where it is paired with Robert Scott’s 1987 low-budgeter The Video Dead) is beautifully presented, the stunning transfer really bringing the vibrant, pulsating colours to life like never before. Extras include a fun and entertaining audio commentary with director Ted Nicolaou and stars Diane Franklin and Jon Gries, and a nice 38 minute making-of featurette that contains some great behind-the-scenes photos and interviews with various members of the cast and crew.

 
Review Copyright John Harrison 2013