TERRORVISION: Transmission From The Bizarro Dimension

Genre fans will debate the merits of his genre-film mill but Charles Band must be given credit for at least one thing: he isn’t afraid to take a gamble on a wacky idea.  During his 1980’s glory days with Empire Pictures, he produced several films with all manner of offbeat premises: Trancers, Re-Animator and Troll are just a few of the sincerely strange films that rolled out of that company during this time.  However, Band set a tough-to-top benchmark for willful weirdness when he pulled the trigger on Terrorvision.  This gleefully eccentric blend of sci-fi, camp and satire could be the strangest thing he ever lent his name to.

Terrorvision revolves around the home of the Puttermans, a family of all-American suburbanite whack-jobs.  Dad Stanley (Gerrit Graham) is obsessed with gadgets, particularly television, and is a proud swinger along with mom Raquel (Mary Woronov).  Young son Sherman (Chad Allen) is left to his own devices and spends much of his time with survivalism-obsessed Grampa (Bert Remsen), who has taught the boy to be obsessed with the military.  Meanwhile, teen daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin) indulges her love of new wave style and dates perpetually air-guitaring metalhead O.D. (Jonathan Gries).

However, trouble in paradise rears its extraterrestrial head when Stanley’s new satellite dish receives the wrong transmission.  It seems that an alien trash-disposal facility has accidentally beamed a hungry, slimy monster right into their satellite’s feed.  The facility tries to warn the family but they misinterpret the warnings as some old b-movie.  In short order, their lives become a bizarro-world version of E.T. as they slowly become aware that their home has been invaded via cathode rays – and said alien begins picking off their ranks.

To put it mildly, Terrorvision is acquired taste – even if you’re already a b-movie veteran.  Writer/director Ted Nicolaou goes for an odd brand of comedy where sight gags and verbal humor are forsaken in favor of free-form weirdness that fixates on grotesquerie of both the human and alien varieties.  Nicolaou also directs his (admittedly amazing) cast in a relentlessly high-key style that ensures all line deliveries and reactions are over the top from the very beginning.  This  choice doesn’t give him anywhere to go in terms of building energy and guarantees the movie will wear on your nerves if you aren’t in the precise mood for it.

However, if you can stick with its confrontationally oddball approach, Terrorvision can be a strangely hypnotic experience.  The film’s mix of John Waters-ish outrageousness (think Polyester) with kitschy, ’50s-derived science fiction elements is a one-of-a-kind proposition and a dream cast of cult movie actors gives it their all: Graham and Woronov are particularly inspired and make an excellent team.  It also helps that the film is gorgeous to look at: Giovanni Natalucci’s candy-colored production design is eye-popping, particularly the sleaze-chic design of the Putterman home, and the elegant cinematography from Empire regular Mac Ahlberg captures its contours in high style.

In short, Terrorvision is an experiment that doesn’t entirely work but its otherworldly mixture of camp and b-movie elements is so outlandish that it remains interesting viewing for cult movie aficionados.  Anyone amused by Charles Band’s work during his Empire era should check it out – even at his genre-bending weirdest, he seldom let his filmmakers go this far off the beaten path.

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