The Putterman’s are having a new satellite dish installed. Not just any satellite dish, mind you, this is the latest and greatest state-of-the-art piece of equipment requiring hours of painstaking installation and setup, not to mention a breadbox-sized remote full of buttons, dials and mini-satellites to operate. However, it turns out the hardware may be too advanced as it has managed to pick up an alien life form that had been converted to energy and blasted away from the planet Pluton as garbage. The creature has an insatiable appetite and begins to cause problems in the Putterman house, bouncing around room to room via TVs.
Another of Charles Band’s Empire Pictures’ better efforts, TerrorVision is a unique oddity, a movie so wrapped up in its own goofiness it almost feels like an impenetrable in-joke. Almost is the key word here, though. Fortunately, there’s so much rapid fire insanity, it’s unlikely one won’t get caught up in the fun of it all. Take the cast of characters for instance. You have mom and dad, Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel (Mary Woronov), who are hardcore swingers, their home decorated in pornographic artwork and sculptures and designed specifically to seduce other couples. Their daughter Suzy (’80s staple Diane Franklin) is a Cyndi Lauper-looking New Wave valley girl whose boyfriend O.D. (Jon Gries) is metal to the point that he air guitars at complete random. Son Sherman is a horror movie addict with a particular affinity for Medusa, an Elvira-inspired TV horror movie hostess with requisite improbable clevage. Finally, there is Grampa, ex-military goofball hard-ass who is still obsessed with weaponry and warfare tactics.
The cast of characters alone could make for an entertaining comedy, but TerrorVision is keen on throwing together this stew and then stirring things up wildly with the introduction of the alien. The creature itself is never actually scary, it’s gooey, latex-y, eyeball-y and huge but it always acts something like a loose pet (which, as it turns out, is pretty much what it is), eating people (who bleed bright colors instead of blood) and morphing parts of its body into their heads. Or something. The rules are flimsy and unimportant. What is important is that everyone appears to be having fun. The completely random, sometimes completely stupid (Gries’ performance simply cannot ever be recreated), nature of TerrorVision can easily be a turnoff for some. For others, though, it’s full of the sort of loud, silly, colorful, do-whatever-the-hell-we-want spirit that completely defines the ‘80s. The less said about the specific goings-on at the Puttermans, the better, there are strange surprises in the way the film progresses.
TerrorVision ends things on a great note. The final reel is where things are actually funny because they are well written; the kitchen sink scattershot approach is ditched for some real character-based humor when Medusa shows up at the Putterman’s house to help out with their little problem. The very last shot always intrigued me as a kid and it still feels a little bit haunting even while maintaining the film’s signature goofiness, but like all things TerrorVision it doesn’t really make much sense and seems to have been filmed just because they could, film and latex were leftover. There is complete madness (knowing madness) behind every frame of TerrrorVision and one either succumbs to it or is left behind like space junk.
A movie like TerrorVision is best enjoyed with a large crowd where a wave of shared psychosis can wash over everyone. Such was the case with Terror Tuesday’s super rare 35mm (as always) screening of the film. Uproarious laughter was consistent and those laughing with the film were indistinguishable from those laughing at the film. It matters little, everyone took a little piece of TerrorVision home with them that night (most likely in the form of an inoperable brain tumor).