I think at my age it is now safe to say that, despite the warnings of many supposedly learned adults of the 1970’s, television did not rot my brain. I grew up in front of the TV, and I have no problem with that. When I was younger we only had three networks and a few UHF stations. It wasn’t until I was in high school that the wonder that is cable television came to my town. Of course, some people thought that cable brought all sorts of new evils into American households. Well, in our movie today, we get an intergalactic evil invading a home through the satellite dish…it’s 1986’s Terrorvision.
The film centers on the Putterman family. Dad (Gerrit Graham) has just gotten a new do-it-yourself satellite dish and is struggling to assemble it. His wife (Mary Woronov) is anxious to watch her workout shows, daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin) wants her MTV, while Grandpa (Bert Remsen) and little Sherman (Chad Allen) just want to watch old monster movies. Finally, Dad gets the system working, so Grandpa and Sherman settle in to watch a creature feature while Suzy goes out with her boyfriend, O.D. (Jon Gries), and Mom and Dad go out to “swing.” Yep, they’re swingers.
Before long, the boys start to see strange images of a creature on the TV. Next thing we know, the thing is zapped out of the set and appears in the living room. It doesn’t take long for Grandpa to be consumed by the creature, but when Mom and Dad return with a couple of other swingers, nobody believes Sherman’s story about a monster. Especially since the creature can transform its appendages to resemble the form of anyone it’s consumed. So Grandpa seems alive and well…a bit slimey but otherwise fine. Of course, eventually Mom, Dad, and the other swingers end up mutant chow as well.
Once Suzy and O.D. return, they discover the monster, as well. At first, they actually manage to befriend the beast. Another message on the TV, however, reveals that the creature has escaped from an intergalactic extermination facility through the electronic signals received by the dish. When the beast sees the alien on this message, it goes back to its destructive ways. Now it’s up to the kids to destroy the creature before it ravages the human race.
Terrorvision was produced by Charles Band, who is known for his B-level horror movies of the 80’s and 90’s…including the Puppet Master series. Clearly, this film was intended be a bit more of a horror comedy, though I’d actually say that the horror works much better than the comedy does. To start with, the creature is absolutely disgusting. It’s a humongous mass of a creature with tentacles, a lobster claw for one hand, and a third eye that flops around on a somewhat phallic outgrowth. Not to mention the fact that the thing oozes puss the whole time. This cuddly guy also causes a few gruesome deaths that, while not bloody, do involve enough green slime to make the Nickelodeon network jealous. It’s not necessarily all that scary, and there isn’t any real suspense, but those who like their horror flicks gooey and gross will be pleased.
Where the film really struggles is with its weak attempts at comedy. The big offender here is Gerrit Graham, whose performance is so extreme that a more subtle approach would’ve been to hang a blinking sign with the world LAUGH on it on his chest. We already know that the film is not supposed to be taken seriously, so if he could’ve just dialed it back a bit the performance could’ve worked. In fairness, though, most of the cast is a bit over-the-top. Even Diane Franklin, who was so lovable as the foreign exchange student in Better of Dead, is a bit cartoonish in her approach. Even so, I still found her likable…even with the bizarre hair and makeup. The only person who seems to be playing it straight is Mary Woronov. As a veteran of many Roger Corman productions, Woronov knows how to carefully balance the silly and serious. Had the director and the rest of the cast taken their cues from her then they may have managed to find the right tone for this film.
On the plus side, the film does have a good flow to it. It doesn’t waste time and hits us with the monster action pretty quickly. There is a section of the story that is really out-of-place, though. There’s about a ten or fifteen minute sequence where Sherman, Suzy, and O.D. befriend the creature. They feed it some yummies from the kitchen, get it watching TV, and even start teaching it to speak. I can only imagine that the filmmakers saw this as a parody of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Problem is it’s just so dumb.
Terrorvision is probably a film that you really need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy. If you’re looking for scares, this isn’t the film for you. However, if you like horror films that ooze strange green liquids, and which don’t take themselves too seriously, then Terrorvision may be your idea of must-see-tv.