Next To Food And Music, This Is Mankind's Greatest Invention: TerrorVision (1986)

I have become rather enthralled with discovering some of the real classics of 80's genre film, encountering the very obvious classics and affirming their place in my own adoring film cannon, making specific space for things like The Fly and An American Werewolf in London.  In other situations I have come to discover a film out of sheer curiosity and he result is nothing short of a revelation, the most notable example of this was the wonderfully zany Earth Girls Are Easy, and were it not for my viewing of TerrorVision last night I would have labeled it the most underrated film of the decade.  TerrorVision, made aware to me by a fellow cinephile with excellent tastes, is everything somebody could hope for in the genre comedy, although this one in particular takes the act of satire to an inconceivable level, committing to making everything a scathing critique of that specific moment in American culture.  Full of zealous acting, one of the most ambitious set designs ever conceived and enough goo and gore to make its rating understandable, despite shying away from any consistent use of profanity.  One cannot deny the film having a dated look, but where this is usually the death of a genre picture, TerrorVision becomes a wonderful time capsule of a singular moment in society, where everything could be this wildly absurd without in turn becoming an indictment of the blind depression existing within the dysfunctional suburban family.  Indeed, more contemporary works, including American Beauty which grows more underwhelming with each year detached from its release, pale in comparison to something like TerrorVision, despite having a higher budget and a more purposeful critique.  TerrorVision goes big and does so with a degree of earnestness and surprising finesse as to suggest the work of a seasoned filmmaker, yet it was released by little known filmmaker Ted Nicolaou who would go on to have a rather underwhelming career, seemingly predicated upon the critical and box office failure of this film.  I am hoping that I can help with my limited breadth of readers to revitalize this lost classic, if not for the genuine genius at play in the film itself, then for the the theme song which is a god damn revelation.

The narrative of TerrorVision centers on the "normal" American family of the Putterman's who are lead by their pseudo-tech savvy and hyper-expressive father Stanley (Garrit Graham), as well as the surprisingly authoritative health fanatic mother Raquel (Mary Woronov).  Their children the post-punk valley girl Suzy (Diane Franklin) and the militaristically inclined Sherman (Chad Allen) are headaches in their own right, apparently existing only to interfere with their parents desire to be swingers, hoping to bring people back to engage in various forms of debauchery in their aptly named Pleasuredome/house/room, complete with a jacuzzi and satellite television.  Alongside this is Grampa (Burt Remsen) a conspiracy theorist who sees the world coming to an end rather soon, blaming much of this on the attachment to television on the part of the youth.  The entire family, however, is decidedly engaged with what comes out of their satellite, a Do-It-Yourself 100 model, which after a few technical flaws proves quite a nice piece of machinery, even picking up a midnight horror show with the comically busty Medusa (Jennifer Richards). Yet when Stanley and Raquel leave to find some swingers things take a weird turn, as the satellite begins picking up an unusual feed of a tentacled monster that simply stares at the screen, as well as another feed of an alien warning about the dangers of satellites and creatures attacking.  Confused as to the "boring" nature of the film, the family members ignore its existence, only to have the monster move out of the screen and into the Putterman's home/pleasure palace, attacking Grampa first and then consuming the other members of the family.  It would appear for a considerable amount of time that Sherman, Suzy and Suzy's boyfriend O.D. (Jon Gries) might be capable of overtaking the creature, tricking it into believing it is a pet and not a hungry space monster.  However, when they accidentally startle it back into anger via a cop arriving to chastise Sherman, the creature goes into full consume mode.  The alien sending the warning arrives via the television, providing a last hope at saving the day, yet when Medusa arrives in hopes of partying at the Putterman house, her instant reaction to the martian results in his death and a certain failure to slay the Hungry Monster, suggesting in the closing moments that his consumption will expand well beyond the space of the Putterman house.

In the equally delightful making of documentary that comes along with TerrorVision, one gets the sense that Nicolaou had the desire to make a film that was wholly in the vein of absurdism.  To a degree this is exactly the product that viewers receive, however, I would posit that under the pretense of complete absurdity lies a rather well-executed and pointed critique of mass media culture that, at times, becomes rather prescient, if not outwardly prophetic.  The film seems to revel in the possibilities of television to serve as a form of mass communication that extends well beyond the space of a home, city or even global space tapping into the farthest depths of the universe.  Whereas, the gore cinema revelation that is Videodrome revels in the possibilities of pirate television, TerrorVision suggests a reality of intergalactic discovery through the same technology.  Considering recent advances in technology and a reality where a robot can navigate Mars while sending back footage with relative quickness, the science fiction idealism of this film become a truth.  This is not where it becomes interesting to look at TerrorVision, however, because Nicolaou does not stop there.  He suggests that the very way in which capitalism and individualism have infested the American psyche results in such high degrees of self-involvement that any hope of appreciation for the scope of communication available is ignored in favor of tunnel vision for personal interests.  Indeed, this is where I find TerrorVision to be tapping into something brilliant, perhaps by accident.  In a more contemporary setting communication has become a tool used with a degree of instantaneous fervor, helping to spark revolutions, or instantly identify terrorist attacks, it is a inconceivably profound tool that when used properly can make for exceptional communication and information dispersement.  Small bits of dialogue within TerrorVision, however, remind viewers that these extensions in communication are merely used to further close off one's idea of the world, whether it be Suzy's love of MTV or Raquel's desire to only watch fitness videos, the collective issue of a destructive alien invasion is overlooked in favor of individualized personal desires. Nobody wants to watch the same thing, but they collectively want to ignore what is important.  While TerrorVision is, undoubtedly, about television and its affects of the familial structure, it manages to remain as pertinent as ever in considering how a society uses technology in a consuming manner, rarely considering how the world outside of the visual space can and is affected by what is portrayed. TerrorVision is definitely meta in its composition, it is a matter of how many layers it goes that proves worthy of consideration.

Key Scene:  There are so many.  The jacuzzi attack sequence and the feeding of The Hungry Monster are two highlights, also it is worth reminding readers about the theme song.

Scream! Factory a subsidiary of Shout! Factory has managed to save this film from literal obscurity, meaning that for thirteen years it went without a formatted release, and their bluray makes the stylized and intricate details of this film pop in new ways, most noticeably in the bizarre art adorning the walls of the "pleasure dome."  Also if you missed it this film features a young Uncle Rico of Napoleon Dynamite fame.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Travis
    Thanks for the very thoughtful review. It's supremely satisfying to see Terrorvision continue to find its audience.
    Ted Nicolaou