TerrorVision. 1986. Directed & Written by Ted Nicolaou.
Starring Diane Franklin, Gerrit Graham, Mary Woronov, Chad Allen, Jon Gries, Bert Remsen, Alejandro Rey, Jennifer Richards, Randi Brooks, Sonny Carl Davis, Ian PAtrick Williams, & William Paulson.
Empire Pictures / Altair Productions / Lexyn Productions
Rated R / 83 minutes.
Comedy / Horror / Sci-Fi
It’s ultra disappointing when a horror movie feels geared towards something bigger than the sum of its parts, because there’s a sense of loss— that you could’ve gotten more, and it might’ve been awesome. Plenty of movies, of any genre, end up that way. They’re lost in their ideas, muddled in a less than competent screenplay, then often actors giving sub-par performances can truly put the nail in the coffin of even halfway decent writing.
TerrorVision has a fun concept, centred on a family who’ve recently installed a new satellite system, so they can enjoy new programs, from fitness to MTV to all the dirty movies they can fathom. Instead of that they get a hungry space monster, yearning for tasty humans to gobble.
In an age where technology was beginning to skyrocket at an unbelievable pace, like never before and in wildly new directions, this movie holds so much more than it gives us, unable to allow it to flow correctly. It’s fun enough for a group of friends to put on and laugh along with, sadly it’s more disappointing than it is enjoyable when all’s said and done. I’ll forever curse it for not expanding on its exciting themes, not even giving us top notch horror, or comedy, or anything it’s aiming to accomplish.
Can’t get enough of the awesomely weird opening scene, a science fiction start on a distant planet before we get a glimpse of a satellite signal bounce around space— one that’ll surely cause shit on planet Earth. Immediately then, Earth. Including the uber-80s clothing, the hair, the workout program fad the wife is into, an MTV-loving daughter, conspiracy theorist grandpa an artefact of the ’70s lingering. The family consists of a less likeable human cast of The Simpsons, a quintessentially media obsessed American household.
Satellite, the new technology of the age, is used as a thematic device for the unknown, as if their signals reaching into outer space were inviting extraterrestrials and creatures from other dimensions not only to our planet, but directly into our individual homes. Sort of a horror movie allegory about an era of new technology in terms of national security, only rather than the Russians as the baddies, it’s alien lifeforms crawling right into the U.S. citizen’s living room.
Likewise, there’s a whole commentary on television and technology, in which aliens are literally coming out of the TV set through the satellite, devouring people. Just as the programs on television devour brain cells, at least supposedly, if you ask an old guy like grandpa who’s still waiting for the Viet Cong to knock down his door. This feels specifically ’80s, satirising the whole concept and making fun of peoples fears, decades ago, of new media rotting the brain of the youth, of everybody. Today, it’s smartphones, computers— then, it was TV, the boob tube (a sexist nickname for TV that fits right in with TerrorVision). Satellite must’ve felt akin to a figurative bomb dropped on the collective societal consciousness for some folks.
Ultimately, none of these big themes develop any further than these initial thoughts. It’s all cheese, cheese, wrapped in more cheese. Some is good, in that so-bad-it’s-good-type of horror way. But lots of it is plain bad. This would’ve been a brutal, great satire if it weren’t so intent on being as sleazy and gross in the wrong ways. Beneath the shit are relevant themes, even today, not put to proper use, wasted on a near slapstick horror-comedy. Fun now and then. Mostly the bad cheese, lame acting, and more ’80s catchphrases than you could ever anticipate in a million years.
Definitely a crack-up when the father changes the satellite to channel 69, blatantly repeating the number in front of the whole family as porno flickers on the screen (after all they’re a swinger couple). And the greasy alien monster effects are campy, with a glee that’s admirable. To think, they almost had Frank Zappa scoring this, which definitely makes odd sense— better off he didn’t, after seeing the final product.
Just so unhappy with the fact this had huge potential, winding up totally lost.
There’d be further things to discuss about TerrorVision had it played out its themes to a deeper extent. And even if not, the horror— or the comedy— was also capable of lifting this out of mediocrity. Truthfully, it isn’t even exactly mediocre, either. This is close to forgettable, if it weren’t for the first scene, and the alien monster with its creepy eyes.
If you want something solid out of director-writer Ted Nicolaou, check out Ragewar or the unique Subspecies for his better work. He’s good. This film isn’t an example of his talents, though you can admire where he was heading in his screenplay. Unfortunately it didn’t translate to the screen.
If you’re looking for something to laugh along to, this is an appropriate horror movie for the Halloween season, or any time of year when you need something campy to watch. You, a group of friends, maybe drink every time a crude reference pops up?
You’re not going to be blown away, and if you dig on the potential themes, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Take it for what it’s worth: mindless entertainment. But if you see any weird aliens looking through the screen at you, turn that TV off.