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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.
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. But 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.
I’ll admit, I cracked up when the father changed the satellite to channel 69, blatantly repeating the number in front of the whole family as some porno flickers (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, 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, and if his directing here were better, maybe it’s fate would be different.
If you’re looking for something to laugh along to, this is an appropriate horror movie for the Halloween season. You, a group of friends, maybe drink every time a crude reference pops up? There’s one October night set! Just remember, you’re not going to be blown away, and if, like me, you dig on those themes, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Take it for what it’s worth: mindless, numbing entertainment. If you see any weird aliens talking through the screen at you, though, turn that TV off.
Popcorn. 1991. Directed by Mark Herrier. Screenplay by Alan Ormsby, from a story by Mitchell Smith.
Starring Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Elliott Hurst, Ivette Soler, Freddie Simpson, Kelly Jo Minter, Karen Lorre, Ray Walston, & Tony Roberts.
Movie Partners/Trans-Atlantic Pictures
Rated R. 91 minutes.
There are many critics who’ll say the 1990s were a bad era for the horror genre. This isn’t true, whatsoever. Only if you’re a snob. There were plenty of good to awesome horrors throughout the ’90s, not simply Scream knockoffs and lame attempts at carrying on the ’80s aesthetic.
Popcorn, the only feature film directed by Mark Herrier whom many will know as Billy from Porky’s, is a unique bit of horror, and not only because of the decade during which it arrived. There’s definitely still a leftover 80s style, though it isn’t forced, it’s entirely natural. Above all, the film’s metafiction and sense of intertextuality with other horror movies, the genre itself, really sells the entire deal thematically.
But it isn’t only writing, because beneath it is a slasher film. A young woman named Maggie (Jill Schoelen) begins discovering there’s more to her family than mom (Dee Wallace) has told her, involving a mysterious film and its director, a cult figure in the ’70s film community named Lanyard Gates. And throughout Maggie’s quest to discover the truth she faces all types of blood, ripped off faces, a homicidal all-night horrorthon, among other insanity.
“Come into my head“
From mentions of Ingmar Bergman to the merits of Police Academy – precursor to those excellent bits of dialogue in a film class during Scream 2 years later – it’s obvious the theme of this film is cinema itself. Of course that’s made even clearer with the all-night horror show the students at the high school intend on putting off. Plus, the discovery of Possessor, a (fake) long lost film reel leads us to the dark, eerie history of an avant-garde director with ties to the town, as well as Dee Wallace’s character and her daughter Maggie. Film, film, at every turn.
We’re also given the pleasure of watching films within the film, during the horrorthon the students throw. This is great metafiction, playing as intertextuality with other cinema; made all the better because they’re not actual films. Instead they’re extra short films directed by Alan Ormsby before he was fired, replaced by Herrier. Layers upon layers for what, on the exterior, appears as just another slasher.
The main focus of Popcorn is obsession, specifically centred on film. And in this sense, film is a view into the mind. Concepts that come involve faces, as in identity, and film characters versus real people. Lanyard Gates and his deadly obsession, the killer’s own obsession, blurs the line between fiction and reality. The film’s slasher aspect plays into these thematic ideas, as the new killer operates through use of masks. He goes from one face to the next, making masks out of his victims; this plays back to Leatherface and Tobe Hooper, also in a sense creating film characters out of the victims within their little universe inside the film.
Even the killer calls to mind these themes, reminding us that the past – knowledge of it, as in our knowledge of other movies in the genre – is necessary to us for the future.
“Without memory there can be no retribution“
On the other end of the spectrum, Popcorn is a delightfully nasty slasher at times without any symbolism or deep themes. It’s a revenge film, at its core. A man whose life was irreparably changed, shape by film using the cover of an all-night film showing for his various acts of revenge; a William Castle-type screening gone terribly wrong.
We get perhaps the genre’s most gruesome kiss, as a skin mask tears off the killer revealing his deformed face underneath. Truly, an all-time great horror moment, and certainly top of the ’90s! You’d have expected this to have been used in a Texas Chainsaw movie with Leatherface. A gnarly image, of the best kind.
There’s a sort of surreal mood at times, particularly earlier on. Actually, a scene with Dee Wallace doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me, yet it plays into the idea of fiction and reality blurring, so regardless it works. This helps to thrust us into the killer’s perspective, where horror crossed over from the screen into his life, scarring it and him forever. Aided by the killer speaking of his “soul” and “sustenance” as being his audience.
This leads us into the finale, an ironic sequence. A rear murder on stage, in place of a theatre screen, a precursor to the modern obsession with morbid videos, with the killer creating murderous reality in front of the audience rather than fiction while people cheer him on, not understanding it’s real. We get to a place where reality and fiction are indecipherable from one another; the theatre’s audience is the modern audience. It’s all one big surreal mix.
Popcorn finishes with dark irony. The killer is killed with a movie prop, a fake, flying insect which causes literal death, a smart end for the maniac. All the metafiction, the genre intertextuality rolls into one fitting death scene. Although the awful end credits rap is a bummer, just outright wretched garbage, this doesn’t take anything away from what followed.
It’s wild that this isn’t a more well known film. Lots of genre lovers have seen it, but it ought to be bigger. There’s a few missteps, a couple performances not up to par. Overall? A fun horror with equal amounts to think about and effects to enjoy. The bit of Dee Wallace we get, and Jill Schoelen, is fantastic, as usual.
This warrants a spot on any Halloween list or horror movie marathon. And what a title! Can’t be a coincidence. No matter what, you’ll find something to dig, whether it’s the killer’s face masks, the films within the film, the metafiction, the revenge; there’s plenty good stuff. Snatch up a copy this season.
MOTEL HELL is one horror's best satires, of other movies in the genre, as well as food, the industry surrounding it, and the people who eat it.
An underrated '80s horror, spooky fun mixed with some comedy & metafiction to boot.