Television will rot your mind, reduce you to a puddle of goo, and then destroy the world.
TerrorVision: Is it horror or science-fiction? Why not a little bit of both with a hefty helping of absurd comedy thrown in for good measure.
The trailer for this film is quirky. An average American family (from the 80s) adopts an alien pet that, as the narrator says, begins to eat them out of house and home. So many questions arise from the trailer that it definitely intrigues. Surprisingly there are also many shots of the monsters in the film as well–which is an interesting choice for a trailer. Let’s see what’s on the TerrorVision.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
A signal from the Mutant Creature Disposal Unit on Planet Pluton bounces off a number of planets and into the satellite dish of the Puttermans home in Malibu, California. Stan (Gerrit Graham) has some difficulty setting up his new satellite dish, but manages to get a signal. His house is a large mansion with a design mix of Roman Revival and mid-70s swinger, with a bomb shelter which houses Grampa (Bert Remsen), a survival enthusiast. His wife Raquel (Mary Woronov) enjoys watching exercise shows, while daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin) is more into music videos. Young son Sherman (Chad Allen) watches monster and war movies with Grampa.
Suzy goes out on a date with OD (Jon Gries), a leather clad metalhead, while Mr. & Mrs. P. head out to meet some swingers they met through a classified ad. Grampa and Sherman watch a monster film on Medusa’s Midnight Horrorthon, a TV show hosted by a woman dressed up like a sexy version of the Greek monster (Jennifer Richards). Norton (Sonny Carl Davis), who sold the satellite dish to Stan, comes by to check on the installation when a monstrous creature appears out of the TV screen behind and eats him.
Grandpa and Sherman have dozed off during the movie and the monster appears, eating Grampa also. Sherman escapes and calls the police but they do not believe him. Stan and Raquel return with Spiro and Cherry (Alejandro Rey & Randi Brooks), two swingers. Raquel tries to quell Sherman’s distress and locks him in the bomb shelter with what she believes to be Grampa, but is actually an appendage of the monster which has taken the form of her father.
As the parents ready for a fun evening with their new friends, the alien appears and kills each adult one at a time, once again leaving Sherman all alone. He uses some of the explosives Grampa keeps in his room to blow the metal hatch open. Suzy and OD return home, but neither believe Sherman’s story, especially when they open their parents door to see monstrous recreations of all four adults under the covers. OD turns on the television and the monster beams into the living room to attack them, but stops when it sees OD’s glove which reminds it of its original master.
They end up feeding the alien like a pet, telling it about Earth culture like music and junk food. They call Medusa in an attempt to get the monster on TV and make a lot of money from being the first people to have a real live alien. She doesn’t believe them either, but accepts an invitation to a party at their house. Officer Nutky (Ian Patrick Williams) shows up with a warrant for Sherman’s arrest (who has made multiple “prank” calls to the station). The monster goes wild, attacking and liquifying the policeman and then OD.
Suzy and Sherman try to electrocute the creature but to no avail. Suddenly a humanoid alien, Pluthar (William Paulson), pops out of the TV as well. He feels responsible for the “hungry beast” getting released and wants to help. At that moment Medusa shows up for the party and mistaking Pluthar for the alien Sherman called her about, kills him. The hungry beast then goes crazy and sucks Medusa, Sherman and Suzy into its mouth. The next morning “Medusa” (which is part Medusa and part Hungry Beast) returns to her car instructing her driver to return to the station.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, war stories and monster movies are educational. They’re survival orientated. They always neutralize the enemy in the end.” – Grampa
History in the Making
TerrorVision may not have been a direct to video release in 1986, but it sure has the feeling of one. The film was of that style that thrived in video stores in the late 80s and early 90s. In fact it may not surprise people to know that Charles Band, the producer behind the Empire Pictures and Full Moon Entertainment slate of films (like Ghoulies, Re-Animator, Puppet Master and Subspecies) and the director of the first two Trancers films was also one of the producers here. His films may not have worked well in theaters, but if you visited a video store in 1988 a large number of his films populated the Science-Fiction and Horror sections for certain.
The film was directed by Ted Nicolaou who had worked with Band before on the anthology film Dungeonmaster, which was sort of a cross between Dungeons & Dragons and TRON. His style here comes off a little bit like a sci-fi/horror version of John Waters, with the campy and kitschy art direction. TerrorVision also featured several cult actors that appeared in hundreds of roles in their career, like Woronov (one of her few appearances without Paul Bartel) and Graham who also appeared this same year in Chopping Mall (also with Woronov), another sci-fi/horror mashup. Diane Franklin also had a following from her appearances in The Last American Virgin and Better Off Dead, making her a good draw for the younger fans. The film creates a not-too-scary flick that is a perfect afternoon matinee type film, as well as a unique and interesting presentation which should hold most moviegoer’s attention.
As a science-fiction film, TerrorVision is not breaking any new ground. Except perhaps seeing a new side of intergalactic garbage elimination. It did however continue to explore the new avenues that were open to sci-fi films in the mid 80s. It presented a more tongue-in-cheek film where the threats were not too scary. Almost like an even lighter version of The Night of the Comet. While that film had created a scary sci-fi infused horror film, TerrorVision was more of a comedy that used science-fiction and horror elements within it. The limited locations and cheap special effects seem to be a hallmark of the B-movie elements that are emphasized in this film. The inclusion of such great bad-movies from the 50s, such as Robot Monster and The Giant Claw speak to the attitude and tone that director Nicolaou was going for.
The film did create a great monster, which was surprisingly shown a lot. It seems like the producers wanted to get their money’s worth by putting the Hungry Beast on camera as much as possible. Which, as soon as the audience realizes that it’s basically an intergalactic dog, changes the entire tone of the monster. No longer is it particularly scary. It goes from being a possibly harmful alien entity, to an (almost) cute pet that wags a tail and begs for treats. The character of Pluthar looks more like a typical alien, at least from the 50s or 60s. A humanoid, wearing some kind of mask and dressed in a generic spacesuit which hides the non-alien parts of the actors body. The absurd part of that character is that he’s really a garbage man who gets killed by this TV actress while he’s trying to help save the world. Very bizarre.
And speaking of Medusa, her role is a nice riff on the popular horror host Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Both women host B-movie shows on the local television stations, dress as traditionally scary characters and use sexuality and innuendo as part of their jokey schtick. Their role comes from a long line of famous monster movie hosts including Svengoolie, Vampira, and The Ghoul. Medusa was created more as a parody of Elvira, seemingly staying in character even when she left work to go out and find parties to attend. At the end of the film when the beast attempts to use Medusa’s guise to move further into the world, one can only assume that her show will allow it greater access to many more homes and meals for the time to come.
TerrorVision presented a film that was very much “of the 80s,” from the clothing that Suzy wore and attitude, to OD’s heavy metal regalia, or Sherman’s fascination with the military and war games. The parents seemed like hold overs who peaked in the 70s, being into swinging and the cheesy erotic art that liters their house. It’s the ultimate culture clash of multiple walks of life growing out of the varied pop culture and class based evolution of previous generations. The film also uses a popular 80s trope of the child being the character that is the only one that knows what’s happening. Many 80s films centered on teen or pre-teen adventures where the young characters were in the center of the action. E.T., Explorers, and The Last Starfighter are just a few examples. Here, Sherman is the only one to figure out what is happening and he makes the plan to try to kill the alien, that is until his sister realizes that they may be able to make money off the creature.
The film also seems to be a metaphor for the growing information culture that the 80s brought forth with the advent of cable TV. Besides a commentary of all the bad things that can happen from watching TV (here watching different shows will literally kill you) it also speaks to the fake artifice of the shows themselves. Except for shots of cars parked in the driveway, the entire house, including the back patio where the satellite dish is located, is created on a soundstage. The lighting and set design almost make it look like a house that might be seen on a sit-com from the era. Most of the characters are also very concerned with the way they are observed, as if their looks are paramount. And since they’re being watched (by the audience) it’s a meta commentary that continues to look into itself.
The Science in The Fiction
The film opens with Pluthar attempting to get rid of his planet’s waste by beaming it ”to the farthest reaches of the universe.” Intergalactic waste disposal seems very much like the model from the time, which was sending our garbage to other countries for them to deal with. Like Pluthar, who didn’t give it another thought, neither did Americans. But that waste always had to go somewhere and how it affected the people “downstream” was similar to, but maybe not quite as catastrophic as, the effect the Hungry Beast would have on the planet Earth. It’s a nice parable about being responsible for one’s own waste.
Another strange element from the film, that seems like it might have been some crazy get rich quick scheme dreamed up at the time, is Grampa’s lizard tail jerky. There’s a shot of his sandwich board at the beginning of the film, and later he shows OD a flyer for this survival food. Since he’s a survivalist, the idea that someone might be able to live with a few dozen lizards, popping their tails off and drying them like jerky, doesn’t actually sound that crazy. Except for the possibility that it may not actually taste good. Who knows? Maybe it’s just made up for the film, but it seems like something that should be real, although I can’t seem to find any actual reports of this being sold.
The Final Frontier
It’s not the greatest film, but there are much worse films from the 80s. TerrorVision represents one of a group of films being created for the expanding film market that could find a place in home video release or on cable. The creators of these types of films came up with creative, low budget ways to churn out multiple films per year to meet the demand. Not all of them were winners, but not all were turkeys either. TerrorVision represents some of the upper echelon of lower budget movie making, which acted as a training ground for many actors and special effects artists before getting their big break. Stay tuned as Sci-Fi Saturdays continues to watch scary movies all month long.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.