SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
“Lizard Tail Jerky!”
By Nick Cato
By the middle of my senior year of high school, I was 100% addicted to gore films and spent much time trading bootleg VHS tapes (via snail mail) through my old fanzine, STINK. The sicker the title one acquired on the underground market, the better chance you had of trading it for something crazier. Yet despite being controlled by the sleazier side of Sinema for close to ten years, a silly little science fiction farce was about to remind me that light-hearted fare could still be as entertaining as any Euro gut-munching cannibal caper or women-in-prison epic. Or necrophiliac outing…
A couple of my friends were DJs at a local college radio station. I’d often do movie reviews on their shows, and spent most of my time in the studio going through the new albums. One that caught my eye was a soundtrack for a film titled TERRORVISION, a film that wasn’t to be released until February 1986 (this was about three months prior). The main track, titled Terrorvision, performed by The Fibonaccis (whoever they were), is an addictive DEVO meets B-52s new wave jam that holds up great to repeated listens. So, with the main track imbedded in my mind, TERRORVISION finally came to my town on a freezing cold winter day in February, 1986, to a nearly sold-out opening night. Of ALL the films I’ve reviewed for this column, the theatre where this unspooled refuses to come to memory, but chances are it was the Lane Theatre, one of Staten Island’s last single-screen cinemas.
Produced by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, TERRORVISION is chock full of cheesy acting, lame special effects, and a story that’s barely there…yet for some reason, the humor works. A suburban couple (played by PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE’s Gerrit Graham and cult icon Mary Woronov) discovers that a strange creature keeps popping up on their television. Figuring it must be some kind of interference (after all, they just had a huge satellite dish installed on their roof) they think little of it until the creature eventually POPS OFF the set and literally comes into their home. Of course, the creature enters the home when the swinger parents are out, and the kids fail to train their strange new pet. It then tries to eat each member of the family (which includes a nerdy kid who hangs out all day long with his crackpot survivalist grandfather and a teenage heavy metal sister with her rock-star wannabe boyfriend) as well as any friends or whoever just may happen to be stopping over for a visit. The alien is able to “reproduce” the heads of those he’s eaten and mimic their voices in order to hide from police and an intergalactic alien cop (yeah, this one gets goofier by the minute).
It turns out the planet this creature came from has discovered a way to turn their trash into antimatter and dispose of it by shooting it into space. This particular alien is an eating machine, forcing its home planet to get rid of him TRASH style! Guess this family had REALLY bad luck having their satellite installed just as this batch of space junk was passing earth!
While much of the humor is just plain silly, I found (even upon a recent viewing) most of it still holds up, especially the aforementioned grandfather who lives on “lizard tail jerky.” He keeps a pet lizard on him at all times, and yanks its tail off when he needs a snack. He assures his grandson the tails keep growing back as the two of them hunt the creature who has invaded their home. Although rated R, the only thing that MIGHT have given it this rating is the sleazy erotic artwork hanging around the house (remember, the parents are swingers!), much of it quite funny looking.
The highlight of the film (for me, anyway) is a late night horror film TV-hostess named Medusa (complete with a head full of snakes) who makes non-stop sexual puns, some pretty graphic for an otherwise exploitation-less film. Just WHY she’s in the film is anyone’s guess, but she provides some fine eye candy nonetheless.
What surprised me (and the audience) most is the ending (SPOILER ALERT!): Our grotesque alien (who dribbles non-stop BUCKETS of goo and slime) eventually eats the entire family and takes off for world domination in a taxi cab! Who would’ve thought such a tame sci-fi comedy would end on such a dark (although in its context, funny) note?
Although a DVD has yet to be released, you can find VHS copies on eBay and Amazon. With lots of laughs and a nifty soundtrack, this might not be as funny as SPACEBALLS (1987) or as exploitative as GALACTIC GIGOLO (also 1987), but being it was released before both, it deserves a little respect and hopefully one day a proper DVD release. It’s good, slimy, goofy fun.
(This was also one of the earliest films I can remember coming to home video less than a month after its theatrical release).
© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato