Terror Vision (1986)

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Director: Ted Nicolaou
Writers: Charles Band and Ted Nicolaou
Cast: Chad Allen, Randi Brooks, Sonny Carl Davis, Diane Franklin, Gerrit Graham, Jonathan Gries, John Leamer, William Paulson, Bert Remsen, Alejandro Rey, Jennifer Richards, Ian Patrick Williams, and Mary Woronov


© Copyright MGM Studios

© Copyright MGM Studios

If Ted Nicolaou’s Terror Vision had legs, I’d call it a walking contradiction. Here is a horror comedy both lazy and creative that manages to miss every opportunity afforded by its offbeat premise all the while deriving new ones from thin air. Some B movies reach cult status by transcending their inherent flaws. Others do it by proving so inept they reach awesomeness from the opposite end. I couldn’t tell you where this one falls, only that I simultaneously dislike the film and appreciate its uniqueness.

Consider the premise of Terror Vision, about an alien beast that gets dematerialised by its master only for its energy particles to get broadcast onto a home satellite dish. That’s remarkably inventive for a low-rent splatter flick, but you’d figure Nicolaou would’ve taken the opportunity to poke fun at the media, allowing the monster to interact with facsimiles of various pop culture icons as opposed to just that one Elvira knockoff (Jennifer Richards) at the end. She’s a piece of work, by the way, with a physique that somehow satirises the Mistress of the Dark’s own, bending the very laws of physics and perhaps those of good taste.

Really, the monster spends most of the runtime roaming around this one suburban property (which looks nothing like an actual house), popping in and out of television sets to consume its residents and their ditzy dates. Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel Putterman (Mary Woronov) are yuppie swingers, you see, which means Terror Vision gets to subject us to their paramours’ gratuitous deaths as well as to some uncomfortably dated gay jokes because, back in 1986, one couldn’t talk of promiscuity without lumping in homosexuality.

The Puttermans’ whiny daughter, Suzy (Diane Franklin), has also got a beau, O.D. (Jonathan Gries), who can best be described as a drug-addled version of Nick, Mallory’s boyfriend in Family Ties, except without any of the charm. On the subject of pop culture references no one under the age of thirty could possibly get, the grandpa character (Bert Remsen) plays a lot like a retired Murdoch from The A-Team (did I mention Terror Vision was shot in the eighties?). That leaves Sherman (Chad Allen), the plucky son who does plucky things because he’s plucky.

© Copyright MGM Studios

© Copyright MGM Studios

To call these characters shallow would be an understatement. At best, they’re broad punch lines on which Nicolaou can hang his gruesome special effects. You see, the space monster doesn’t just eat its prey. First, it grabs their noggins with its one claw. Then it inexplicably turns their innards into green sludge before sucking their skulls dry. The gory process makes for some striking visuals. Unfortunately, Terror Vision never deviates from the formula, and, by the fifth kill or so, you’ll find yourself begging for something different to happen.

I’m also ambivalent about the design of the beast. On the one hand, the fine craftsmen at Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc. have gone to great lengths to give their creature an aesthetic unlike anything we’ve seen before (or since for that matter). I like the extra effort put into keeping every facet of its anatomy asymmetric, a worthy accomplishment, considering the modest budget of Terror Vision. On the other hand, is it just me, or does the alien look like someone bathed Cookie Monster in a septic tank?

Incidentally, the monster sometimes morphs into its victims in order to fool their loved ones, which contradicts the revelation that our villain is an abandoned pet with the intellectual capacity of an aging dog. Terror Vision loses me at this point, not because of the plot inconsistency so much as the confirmation that the filmmakers care less about their story than they do about throwing gore at the screen. The conclusion feels particularly cynical, foregoing human catharsis in favour of a gross-out gag. I know Pauline Kael said a film critic should “appreciate great trash”, but one’s got to draw the line somewhere.

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