Once "Videodrome" had James Woods make out with a TV and gun-fuck a VHS slot in his stomach while fielding Marshall McLuhan quotes, there weren't many places left to go on the subject of being warped by television. Yet, somewhere between that 1983 Cronenberg body-horror classic and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper putting a sleeper hold on the alien overlords behind the GOP debates in 1988's "They Live," America found room for 1986's "TerrorVision," an overdose of blunt-force camp buffoonery in which television is merely the final arbiter for an already-warped ruling class.
During a routine execution at the Mutant Creature Disposal Unit of Planet Pluton's Sanitation Department, one voracious blob is accidentally redirected to Earth, its own sort of alien hell. The destination is somewhere in Malibu, where Stanley (Gerrit Graham), the proud patriarch of the All-American Putterman family, nearly destroys their new satellite, the "Do It Yourself 100," creating an opening for Plutonion trash to zap into their cable. Thus, Reagan's rich get ripped to shreds by trickle-down extraterrestrials beamed right into their living rooms via the same boxes that once broadcast "It's Morning in America."
The Puttermans are built from the unsparing condescension of the Coen brothers multiplied by the cartoon excess of Rodney Dangerfield in "Natural Born Killers," and for the most part it plays like "Married with Children" beset by "Pee-Wee's Playhouse": There's a doomsday-prepping grandfather (Bert Remsen) who lives in a Confederate flag-draped vault full of weapons; a vapid, aerobicizing mother (Mary Woronov) and "Saturday Night Fever"-ing father Stanley whose gauche decorative patterns, modeled after Roman bacchanalia, are all built toward a "pleasure den" for swinging; and their Cyndi Lauper-styled, MTV-generation teen daughter (Diane Franklin) and her boyfriend "O.D." (Jon Gries), a leather-spiked metal/airhead that calls TV "El Tube-o." The youngest and most sympathetic is a frazzled, overprescribed tween (Chad Allen) whose sense of security is built around his grandfather, the least stable member of the family. There's also the swinging guests, whose Greek, bisexual husband (Alejandro Rey) leads to a moment of dated gay panic that, for whatever it's worth, at least kinda functions as a joke on heterosexual double standards.
The parents are gamely played by Graham, of the "Be black baby" segment in Brian DePalma's explosive "Hi, Mom," and Woronov, best known for her roles in Andy Warhol and Roger Corman films, and so both were thoroughly schooled in parodic subversion long before this piece of '80s excess got off the ground. The movie's true stars, though, are the art-deco-by-Giallo set design and the creature—an oozing pile of teeth and guts that can only talk through the severed heads of its victims. While not reaching the heights of, say, the orgiastic apocalypse in Brian Yuzna's "Society," the sense of America getting a comeuppance from its own circle jerk remains.
"TerrorVision," directed by Ted Nicolaou, plays at the Windup Space along with Dario Argento's "Demons" on Nov. 22 as part of Pizza Party Printing's monthly Pizza Party film series.