On an alien planet named Pluton, an alien garbage disposal converts a monstrous mutant called a Hungry Beast into energy and beams it into space. Meanwhile, on Earth, the Putterman family is getting satellite television, courtesy of a temperamental DIY satellite antenna. The reception is poor at first, but suddenly strengthens when a bolt of the alien energy hits the dish.
Sherman Putterman and his ex-military, survivalist grandfather set out to enjoy a night of horror films hosted by the buxom Medusa. Meanwhile, Sherman’s parents go out to meet some swingers and his sister Suzy goes out with her rocker boyfriend O.D. Sherman and his grandfather eventually fall asleep, but are awakened when the Hungry Beast materializes out of the TV and eats the grandfather. Sherman’s parents later arrive along with swingers Cherry and Spiro. Despite Sherman’s plea, his mother locks him in the fallout shelter so he will not ruin their evening.
Sherman tries calling the police, but they take him to be a prank caller. He also calls Medusa, but she dismisses him as a psychotic. Later, the Beast travels through the television into the house’s sex-themed “Pleasure Dome”, eats Cherry, and imitates her to lure Spiro. Sherman’s parents also get eaten after they discover the remains of the swingers. Sherman uses some plastic explosive to break out of the bunker as O.D. and his sister arrive.
Sherman’s sister doesn’t believe his story about a monster, and when they check their parents’ room, they find imitations of them, their grandfather and the swingers. Soon after though, they encounter the Beast in another room. It chases after them, but relents at the sight of O.D.’s heavy metal paraphernalia, which he finds appealing due to its resemblance of his caretaker’s gloves. They then discover that they can subdue the Beast with food and television, and teach it a few words such as “TV”, “music” and their names. They consider using the Beast for profit, and call Medusa in the hope of securing a TV appearance. She is initially dismissive, but shows interest when they promise to hold a party.
However, the Beast becomes enraged and eats O.D. when its alien captor appears on the TV to warn the earthlings that they must destroy their television equipment to prevent the Beast from spreading. A police officer arrives to arrest Sherman for the prank calls only to be eaten by the Beast. Sherman breaks all the TVs he can find, and eventually the Pluton alien captor appears through the television to exterminate the Beast. Medusa arrives at the house and kills the Pluton Alien, mistakenly believing that he is in fact the Beast that Sherman and Suzy have described to her. When the real monster arrives, it sucks the group of three into its mouth with a powerful gust of air.
The next morning, Medusa’s chauffeur is woken up by a crude imitation of his employer hiding in the back seat of his car, demanding to be taken to the TV station.
DEVELOPMENT/BEHIND THE SCENES
Ted Nicolaou convinced Band he was the right man to helm TERRORVISION, a film with roots in much of Charles Band’s creative process at the time. Nicolaou said he was presented no draft of a script or detailed premise. Instead, Band showed him a poster he had already created for the film and gave him a rough idea of what he was looking for in the film.
“He showed me the poster and said ‘Here, you want to do this?’ and my thought was that I sort of knew John Buechler’s work because I’d been editing movies that he had worked on for a few years and I sort of have this love of 1950s horror films from when I grew up, so I asked Charlie if I could make it a comedy and he said ‘Yes’ so I sort of wrote the script trying to make a movie that would haunt little children if they sat up and saw it on TV,” he explains. Nicolaou drew on that love of 50s sci-fi and horror to create a script about a monster thrown out of its own galaxy that finds its way to Earth via a large satellite dish. As the movie progresses with the over-the-top, rubber monster wrecking havoc and systematically killing off character after character, it’s obvious Nicolaou’s tongue was firmly in his cheek as he both wrote and directed the film.
“I wanted to do a movie where you could root for the monster. I didn’t really see, once a monster like that would be loose on society, a happy ending for humanity so I wanted to do a movie that took on the fringe trends at the time,” he says.
Those trends ranged from the bizarre to the more sexually adventurous and Nicolaou drew a great deal of inspiration from his surroundings.
“Survivalism was really big at that time and swinging was big in the Valley and Los Angeles at the time and that sort of New Wave music and heavy metal,” he says. “I took all of those things and there was a kooky, old guy who used to pass out flyers downtown who dressed like Gramps does in the movie with an army uniform and all these plastic weapons attached to it. We basically just mined what was going on around LA at the time for the characters of the film.” And those characters are, like the monster, bigger than life. Mary Woronov, in particular, seems to be in her natural element as the slutty, seductive Raquel Putterman. It’s not the role Nicolaou initially envisioned her in – he wanted her for the Elvira-like TV host Medusa played to perfection by Jennifer Richards – but she convinced him she’d be better off as the twisted family matriarch.
“When we started casting, back in those days Charlie was actually paying money for actors, I had asked Mary to come and read for the part of Medusa and when she came in she said ‘Medusa’s a role everyone would assume I would play but what I would really like to do is the part of the mom’ and it was one of those moments in casting that you hope for where, suddenly, someone changes your perspective on your whole character,” Nicolaou says. “So, I said ‘Yea, great’ and, with her, the movie started to alter its shape, a little bit. I mean, the script is the script and we pretty much did shoot the script, but with Mary and with Garret Graham in, it really kind of became even more intense of a beast.” Woronov may chew the scenery in each and every frame she appears in.
“These people lead a bizarrely stupefying life,” Woronov recounts. “One day, the father is fooling around with his satellite TV dish, and he accidentally attracts the garbage from a planet in another galaxy which disposes of its garbage in space.
“The planet has a pet problem. Their pets are very sweet, but they look hideous-like giant boogers with carrots around their waist. When the pets are happy, they get over-excited and eat voraciously. This all becomes too much for the planet’s inhabitants, so they throw the pets out with the garbage.
“One of these monster pets enters our house through the TV set. He’s very affectionate, but if he likes you, he immediately slimes you. So, the monster proceeds to systematically eat everyone in the family and then reproduce them. And he’s very sloppy about it, too-he leaves giant slime tracks all over the house.”
Set in suburban Las Vegas, Terrorvision was actually shot at the Dino De Laurentiis Studios in Rome. There, for the first time in her career, Woronov faced the challenge of working with complex and unreliable mechanical special FX.
“It was a frightening experience,” she comments. “The monster was the biggest prima donna in the world. And the man who operated him behaved like the king of the set.
“If the monster had a headache, we didn’t work for four hours, until they fixed whatever went wrong with him. But if I had a headache, I still had to work.
“There was no air conditioning on the set, because the studio was falling apart. But there were three people inside the monster, working the mouth and the tentacle, and they had air conditioning. We actors had to sweat.”
A very young Chad Allen landed the role of Sherman. While the young Allen had appeared in various television series and TV movies prior to his TERRORVISION role, he had yet to gain stardom through the hit family show OUR HOUSE. The young actor hadn’t even reached his teens when TERRORVISION was released and, as Nicolaou recalls, was a professional on the set, even if his parents had some reservations about some of the film’s content.
“He was great. He was really, really professional. Very naturalistic, sort of in opposition to everybody else in the film. He seemed to be more of the sane centre of the film. He was great,” he says. “His parents were a little bit wary of the set when they saw it and asked that he not be filmed against any of the erotic art on the walls.”
Allen’s character, arguably, is the lone one in the film audiences may find a redeeming quality in. That’s not because of the young actor’s portrayal but, as the director explains, an extension of the script where nothing was sacred and there were no exceptions to the rule of surprising the audience by who would be the next to fall prey to the alien.
“A friend of mine, at the time, accused the film of being homophobic and my response to that is that it’s basically misanthropic,” he says. “It’s not just homophobia, it pretty much doesn’t like anybody in the movie and I did that, in a way, because I didn’t want to start breaking people’s hearts when I started killing all the characters and I wanted it to maintain its humour.”
The film does that but its bizarre balance of horror and humour coupled with bad timing for its release in to theatres created a melting pot that neither critics nor the viewing public were willing to welcome with open arms. If anything, Nicolaou says, it almost seemed as if everything was working against TERRORVISION.
“It was received horribly,” he recalls with a heavy sigh.
“At the time, Charlie was trying to release films theatrically and he’d just released TROLL and ELIMINATORS in the weeks leading up to that and I think that had sort of worn the patience of critics and, then, the space shuttle blew up the week of the release of TERRORVISION so people were not in the mood for any type of humorous extra-terrestrial shenanigans and, basically, critics hated the movie. Critics bashed it, it gained some tiny cult following but was in and out of theatres in a matter of days.
“So, that really set me back. I was expecting people would like it a lot more than they did or it would at least find its stoner audience that would appreciate it but, at the time, it just set me back.”
However, the passing of time has been kind to both TERRORVISION and Nicolaou. The filmmaker bounced back and TERRORVISION eventually found its fringe audience.
“I guess its sensibility was so at odds with the time it was made that it did what I sort of hoped it would….,” he reflects.
“When I was a kid I saw two movies on TV – just fragments of them – and one was INVADERS FROM MARS, the original, and the other was 5000 FINGERS OF DR.T and both were expressionistic fantasies and both of those movies haunted
me for all my childhood because they were so out of the ordinary, visually, from anything. I’d seen before and I sort of wanted that for TERRORVISION. “It sort of managed to, I think, affect people in a weird way that they’d tell their friends. It’s sense of humour is not for everyone but it’s definitely for some people.
“It’s super satisfying for me now to see that it continues to be, sort of, spread from friend to friend and manages to continue to have screenings around the world and manages to be appreciated.”
Chad Allen as Sherman Putterman
Diane Franklin as Suzy Putterman
Mary Woronov as Raquel Putterman
Gerrit Graham as Stanley Putterman
Bert Remsen as Grampa Putterman
Jon Gries as O.D.
Jennifer Richards as Medusa
Alejandro Rey as Spiro
Randi Brooks as Cherry
Frank Welker as Hungry Beast Alien (voice)
Special Effects by
Brent Armstrong … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
John Carl Buechler … tv monster and special effects makeup designer and supervisor: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
Michael Deak … MMI Liaison USA: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
Cleve Hall … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
Daniel Hoffman … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
Robert Kurtzman … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
Michelle Oggeri … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
Margherita Regina … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
Desiree Soto Vaughn … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc. (as Desiree Vaughn-Soto)
John Vulich … creature fabricator & operator: Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc.
R. Christopher Biggs … special makeup effects artist