January had a shot in the arm with a screening of this 80’s fun horror on a glorious 35mm print. Missed it? Never mind, at least you can catch up on the introduction by Cult Film Historian Darrell Buxton.
Hello and welcome to QUAD for our first Fright Club show of 2018. Within the variety of movies we’ve screened over the years, we’ve occasionally turned to look at the output of Empire International Pictures, the production company run by Charles Band, and have shown you films like GHOST TOWN, the fantastic horror western from 1988, and Stuart Gordon’s classics RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, perhaps the two Empire products held in highest regard by fans.
Charles Band is the son of Albert Band, a Paris-born director whose own movie career includes cult gems such as 1958’s I BURY THE LIVING and 1978’s ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA aka DRACULA’S DOG. Charles entered the business in 1973, directing a spoof of the then-currently-scandalous LAST TANGO IN PARIS – Band junior’s version was called LAST FOXTROT IN BURBANK, and is notable not only because it is Charles’ debut but also because the movie was edited by a young film student named John Carpenter, later to become one of the most renowned horror directors of all time. Charles Band progressed to horror himself, with 1977’s outrageous CRASH!, in which a convertible is possessed by occult forces from an African trinket and causes havoc on the roads. The rather unwieldy but nonetheless brilliant tag line on the poster for CRASH! read “An Occult Object Takes Possession of a Driverless Car and Causes One Spectacular Crash After Another Until Fifty Cars Are Pounded Into a Mass of Twisted Metal”. What a pity that we’re not playing that tonight!
Into the 80s and still releasing his work under the banner of ‘Charles Band International Productions’, Charlie offered 1982’s PARASITE, the story of a scientist in post-nuclear 1992 who has developed a type of toothy killer creature, one of which resides inside his own body – this one was notable for being released in 3D, and for being only the second film in the career of a young aspiring actress named Demi Moore.
By this time Band had become disappointed and disillusioned by the way film distributors and exhibitors treated his product, and so decided to create his own company, Empire. Between 1983 and the end of the 80s Empire churned out dozens of cheap, quickly made horror, science fiction, and fantasy films and managed to gain a fair amount of critical acclaim for movies like RE-ANIMATOR and the Band-directed TRANCERS, one of the best low budget productions of the era, the story of Jack Deth, a detective from the 23rd Century time travelling to the 1980s in pursuit of criminal Martin Whistler.
Empire titles filled VHS rental store shelves back then, and the likes of GHOULIES, DOLLS, ELIMINATORS, BREEDERS, TROLL, CREEPOZOIDS, and the unforgettable SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA proved popular with video customers. Tonight’s presentation TERRORVISION was prominent among this throng of brisk, eye-catching videos and, like a surprising proportion of Empire’s output, managed to get a fairly decent cinema release too.
Empire employed a regular company of writers, directors and technicians, and often the cameraman or special effects guy on one movie would be the producer or director of the next. This roster of talent included special effects wizard John Carl Buechler, who went on to direct FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII for Paramount, as well as writer Ed Naha, who moved on to create HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS at Disney. Other regular and familiar names in Empire credits were cameraman Mac Ahlberg, production manager Peter Manoogian, and writer/producer/director Ted Nicolaou. Nicolaou had started as a sound recordist on the horror masterpiece THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE but worked regularly for Charles Band, notably directing all of the SUBSPECIES series of vampire movies during the 1990s. TERRORVISION was one of Ted’s earliest outings as a director, and it shows a lively, colourful, cartoon-like sense of style. It might not be the most coherent film ever made, but it is certainly never dull.
TERRORVISION’s cast includes not one but two examples of cult movie royalty, in the shape of Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov as the swinger couple The Puttermans. Graham had starred in a couple of films by the young Brian De Palma in the late 60s and memorably portrayed the outrageous glam rocker ‘Beef’, lead singer of the band The Juicy Fruits, in De Palma’s pop horror classic PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Mary Woronov had been a whip-cracking dancer performing alongside the legendary 60s band The Velvet Underground, in a sort of proto Bez-like role, and she never really left her counter-culture roots, appearing in plenty of cult movie favourites like DEATH RACE 2000, NIGHT OF THE COMET, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and EATING RAOUL. Both Gerrit and Mary are always welcome presences in this type of fare, and they don’t disappoint in TERRORVISION, pitching their performances at just the right level. There are goofy monsters, space aliens, more swingers, a resourceful little kid, a young heroine with multicoloured Toyah Wilcox/Cyndi Lauper hair, a pulchritudinous tv horror hostess named Medusa, and a great heavy metal dude character called O.D., played by a superb Jon Gries. It’s not the best film you’ll ever experience but it is a lot of fun, and as an 80s time capsule it is pretty hard to beat. Listen out about ten minutes in for the point where Mary Woronov reveals the name of daughter Diane Franklin’s ex-boyfriend – a moment with added resonance for audiences in 2018…
The poster for TERRORVISION carries this warning: “People of Earth – your planet is about to be destroyed… We’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience”. So let’s see whether we can all survive the next viewer-friendly 83 minutes intact. It may be a satellite TV-themed movie but you’re privileged to be seeing TERRORVISION in a cinema on a lovely 35mm film print tonight. Tune in and trip out to a rainbow slice of colourful 80s fun.