31 Days of Hell: TerrorVision (1986) - Reviewed

The '80s graced us with horror films that were like no others. There was a certain campiness about them that was undeniably characteristic of that decade as a whole, which led to some of the most memorable horror titles out there. From a snarky My Buddy doll going on a killing spree in Child’s Play to alien clowns trapping victims in cotton candy cocoons in Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the films were often as fun as they were frightening with their blend of practical effects and playful tone. While many come close, no film captures the zeitgeist of 80s horror more than Ted Nicolaou’s 1986 cult classic TerrorVision.

The nonsensical premise of this film is a Frankenstein’s monster born of the MTV generation and nurtured by '50s sci-fi schlock. An offbeat family decides to install a satellite TV for their home, and the reception turns out to be a little too good. The family begins to receive interplanetary messages, and eventually the TV becomes a portal to an alien world, allowing a slimy, ravenous creature to enter their home and wreak havoc. Young Sherman (Chad Allen) is the only one to see it at first, it ends up devouring his grandpa, and he must convince his parents in the midst of a swinger’s party and his sister with her buffoon boyfriend that their lives are in danger, all the while protecting himself with his grandpa’s artillery and fallout shelter.

The aesthetic of TerrorVision is a quintessentially '80s medley of bright colors and pop culture references. The entire film takes place in the family’s house, and the garish color palette and tacky, hypersexualized decor feel as far from naturalism as one could get. Even the exterior shots have an essence that never let one forget this is a set, but in an intentional and stylized way. The cinematography further drives home the fact that we’re in this staged reality, and at times feels like that of a music video, which is appropriate for a film so focused on the wonders of cable television: a relatively new concept for filmgoers of the 80s. From its kooky pop theme song to the Cyndi Lauper-esque sister rocking out to Alice Cooper, this film basks in the days of classic MTV like no other. For those that remember shows like Remote Control, this movie will be a nostalgia timebomb.

If the overall look of TerrorVision is synthetic, that goes doubly so for the bizarre and hilarious cast of characters. The jazzercise-obsessed mother, the Elvira-inspired horror host Medusa, the swinging “man’s man” Spiro, the ditzy sister and her half-baked metalhead boyfriend...it’s impossible to choose a favorite. Everyone is so overwhelmingly outlandish that they might as well be cartoon characters. The only marginally normal character is poor Sherman, whom everyone else deems crazy for thinking there’s a monster in the house. What’s exceptional with this small cast is how every single actor makes a walloping impact with their comedic, over-the-top performances. They understand the tone of the film perfectly and do a great job with the material.

Let’s not forget the true star of the show here. The oozing, home-intruding alien is a surprisingly realistic-looking creature for a low-budget film. He has a great deal of personality for a typically two-dimensional foe, and at his friendlier moments, he even has a dog-like, “ugly-cute” quality about him that almost makes one forget they’re watching a horror film altogether. It somehow plays out like a very adult, frenetic E.T. at times, usually in an amusing way, but sometimes to its detriment: there is a scene, for instance, where the youths try to teach the alien to talk and befriend it, which is belabored and seems a bit preposterous considering its track record. Then again, it honestly feels wrong to call anything specific in this film preposterous, considering basically all of it is.

If you’ve ever loved to laugh at an '80s horror film, TerrorVision is a must-watch. It is an unapologetically silly, mildly scary delight that goes under the radar far too often for horror fans with a sense of humor.

-Andrea Riley