“TV will rot your brain.” So said so many people during the ’80s when I was growing up. I was raised by my television (and by two parents of course), and I watched a lot of weird and wonderful stuff that would just air at all times. I had a 13 inch black and white television set that I adored, with the actual dial on it. I would pretend to fall asleep at a normal time and watch many movies that were cut to pieces on WPIX Channel 11 here in NYC, and it was wonderful. I just loved finding strange things, stuff people would call cult films or psychotronic, but I just thought of the films as amazing and I cherished them.
Which brings us to the whole ‘TV is evil’ subgenre of film. There were plenty of films that dealt with that or variations of it (like Bad Channels with radio or Remote Control with an evil ’50s sci-fi film), and I picked two of my favorites from that era. One from the ’80s and one from the ’90s.
First up is the 1992 film Stay Tuned, starring the one and only John Ritter. I love John Ritter, in everything he’s done to be honest. From Three’s Company to Hearts Afire, to the IT miniseries to Hero At Large. The Problem Child movies. His later work in films like Sling Blade and Bad Santa are timeless performances, and he just had charisma that was endless. Ritter plays a struggling plumbing salesman and his wife (played by the wonderful Pam Dawber) is fed up with their life. After a fight which ends with her throwing one of his fencing trophies (of course he was great at fencing), it destroys their TV. That’s when the mysterious Mr. Spike (Jeffrey Jones) knocks at their door, with an offer for a free state of the art satellite dish that has 666 channels! Unknown to them, he is an emissary from hell and they get sucked into the dish and sent to Hell Vision, a hellish TV world. If they survive for 24 hours they are free to go but if they die while in the different TV shows, then they’re souls belong to Satan.
I love this movie so much. It was one I was lucky enough to see in a theater here in Brooklyn with my brother and my uncle and I remember vividly that afterward I was still laughing about all the stupid mock versions of shows and movies. Like Driving Over Miss Daisy, Three Men and Rosemary’s Baby, Fresh Prince of Darkness, Duane’s Underworld, etc. It’s one I’ve tried to spread the love for every so often with friends and slowly people have been checking it out, but that DVD has been out of print for awhile and I keep it safe and sound until one day a company like Kino Lorber or Shout Factory will put it out on Blu-ray. Not sure if any special features could be made, mostly because Ritter is no longer with us and the less said about Jeffrey Jones the better. It’s funny that Peter Hyams directed it, because he’s such a diverse director known mostly for action and sci-fi films. It also makes a hell of a lot of sense that Tim Burton almost directed it, but left due to making Batman Returns instead.
Also, the in-joke of John Ritter’s character jumping into a TV show with a familiar theme and setting, with a brunette and a blond coming in and asking him, “Where have you been?” and him screaming had me almost rolling down the aisle.
There’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned gloopy monster movie, and Terrorvision is that and so much more. It has a stand in for Elvira named Medusa who, at a young age, I was convinced was just Cassandra Petersen in a snake wig (I of course was wrong). It has Beef from Phantom of the Paradise Gerrit Graham as a swinging father, whose wife is played by the one and only Mary Woronov, who is also a swinger. You have the main kid who knows there’s this huge alien that keeps popping in and out of the house via the TV waves. His grandfather is a military kook. And you have the sister who is a new wave punk rocker who is dating a heavy metal punk rocker, played by one of my favorites, Jon Gries.
I absolutely love this film from Ted Nicolaou, written with Charles Band as well. It’s one of the better films with Band’s name attached. It’s mostly because of the vibrant ’80s feel while never letting up the insanity. Aliens, monsters, sex crazed parents, punk rockers, goopy deaths, shape shifting tentacles… this movie has it all. And it also has the dreaded satellite dish, something from yesteryear we look back upon with a smile and a chuckle because we don’t need a huge dish in the backyard anymore. Growing up in NYC, I would see people having these dishes on the top of apartment buildings. It became more comical when DirectTV and others came along, who shrunk down the dish, but then I would see a murder of dishes on the side of building, almost becoming a Cronenbergian mess.
So TV rots your brains. It can also send you to hell and into TV shows. As well as be eaten up by an alien garbage disposal. But I love it and it raised me in difficult times. Are there any other films that have that message that you’d like to share with us? Please do. And until next time, I’m going to watch some My Three Sons Of Bitches.