I just saw TerrorVision yesterday, after long hearing about it as one of the 1980s' most wacky horror entries, and I'm quickly becoming convinced that it might be the most eighties horror movie I've seen. That's not necessarily a good thing by all accounts - there were moments when I stared at the screen and thought 'Wait, people thought that was a good idea?" - but all of these oddities do firmly establish the film as one of the definitive horror curios of an era.
Preying on the cable TV boom of the 1980s, TerrorVision revolves around the installation of a satellite dish that accidentally invites a monster from outer space to planet Earth. If the idea sounds ridiculous, that's because it is; the film appears to have been designed primarily as a comedy and a throwback to monster movies of a bygone era. The main program featured on the TV screen within the movie screen is an Elvira-esque monster movie showcase hosted by a big-breasted Medusa (which makes the movies that features a screen within a screen within a screen!) which allows the film to show off classic monster battles via Harryhausen and not-so-classic monster battles such as Robot Monster. There's a definite love for the cheesy side of horror at work here, which is where much of the film's charm comes from.
The dish in question is set up by the patriarch of a family that would seem like something out of a 1950s sitcom - if people in the '50s were swingers who had neon decor and lots of oversized electronics. The cast is led by Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov, two veterans of bizarre cinema, as the parents in this neon household, along with their two kids (Amityville II's Diane Franklin and young Chad Allen) and "Grampa", played by veteran actor Bert Remsen. It's easy to see that writer/director Ted Nicolaou is lampooning the family structure preached by TV shows of the past, he just does it in a way that includes bizarre clothes, hairstyles, and actions.
Alongside this wacky family, the film offers us a monster that is disgusting and one of its kind. It's a mushy mess of pinkish/purplish gloop with more eyes and tentacles than you'd expect from anything on this planet. It's a goofy monster that won't inspire much terror, but the creature's voracious appetite leads to some decidedly gross moments as it picks off members of the family and their acquaintances (including Jon Gries, who would grow up to be Napoleon Dynamite's Uncle Rico, as a metalhead teen) in strange ways. Nicolaou manages to pepper in some brief creepy moments, particularly a sequence involving the parents' love den and swimming pool, but the film's top priority in its monster scenes is clearly a gross and comedic tone.
Despite its sensational title, TerrorVision belongs next to films like The Monster Squad and Killer Klowns from Outer Space due to its tongue in cheek nature. It might not have all the charm of some of its contemporaries, but it's notable because it seems to be more connected to its time and place than many of those films. TerrorVision is a movie for everyone who remembers the wacky fashions and the obsession with television that plagued that era. Nicolaou would go on to a solid career working with producer Charles Band for Full Moon Features (including helming their best film, Subspecies) but, unlike most films from that studio, TerrorVision has a level of charisma that makes it a film worth coming back to if you're looking for a cheap bit of '80s fun that you don't need to take too seriously.