Middle-aged Donald (Jackie Vernon sleepwalks through his life as a labourer on a construction site. His mates there- Philip (Al Troupe) and Roosevelt (Loren Schein) - are hornier and younger than him; the only thing that animates him is moaning about the awful packed lunches his wife May (Claire Ginsberg) prepares for him. One day, for example, opens his bait box to discover a crab sandwich - that is, two wedges of bread with a full crab, complete with shell and legs, inside it.
At home, things are not much better. Donald and May have little in common - they were last intimate two decades earlier. She has more affection for her pet dog Napoleon, while he dreads meal times for fear of her deadly culinary shortcomings.
When May buys a new-fangled microwave oven (this was released in 1983, so the thing is as big as a horse), Donald briefly dares to hope of better meals. But, no, they continue to be as inedible as ever. It's getting him down to the point where he's even feeling alienated at work: of course, his virile mates eat far more handsomely than he does.
One evening upon his return home from work, passing his young gangbanger neighbours on his way through his front door, Donald snaps. A war of words escalates between him and May, resulting in her tipping his dinner over his head (better than down his throat, I'm sure) and him strangling her in return.
It's the beginning of a new chapter for Donald. His mealtimes become a pleasure now that he can choose his own food, and his workmates respond well to his happier demeanour. He even scores with the ladies (well, a prostitute [Lou Ann Webber]) and has nookie for the first time in years.
Things really step up a gear when he wakes one night with the munchies. Having chopped May's corpse into pieces and stored it in foil packages in his fridge, he accidentally grabs her severed hand and bites into it ... and discovers the best taste he's experienced in as long as he can remember.
Sharing his newfound meat treats with his colleagues, they love what Donald has to offer - even though he won't reveal the secret ingredient. They don't care: their sole reservation is that the meat, while gorgeous, is a little old and tough. Donald says he can sort this out.
He's good on his promise, much to the detriment of all promiscuous women in the area...
MICROWAVE MASSACRE is a low-budget affair, made up of a cheerily bad script (the gags are painful: "What do you get when you cross a mobster with an exorcist? Beats the Hell outta me..."), amateurish performances and some righteously ugly photography.
If Herschell Gordon Lewis had been making horror films in the 1980s, this could well have been one of his (though it's curiously bloodless for the most part).
The hammy acting does become endearing quite quickly, actually. As do the terrible puns and one-liners which make up the majority of the script. Director Wayne Berwick and writer Thomas Singer decidedly pitch the tone of their film as a comedy over horror. In this regard it's spectacularly of its time, offering bouncy porno-type music from the start and a pair of gratuitous boobs at every opportunity. It's like PORKY'S with the occasional murder thrown in for good measure.
Considering his lengthy career as a stand-up comedian prior to making this film, Vernon is, oddly, subdued and seems a little disinterested for much of the film. He warms to the role as events progress, suggesting much of the action was shot chronologically. He breaks the fourth wall occasionally, which should give you some indication as to the level of humour we're dealing with here.
Is there any commentary on the then-new technology of microwaved food and the paranoias surrounding its uses? Not really. We get the odd gag about equal opportunities and a muscle-bound stud who ends being camp, but that's as political as this movie is prepared to get.
But, as cheap and obvious as MICROWAVE MASSACRE is, and while it's largely devoid of anything approaching tension or style, it's also strangely amiable from beginning to end. It endures, almost despite itself.
MICROWAVE MASSACRE comes to UK home video courtesy of Arrow Films Video. They're releasing it in a dual format, blu-ray and DVD combo pack. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray for review purposes.
It looks amazing (especially since the last time I viewed the film was on VHS).
Although the Internet Movie Database has the film's original aspect ratio listed as being 1.37:1, it's presented here in 16x9 widescreen (1.78:1) and everything appears to be correctly framed. In fact, I've never seen the film look so attractive in this regard.
Colours are vibrant, images are sharp and clean, minor grain is completely natural and the filmic depth on offer is wholly satisfying. Add in deep blacks and a surprisingly damage-free print, and you have a transfer that easily exceeds expectations.
English audio gets a lossless HD mono mix, which comes with no caveats or qualms - it's as solid as the picture presentation. Optional subtitles are provided in English for the Hard-of-Hearing and are problem-free at all times. They're also easily readable throughout.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. Pop-up menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Okay, its one thing this film getting brushed up for a blu-ray release. But who thought we'd get bonus features too?!
Well, we do. These commence with an enjoyable, fluent audio commentary track from co-producer and original story creator Craig Muckler (though the disc incorrectly states the commentary track is with Berwick). This is moderated adeptly by Mike Tristano - who I assume is the same guy who's provided weaponry expertise to countless low-budget productions over the years, as well as directing the likes of CANNIBAL TABOO. It's an enjoyable chat track, rich with anecdotes and warm insight. It doesn't correlate with what's on the screen very often, but it's all pertinent in its own way. Muckler has a good memory of the shoot, even though he's clearly disappointed that his original intended darker tone was dismissed when Vernon joined the cast. Still, he starts off sedate and laughs more and more as the track progresses, which is nice to hear.
Mike Tristano "My Microwave Massacre Memoirs" is an excellent, unexpected 21-minute retrospective documentary in which Berwick, Muckler and Schein discuss the genesis of this bizarre cult classic. Among the stories told are how the film gestated from as early as 1978, its tenuous ties to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and the prescience of the very real threat of "high-tech" gadgets such as microwave ovens...
The film's 85-second trailer is presented in all its VHS-quality, window-boxed glory. It comes replete with a voiceover disclaimer declaring "Anthem Pictures reluctantly presents what is considered to be the worst horror film of all time ..." It's good fun.
Fans of image galleries will enjoy the 18-strong montage of stills on offer. These include a handful of alternate video covers and some great monochrome on-set photos.
Also included in this package, though unavailable to review, are a DVD copy of the film and the above extras, double-sided cover artwork and 8 pages of original script treatments provided as DVD-ROM content.
A bad film which looks great on blu-ray, and emerges as a curiously engaging, entertaining prospect as a result, MICROWAVE MASSACRE has aged far better than I ever imagined it could. Well done Arrow, this is a sterling release which does what it sets out to do: breathe new life into an old cult title and afford it relevance for a whole new generation of viewers.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|