“Microwave Massacre”—Because You Don’t Need All Those Pesky Brain Cells Anyway

Posted: April 26, 2009 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Dinner's almost ready

Dinner's almost ready

Lots of movies are bad.  Some are bad intentionally (think Troma).  Some are bad unintentionally (think “Ishtar”).  Some are so bad they’re good (think Ed Wood or Larry Buchanan).  And some, well—some are so bad—so mind-rendingly, unfathomably awful—-that they by pass the “so bad they’re good” signpost and in true “do not pass go, do not collect $200” fashion, they come full circle and end up at awfulness all over again. Such a film, my friends, is Wayne Berwick’s 1978 celluloid monstrosity “Microwave Massacre.”

This is such a brutally incompetent attempt at a horror spoof that it almost accidentally ends up becoming a send-up of that which it’s trying to send up—a spoof on horror spoofs, if you will. As such, it’s an almost singularly bizarre viewing experience and if I said you had to see it to believe it, that still wouldn’t be going far enough, because the truth is that you won’t believe what you’re seeing even as you’re seeing it! The only—and I do mean only—movie I can even possibly compare it to in terms of sheer gray-matter-melting “what the hell is this and why?”-ness is the 1989 canuxploitation cult semi-favorite “Things” (which I really need to get around to doing a proper write-up on sometime soon here).  Not that the two films are all that similar in and of themselves, but they both achieve, purely by dint of  sheer ineptitude, similar levels of IQ destruction in the viewer’s mind—and both have a strange way of sitting on your DVD shelf, daring you to watch them again—and again—and again—until it’s too late, and you’ve succumbed to the bizarre and wretched new reality they both create — one in which you, the viewer, find yourself literally needing to see them every so often for reasons you cannot, and don’t even want to, fathom.

This, my friends, is the opening shot in “Microwave Massacre”—

That's one way to grab the audience's attention

That's one way to grab the audience's attention

It’s also the best shot in “Microwave Massacre. ” Okay, that’s not quite true—the best shot comes shortly thereafter, courtesy of the same lady, but that’s beside the point, which is—oh, hell, I have no point here—do you see the effect this film has?

At any rate, the plot is essentially this : Donald (Jackie Vernon) has a problem. All his buddies at the contruction site he works at have better lunches than him (and you thought you had troubles!). While they get subs,  he gets whole crabs— shell, claws, and all— stuck between two pieces of bread. Donald’s wife May (Claire Ginsberg), you see, fancies herself something of an amateur Julia Child, only she’s nothing of the sort. She’s also a ball-busting shrew who has worked Donald’s nerves down to frayed, snapped, fried tendrils. As such, Donald dreads his loveless, sexless home life and takes solace in his lunch breaks and his evenings at the local watering hole.

Still, at some point a guy’s gotta go home, and when Donald finally can no longer delay the inevitable and stumbles through the door, he always finds May there, waiting for him at the dinner table, with a hideous pseudo-gourmet meal she’s prepared in her newfangled, big-as-the-whole-kitchen (this being 1978 and all) microwave. May is very proud of her microwave and what comes out of it, but Donald invariably finds her “cordon blue cookery,” as he calls it, completely unappetizing. Folks, something’s gotta give here.

One night he finally snaps and kills her (bet you didn’t see that coming). He was drunk when he did it, though, and can’t remember it. Still, when he finds her in the microwave (yes, all of her—and yes, this frigging microwave really is that big) the next morning, he figures he’d better conceal the evidence, so he cuts up her body, wraps the pieces in aluminum foil, and puts her in their extra refrigerator out in the garage. There’s just one problem. Donald soon can’t remember which wrapped-up bits are his wife and which are food—it’s not a problem for long, though, because soon enough he accidentally starts chomping on one of her hands , decides he likes the taste, and keeps going. In short order he’s bringing microwaved May-meat to work and sharing it with his buddies on their lunch breaks. They all like it, and suddenly he’s the most popular guy on the job (what they don’t know won’t hurt them, I suppose).  His wife’s corpse doesn’t provide and endless supply of food, though, and soon Donald must resort to killing prostitutes and the like in order to keep up the meat supply for himself and his friends. Along the way, various attempts at cinematic hijinks ensue, and about eighty minutes later, the microwave goes “ding!” on this movie and it’s all done.

If it sounds like I’m giving short shrift to the “plot” here, rest assured, I’m not. It’s paper-thin. As in, cheap-toilet paper thin. And the same can be said for the “talent” on display here. Jackie Vernon isn’t funny. He never was funny. Neither are the jokes. They couldn’t have even looked funny on paper. The supporting cast, for the most part,  seem to be doing this for beer money, much like Vernon himself, who goes from henpecked husband to cannibalistic serial killer without ever once changing —or even adopting—a facial expression, and delivers every single line as if we were reading from the script. The gore effects, what few there are,  don’t even rise to “that’s so bad it’s kinda cool” level. The direction is flat, lifeless, and utterly without anything resembling even the most basic ideas of “flair.” You’ll honestly wonder if every scene was done in one take.  The film was apparently shot for about $70,000-$80,000, and 20 grand of that went to Vernon. I couldn’t tell you where the rest went—it doesn’t seem to be on display in the finished product.

Director Wayne Berwick had an interesting pedigree—he’s the son of exploitation veteran Irv Berwick, whose career spanned a good three decades or so and included such varied titles as “The Monster Of Piedras Blancas” and “Malibu High.” I guess he thought he’d give it a go at following in the old man’s footsteps, but this and the 1986 straight-to-video “The Naked Monster” were his only turns in the director’s chair. In fact, this movie never even got picked up for a theatrical run and sat on the shelves until its first video release in 1982.

According to an interview with Berwick in Stephen Thrower’s “Nightmare USA,” this film was intended to play for the “stoner crowd,” which just goes to show you how poorly conceived the whole enterprise was from the outset. “I’ve got it—let’s make a movie for the stoners starring a 60-something, washed-up, no-talent comedian who wasn’t even cool in their parents’ days.” Oooooo-kay then—

Anthem Pictures' "Microwave Massacre" DVD

Anthem Pictures' "Microwave Massacre" DVD

An outfit that I’ve never heard of called Anthem Pictures released this flick on DVD a couple of years ago. It’s a bare-bones release that looks like a direct-from- VHS transfer and features no extras whatsoever. Somehow that seems appropriate.

 To sum things up, then—if you watch “Microwave Massacre,” I must warn you that you’ll wish you could turn the clock back to the time in your life before you saw it once it’s over. You’ll wish you had never known such a thing could exist. This film will make you pray to whatever deity you used to  believe in before you you started watching it that your brain would just melt and start oozing out your ears because you’ll swear it’s turning to mush inside your head  and you just want the pain to be over with. You’ll long for the life you used to have before you’d been exposed to it. And then you’ll want to watch it again.

  1. Craig Muckler says:

    Okay, I wrote the story and co- produced it. But hey, it did have a nice run through Richard Ellman in the south in drive inns. Rhino Records and Taps re-released it in 1992 to huge success in all Blockbusters in the US. Anthem has it starting to play again in , yes, theaters on the midnight circuit. I guess I did my part in turning alot of grey matter into mush, including yours. Thanks!

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Thank you! I’m glad to know it’s playing the midnight movie circuit, if you have any say with Anthem, let them know we’d love a screening here in Minneapolis, it would be very popular as part of the Uptown Theater’s midnight series. And don;t worry — I don;t miss any of my friend brain cells in the least.

  2. Gary Van Horn says:

    The movie may not have been cool, but Jackie Vernon was a very funny guy.

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