My longest-term pen pal from this website wrote me to recommend this, warning that it is “stupid off the visible spectrum, in ways only bees can see,” which is a phrase that was immediately added to my own vocabulary. It was, and how, and also provided the welcome spectacle of an endless parade of things I never expected to see on a TV screen. And it finds continual ways to surprise and delight—if only with how imbecilic what you’re seeing truly is—that I can’t help but give it my really rather high but not quite highest recommendation.
We open hearing a heavy metal song as we see our killer in his secret hideway, and notice that he drags one leg, which we know will be his signature. This is intercut with footage of beatings and bombs and violence from television. Soon we join our hero Jonathan, played by Peter Berg, the same one that went on to direct Friday Night Lights and Battleship. He is on the football field, where he is distracted by the blonde loveliness of Alison, who causes him to bash into a goal post, then fall over a table. They walk into town, where we see a bunch of running kids vanish as they run past. Okay, then when Alison suddenly vanishes, we’re like “Are we in a dream?” You know how director Wes Craven likes to slide us into dreams without us knowing. He then finds dewy hot and scrumptiously sweaty Mitch Pileggi [before his stint on X-Files ] about to kill his mom and sister. He calls the killer “Dad” and jumps at him—then wakes in Alison’s arms. He runs back home—and finds the police there, where his mother and sisters have indeed been killed. The police lieutenant investigating the case of the notorious family-killer is there, and Jon calls HIM Don, although he’s supposed to be his father. What’s going on? Well, it turns out that Don adopted Jon at the age of 7, so Don is referred to as “his father,” although… well, I think we already know who Jon’s real dad will turn out to be, right? And we’re obviously deep into the middle of a father-issue clambake unlike any seen since Freddy Got Fingered.
Jon tells Don about his visions, describing details he couldn’t have known, and tells Don he wants in on the investigation! This is frankly ludicrous, but if he didn’t, our main character would be sidelined from all the action. He tells Don where the killer’s lair is, and they go there with some police backup. They go in, and find the killer has a number of TVs all tuned to the same war footage—actually somewhat effective—and wander through his lair. It becomes absolutely clear how utterly ridiculous the idea that they’d let this kid into the middle of a potentially-violent police action is, but there we are. The killer slays four police officers and gets away. The fact that Jon saw the killer in a dream is reported on the news, which the killer, Horace Pinker, hears. He’s now going to target Jon directly. We also get some indications that Pinker is into occult arts, which is in the story for one purpose and one purpose only.
SPOILERS > > >
Alison is showering at home and is just SO worried about Jon, begging aloud “Please God, keep him safe!” before she gets savagely slaughtered! THAT was a shock. Jon gets the news and rushes over, where numerous police people tell him “Don’t go in there!” but do nothing whatsoever to stop him. He makes it to the bathroom, its walls completely covered with his girlfriend’s blood, and goes on to get a good look at her chopped-up body in the bathtub. Pretty macabre, no? Get ready, folks, because this is when the wack-o-meter edges into the red, and keeps increasing for the remainder of the film.
He goes to sleep and essentially astral-projects to the site of the killer’s latest whole-family slaying [this killer is ridiculously busy, taking out whole families apparently in a nightly basis, which is also unnecessarily macabre, as numerous children are killed by implication]. He and the killer can see each other and talk in these visions, and Jon quite ludicrously tell him to “come take me on.” Jon wakes, and rushes over to the crime scene, only to find Don has tracked him there, and the police rush in! Jon rushes in, too, and confronts the killer! This leads to a protracted rooftop chase in which Jon alone confronts the killer, all police having been left behind, and finds Jon’s face rubbed against one of those spinning rooftop vents, one of the more unusual tortures in movie history, you must admit. Soon the police show up and take Pinker into custody, where he taunts Jon by saying “It’s in the blood… you and me, we’re killers.” Jon decides that he “has” to see Pinker be executed, because “he’s earned it.” Don agrees, because again: if not, Jon wouldn’t be in the action scenes!
So we proceed to the execution scene. Now, lately Apple has been outsmarting my ability to get screengrabs off of DVDs, so I’ve just been fishing for images off the internet. But this film contained so many wacky sights, I HAD to pick certain ones, even if it meant taking a picture of my TV with my cellphone. The first was Jon being exfoliated by rooftop spinning vent, the second was when: they go down to Pinker’s cell to gather him for his execution, and find him doing some sort of ritual with his television, at which point a beam comes out of the TV and, in response to his request to become one with the beyond or whatever, a set of blue lips come out of the TV and say “You got it, baby.” Pinker seems to be electrocuted, but comes alive to bite and stretch the lips of a black guard, which I suspect is supposed to be funny in a naughty but racist way.
Upstairs, before his electrocution, Pinker reveals that he’s Jon’s father, which is apparently a shock to Jon, even after all that’s transpired. He looks at John and salaciously says “I was beating you real good, boy” when mom tried to stop him, with a gun, which Jon picked up and shot Pinker in the knee. Pinker is electrocuted, but survives. A female doctor goes in to help him, there is chaos and Pinker seems to escape… but they soon find him there, and in a second he self-immolates and dissolves. But! Pinker passed into the female doctor, who twists the head of a policeman as they drive away! It would now seem that Pinker can pass from host to host! Next, the killer comes after Jon in the form of the cop, and you’ll notice that he’s a shitty shot when shooting at John—he expends maybe 8 bullets trying to hit him—then turns and plugs a passing jogger with one.
Then one of the highlights of the film—the killer passes into “adorable” 8yo blonde girl in pink, named Amanda. It’s funny that this little girl is this mean killer, but what I thought was really funny was the sight of Jon running on the attack after this little girl, her horrified mother running after. Then we discover, to our surprise, that the pendant that Jon gave to Alison before she was brutally dismembered—some heart-shaped total piece of crap from Zales or something—has the power to force Pinker from the body of his host. Because of the power of Jon and Alison’s love, I guess? HIGHLY sketchy. Then Pinker tosses the pendant into the lake, so Jon runs into the lake to look for it, then decides he has to go home and get his mask. But then his friend Rhino says he’ll go in and get it, but Jon says it’s useless without a mask, despite that HE was just looking without a mask, and neither mentioning that it is on the verge of darkness outside, making looking for it useless. You just have to accept a LOT of stupidity here.
Jon goes back to Alison's house, where he is bothered by Pinker, but then—the ghost of Alison appears! AND she can shoot defensive beams out of her chest! This whole line was quite a surprise. Then Pinker extends his fingers, sticks them into a plug, and is sucked into the electrical system. Then Don stops by. We note that Don smokes at a lot of crime scenes, which I think is a bit of a no-no. Then Don arrests Jon! But wait—he’s possessed by Pinker! Then Jon escapes from custody, and they both end up at the top of the local television broadcasting tower, with a prominent sign saying STAY CLEAR of the dish, so… guess where Don ends up? And, as I’m sure you could surmise through a simple chain of logic, Don is absorbed by the TV signal and beamed out across the land.
Next we join Jon in his family’s house, where he has invited the TV news to be broadcasting live when he exposes the killer. He tells them to go live at five to midnight. He then goes to the lake, in the dark, to look for the pendant on its bottom [among the weeds and dirt, in the PITCH BLACK of night] and this is apparently KEY to his plan, on which the TV people are depending. I think he should have planned ahead, personally. But then Alison appears again, from out of the lake, and she somehow has a real body now. Jon comments that she’s dead, but she responds with something like “Who cares? I’m here now, aren’t I?” They then make out by the lake. Oh, and guess who brought the pendant back?
Jon then goes to Alison’s house [WHAT ABOUT the TV crew?] and, you will surely be surprised to learn, discovers that PINKER HAS POSSESSED THE RECLINER. Yes! …didn’t see that one coming, did you? So Jon is attacked by a chair, a CHAIR, I repeat, which says “This Barcalounger is gonna kick your ass, boy!” Then Jon jumps into the television, followed by Pinker, and then we have a sequence of them fighting within a number of different types of footage—nuclear test footage, Vietnam footage, a TV evangelist show—and I really liked the goofy loopiness of all that. Plus, it’s super-lighthearted and makes for a fun finale. Only, that’s not it.
They end up back in the bedroom, with the extremely patient TV crew, who is still there, hours later, and suddenly Jon discovers that he can control Pinker with the remote control, which allows him to beat the killer up. Then Jon jumps into the video camera, and his friends cause a blackout in the city, dissolving Pinker. Then all the residents of the city come out and marvel at the stars, which they can now see because of the blackout. And Jon is reunited with Alison, even though she is a reanimated corpse, and he is a television signal? Well, at least love won in the end.
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So there you are: terribly fun, quite full of surprises, and stupid as all-get-out. It’s incredible to think that Craven was hoping to make a new franchise out of this [as Wiki says he was], but who knows what people will go for. It was fun to watch, and really, there are so few times I'm genuinely surprised at where a movie is going—even if I’m surprised by how shockingly idiotic it is. But there were a few good ones in here, like the killer child and the chase through all the different TV footage at the end, which also betray that Craven is having a wonderful time and wants us to have fun, too, which can be very endearing. There’s still all the appallingly idiotic choices—the possessed recliner comes to mind—but overall it’s all so silly it’s still fun.
In here is a would-be satire of the TV news and… okay, umm, so a super-violent film about a man who murders a new entire family every day is criticizing TV for being too violent and desensitizing us to images? No matter. The film is suffused with a feeling of fun and it seems that Craven just wants us to have a good time, and if some of, or many, many of, the elements are just plain batshit crazy, well, that’s just because he got a little too enthusiastic. There are worse problems to have. This is an utter piece of crap, to be sure, but it’ll show you a good time and send you off with a smile on your face.
If you like wack-a-doodle 80s horror movies, you must!