Microwave Massacre
Arrow Video // Unrated // $34.95 // August 16, 2016
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 18, 2016
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Graphical Version
Microwave...?

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Check. Massacre...?

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Yup. Gotta say, the math checks out. At the same time, chances are that Microwave Massacre isn't the movie you think it is. Alas, no microwave ever attains sentience and goes on a killing spree. Despite roaring into drive-ins at the height of the slasher boom, it's hardly another teenage body count flick either. Nope, we're talking about a cannibalistic black comedy -- think Eating Raoul-by-way-of-Henny-Youngman -- about a sad sack who just really wants a bologna sandwich.

Donald (Jackie Vernon) doesn't wanna shove anything in his mouth that he can't pronounce. His shrewish wife May (Claire Ginsberg), meanwhile, has a taste for the finer things in life. Y'know, haute cuisine, or "hat quee-zini" as she'd probably shriek it. The lady's got four wall ovens, each dedicated to a particular type of dish. And her shiny, new, industrial-size microwave...? That sucker's so colossal that she could nuke a suckling pig in there. Donald wouldn't bother with chicken cordon bleu or an artichoke and spinach soufflé no matter who was wearing the chef's jacket, but May fumbling around with her microwave...? Fuhgettaboutit. After too many days and nights of this routine, Donald gets a few beers in him, bludgeons his wife to death with a pepper grinder, dismembers her, wraps her remains in foil, and refrigerates the evidence. I know, right? Same old story.

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Anyway, not too long after that, Donald fumbles around in search of a midnight snack and discovers what wonderful taste his late wife truly had. Or, well, has, as he unwittingly takes a chomp out of her severed hand. Mmmm, it's finger-lickin' good! A blue collar guy like Don isn't gonna let all that incriminating evidence meat go to waste, and before long, he's serving up May Spare Ribs to the guys at his construction site. It's a hit, and look who the man of the hour is now! Donald's no chef, though, and to hone his craft, he's gotta make a lot more meals and will need a bunch more meat. But hey, that's what hookers are for, right? Donald brings home a parade of women, has his way with them, and then butchers them for meat afterwards. I've heard of injecting brine into pork and stuff, but filling your dinner full of that is...whew.

Microwave Massacre had me for a minute, opening with a closeup of that oversized microwave with electronic tonalities straight out of Forbidden Planet. I'm impressed by its commitment to filling the screen with gorgeous women, all of whom are either bare-assed naked, stripped down to near-nothing, or vacuum-sealed into the tightest outfits that 1978 had to offer. There are a couple of laughs scattered around in here: the foxy next door neighbor using a vibrator as a gardening tool; a surreal sequence with Donald slathering a hooker's naked body in mayo before shoving her between two cartoonishly oversized slices of bread.

By and large, though, its sense of humor is pretty much what you'd expect from a way-past-his-sell-by-date comedian like Jackie Vernon. "Some men -- you should know -- still find me...attractive!" "How should I know them? I didn't attend the Braille Institute!" He's a cannibal who murders hookers, which means "I'm so hungry, I could eat a whore!" Oh no, the roundtable on the nightly news is saying "fuck" and "bullshit"! A hobo digs a dismembered arm out of the trash and scratches his balls with it. There are titty jokes of every shape and size. Thrill to low-hanging fruit like the muscular pin-up guy at the construction site turning out to be a flaming stereotype or Donald killing an Asian hooker and serving "Peking Chick". I walk away from Eating Raoul rooting for The Blands, even with all the ghastly things they do. There's nothing remotely so sympathetic about that prick Donald (there wouldn't even be a movie if he'd take two minutes and pack his own fucking lunch), and even his wife comes across as a well-meaning dingbat rather than the insufferable shrew the movie tries to paint her as being. So, yeah, Microwave Massacre isn't much of a comedy. It doesn't set out to be a horror flick, with no stabs at scares or suspense, and some dime store body parts (courtesy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's Robert Burns!) are about as close to splatter as you get.

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I guess I just wish that Microwave Massacre were either a whole lot better or much, much worse. It's not an accidental masterpiece like Blood Rage or as surreally awful as something on the level of Flesh Eating Mothers. As it is, Microwave Massacre sort of plays like Eating Raoul if it stepped on a rake and conked itself on the head over and over and over. Not recommended.


Video
Wow.

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I've come to expect the extraordinary from Arrow Video, but even by their dizzyingly high standards, Microwave Massacre is something else altogether. Newly restored from the original camera negative, the level of detail and clarity showcased here is unreal. Its colors are achingly gorgeous, and that sheen of film grain couldn't be rendered more beautifully. There's no sign of wear to speak of, and even speckling is kept to a bare minimum. The authoring of this Blu-ray release is in every way perfect as well. I'm awfully stingy with my five star ratings, but this outstanding presentation of Microwave Massacre really does deserve it.


Audio
The 24-bit, uncompressed, monaural audio doesn't score quite so well, but it hits the marks I'd hoped it would and then some. Dialogue is understandably on the dated side, and there are some pops and clicks lurking in the background. The Foley work comes through really well -- that malformed rat-dog munching on his dinner or Donald pissing in the living room, for instance -- and the same goes for the whirring analog synths in Leif Horvath's score. It's not polished to any sort of gleaming sheen or whatever, but I can definitely tell that the audio was remastered from the original elements, and the end result absolutely trumps what I walked in expecting to hear. Well done.

Also along for the ride are an audio commentary and a set of English (SDH) subtitles.


Extras
  • My Microwave Massacre Memoirs (21 min.; HD): Director Wayne Berwick is joined by writer/producer Craig Muckler and actor Loren Schein for this terrific retrospective. Among the many topics of conversation here are lining up financing through Thomas Singer's contacts in the sports world, losing the backdrop for the grocery store opening at the last possible minute, using a house that Monkee Mickey Dolenz had just moved out of as a soundstage, rolling with a screenplay of wall-to-wall schtick that they were handed two days before shooting began, debunking the longstanding rumors of a pre-Pee-Wee Paul Reubens cameo, and delving into the lengthy, brutal process of post-production and getting this oddball dark comedy distributed. The list keeps going from there, but...yeah! Detailed, engaging, and pretty much everything I want from this sort of featurette.

  • Audio Commentary: The menus list (twice, even) a commentary with director Wayne Berwick, but...nope! This is instead a conversation with writer/producer Craig Muckler that's moderated by Mike Tristano, the latter of whom wasn't involved with Microwave Massacre but helmed Muckler's kinda-sorta-sequel The Flesh Merchant. Taken on its own, this is a fine commentary, but a lot of these talking points have already been addressed in the set's lengthy featurette and detailed liner notes. The best parts are the stories Muckler tells, such as Wes Craven recommending 'Saw alum Robert Burns as art director, getting a cop to stop traffic for 'em despite a complete lack of pricey permits, and spelling out as much as is known about the fate of May's severed head. There are also details of at least one deleted scene -- a gonzo dream sequence -- that couldn't be unearthed for this Blu-ray release. Not an essential listen, but that speaks more to the quality of the other extras than anything else.
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  • Image Gallery (HD): This high-res gallery heaps on black and white stills from the set, a gaggle of video art, and a smattering of promotional stuff. There are around eighteen images in all.

  • Trailer (1 min.; SD): Last to bat is a snarky, standard definition trailer from Anthem Pictures.

  • BD-ROM Extras: If you're one of the eight other people the world over with a BD-ROM drive, you can pop open PDFs of Microwave Massacre's original eight page synopsis and eighteen page treatment, complete with handwritten notes in the margins.

I'm a sucker for Wes Benscoter's artwork in general, but as fantastic as the newly-commissioned cover looks, the original art on the flipside is too much of a nostalgic blast for me to pass up. No matter which side you opt for, it's a check in the 'Win' column. This combo pack also includes an anamorphic widescreen DVD and an epic retrospective penned by Nightmare USA's Stephen Thrower. It's so lengthy and in-depth that I thought it was two separate pieces, even.


The Final Word
I know! We live in a world in which Adam Tyner reviews Microwave Massacre without "Recommended" in bold and italics at the bottom. I'm at a loss as well. Arrow's Blu-ray release is as terrific as ever, but if you haven't subjected yourself to Microwave Massacre before, Rent It first.


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