Welcome back to Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you about movies that are far more entertaining than clicking aimlessly into the void of the internet. Unless you end up on Cracked, in which case, come back when you’ve managed to climb out of the wormhole that was supposed to only last for five minutes. And speaking of wormholes, this week’s film falls into some rather strange ones and I can guarantee that right to the last minute, you will not see the ending coming.
You know what always ruins my idyllic vacation in the mountains? Random weirdoes, that sprout up presumably like mushrooms on the side of the road, whose sole purpose in their fungal life is to make your life specifically miserable. Too long have we suffered random odd people who exist in drainage ditches and on turnpikes who attack cars who don’t have the decency to stop for their harassment. Thankfully, my inconveniences have been represented in Grotesque, a truly bizarre film that managed to convince a horror icon to star in it. Released in 1988, this film is so beloved by the horror community that it has a whole 13% audience score on ye olde Rotten Tomatoes and absolutely no critic score. Having seen this film (more than once, sober and by choice), I can attest that it earns the entirety of that 13% score and, amateur critic that I am, I feel like it’s time to remedy that critic score, even if by a little bit. I assure you that it’s not because this movie is a piece of lost cinematic brilliance. Rather, it takes viewers on a journey, starting off on a field trip into Bad Horror Movie land and takes a hard left straight into the bowels of Where The Fuck Are We territory. Allow me to take you on that journey.
The film starts off pretty standard, with our main character, Lisa, and her friend are driving up in the mountainous areas outside of LA (I think) to go see her parents when she encounters a group of people, whom the film insists on calling “punkers”, who are rude, aggressive and all the things you might expect from poor writing of alternative subcultures. After arriving, we discover that her father is a known name in the special effects industry and there’s a lot of his handy work on display throughout the house. It’s kind of love letter to the horror industry and its monsters. Nowhere is that more obvious than when you have only one of the most recognized names in horror starring in this incredibly well intentioned but terrible movie.
Oh right, there’s that whole, hiring an icon thing they did. Here’s the funny thing about this movie, as well as most low grade horror flicks that you find, especially coming out of the 80s. Even if it didn’t end in earth shattering stardom, no matter how limited or small of a role, horror fans will happily adopt actors for decades to come. Even if it was a horrible film or the only acting job that person had, there’s a good chance you will find their name on a convention list somewhere because we of the horror community love us some horror actors and that includes names both obscure or iconic alike. Granted, there’s really not that many icons that cross into mainstream territory but that makes them all the more notable when you do see them. You can easily spot a baby faced Jon Gries of Uncle Rico fame in Terrorvision and Jennifer Aniston will never ever escape the fact that one of her first starring roles before Friends was in the first Leprechaun movie.
You don’t have to dig that deep to find there are also other breakout stars who go on to become horror favorites, even if they don’t manage to make the jump to mainstream movies often or at all. Think of names like Linnea Quigley, probably best known for her portrayal of Trash in Return of the Living Dead but has a long and mighty list of films that she’s been a part of. There’s also Eric Freeman, who was welcomed back to the world of acting only after discovering that horror fans had been trying to track him down for years because of his now infamous performance in Silent Night Deadly Night 2. These two are not the exceptions, however, as horror has always really come to embrace and revere the names that bring their favorite characters, especially villains, to life. There’s a special place in the hearts of horror fans reserved for the names Bela Lugosi, Barbara Steele, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Robert Englund, Kane Hodder or Bruce Campbell because of the kind of passion and unforgettable performances they brought to our favorite films, many of them filling their roles more than once. Then, there’s the one name that casts a shadow that’s four decades long, its edges stretching even into mainstream consciousness. That name is Linda (Motherfucking) Blair.
While it might be lost on younger audiences today, there’s no denying the weight of Blair’s performance in the absolute cultural atomic bomb that was The Exorcist. Still making top ten lists to this day, the film holds up for many and even those who aren’t fans recognize its importance in the genre. It’s pretty hard not to acknowledge the film that scared the shit out of an entire generation and still, to this day, hits the fear button for many who saw it back when it was released in 1973. In her long career, Blair has managed to score all kinds of other roles since then but, like many people who have been involved in a landmark horror film, the role of Regan is always going to be something that will follow her. Casting the Linda Blair in this film was a sure way to guarantee that people would get interested enough to watch it, even just once.
So what did they do? In the name of the Bait and Switch, they pull a Psycho moment killed off their point of view character only to reveal a subplot that was only barely hinted at. Now were are at the mercy of our surviving faux punks to be our point of view characters. I know, you’re likely as thrilled to be on this ride as much as most parents are to be on baby’s first swing ride at the fair. Don’t worry. It’s gets weirder still. Said subplot involves the arrival of Tab Hunter as a random uncle and he’s got some secrets of his own. I can’t bring myself to spoil it so just trust me that wherever you think this film is going, you may be right on part of it but I can guarantee that you have no idea what you’re going to see in the end.
By this late hour, you might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about the characters. Well, that’s because there really aren’t any. When you meet them, you can guess who is cannon fodder pretty much right away. You could probably plot a decent betting system around who is going to die when and a lot of the first half is so by the numbers, you might be able to win some decent cash. Not that I’m advocating gambling but, you know, if you’re into that it’s an option. Anyway. The shallow characters are mostly the fault of the fact that the writers never really give the audience any time to get to know anyone. You get some minor hints of who people are and there is some minor attempt to establish that these people might have personalities or something that passes for them. That said, this doesn’t amount to much and everything they reveal to you is something you could fit in less than a paragraph for each of them, assuming they have any traits other than third least fast runner or second guy on the left. Even by slasher standards, it’s pretty lazy writing but it really is in service to the big Bait and Switch thing they pull. The filmmakers really banked all their hopes on that plot twist carrying the rest of the film but given the ending, I think they already knew by the time they were done editing that they didn’t quite stick the landing.
So is the journey to insanity and beyond that this film brings us through worth the time it takes to get there? As always, that really depends on you and what you’re looking for but I can vouch for the fact that the performances aren’t all terrible and, considering that she was given nothing to work with, Linda Blair actually did a pretty good job. The performances that are terrible are entertaining and I can say that I wasn’t bored by it. In fact, I can assure you that I wasn’t stuck asking are we there yet throughout the entire film. There were plenty of times I wondered if there was a guide book to what the fuck I was seeing and a whole lot more times I asked myself if I, the filmmakers or the writers in general knew where the hell we all were going during. But I can safely say that I had no idea where the destination was going to be so I couldn’t ask if we were arriving there soon. So there is still that part of things.
Straight up, this is a terrible film. There are less redeeming qualities to it than others I’ve reviewed but, as it always seems to be the case, I still can’t say you shouldn’t see it. It is very very weird and while I don’t want to hype up that ending too much, it really does tend to take a hard left into territory that seems to wander in out of nowhere. It’s weirder still because all of the things they do are all well established things you see in horror films but it’s accomplished in such a way that I can’t say I’ve seen before. It’s done in such a clunky way that I have a hard time telling people to avoid it because it has to be seen to really get the full experience. And truly, this is what you’re going to get from this film. So if Facebook is getting on your nerves, take a trip to 1988 and enjoy a spectacle that you won’t see anywhere else.