With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
While some rubber suited creatures of the ‘80s were meant to terrify, some were meant to elicit laughs. The Hungry Beast of TerrorVision fell squarely in the latter, this Empire International Pictures production feeling more like a live-action cartoon that embraced the camp of its era. Aiming straight for the heart of comedy, TerrorVision followed the slimy alien creature with a voracious appetite as he’s transported from an alien garbage disposal to Earth by way of cable satellite. For the Puttermans, that means an unforeseen complication with their newly installed cable satellite antenna.
Produced by Empire founder Charles Band and scored by his brother Richard Band, TerrorVision marks a few notable ‘80s staples of cult cinema. Diane Franklin (Amityville II: The Possession) has a large role as the colorful punk rock older sister of lead protagonist Sherman Putterman. Jon Gries (Fright Night Part 2, The Monster Squad) plays her metal head boyfriend O.D., and Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D.) is every bit of the ham you’d expect as one half of the sex addicted, swinging parental unit of the Putterman household. The Putterman home and its inhabitants are every bit of the camp and silliness associated with the era. With the parents more interested in their swingers’ club, the Putterman kids tend to be the more responsible ones.
Left to their own devices, Sherman is the first to notice something is amiss. The Hungry Beast crash lands in the parents’ “pleasure dome,” devours them and assimilates them with his ability to imitate his prey. When Sherman and his sister Suzy discover the Hungry Beast, they instead try to domesticate it, trying to subdue it with television and food. It doesn’t exactly look like the cute cuddly thing you’d want to keep as a pet. Aside from its voracious garbage-disposal like appetite, the monstrous, asymmetrical alien boasts a perpetual lopsided grin bearing rows of pointy teeth and a lumpy, mucous covered skin.
The Hungry Beast alien, and the film’s special makeup, was designed by another Empire International Pictures staple; John Carl Buechler. The special effects artist and director was pulling double duty during production, not just as the special effects makeup designer and supervisor for TerrorVision, but as the director of another cult film, Troll. Troll had been shot in the soundstage next door to TerrorVision just a few weeks prior, and Buechler spent his evenings in the editing bay working on his film while working on the effects for TerrorVision by day. As the special effects makeup and creature designer for Ghoulies, and makeup artist on films like Re-Animator, the goofy design of the Hungry Beast was different than anything Buechler had done up until that point. Writer/Director Ted Nicolaou wanted something puerile, and gave Buechler the instruction to make the creature look really stupid.
Between the ceaseless quantities of slime on screen and the complete lack of seriousness in which Nicolaou takes the film, it’s no surprise that it didn’t fare well in its limited run. Naturally, the critics hated it. Of course, it also didn’t help that TerrorVision received an R-rating. There’s no real gore, only alien blue viscera or slimy deaths, and most of the risqué elements are suggested via innuendo rather than explicit. The Putterman household is decorated with a lot of nude paintings, and sex is discussed overtly, though. All of this to say, that the audience that this seemed ideal for was automatically barred from catching this in theaters with its R-rating.
Even if Buechler wasn’t exactly happy with the design of the Hungry Beast, it’s easily the most memorable part of what amounts to a live-action ‘80s cartoon. It’s not exactly a great movie, but there is a pure sense of goofy fun about it that makes it easy to see why it’s built up a cult following in the decades that followed. The slimy alien from planet Pluton makes you realize what a time capsule film this really is; I can’t ever imagine a film or creature like this getting greenlit in the present.