Microwave Massacre (short) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
Disgruntled construction worker Donald (Jackie Vernon) unwittingly stumbles upon a solution to the two major problems in his life – his nagging wife and his lack of decent meals – when, one night, he bludgeons his better half to death with a pepper grinder in a drunken rage. Thinking on his feet, Donald dismembers the body and sets about microwaving the remains, which turn out to be rather delicious. Trouble is, now, he has a taste for human flesh that needs satisfying… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
In the classic age of the mom & pop video store the horror section beckoned young and impressionable viewers with revolting, terrifying, and sometimes hilarious box art. The most striking visuals tended to belong to Thriller, Regal, Magnum, and Wizard Video, whose ‘big box’ releases were adorned by gory illustrations that rarely reflected the content of the cheap, usually foreign-made movies within. But there were memorable examples from other companies, such as Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker (1990) tape, which was fitted with an audio chip that shouted “Wanna date?!” when a button was pressed. Midnight Video’s big box release of Wayne Berwick’s Microwave Massacre (1983, though shot in the late ‘70s) was particularly evocative for young Gabe, because its detailed and satirical art evoked John Pound’s work on the then-hot Garbage Pail Kids collectible cards. The actual film within the box is about as junkie as you might expect in terms of its over-the-top humour, dopey T&A, casual racism, not-so-casual misogyny, and painfully outdated jokes, but it is slightly better-made than the majority of its STV horror-comedy brethren. The photography is colorful and the production design rises above the average Troma movie. That said, it’s still an acquired flavour of intentionally crude filmmaking – one that demands tolerance for meandering dialogue, painfully amatuer performances, and terrible pacing. Those with a taste for this type of trash are in for a sleazy treat, while the rest of us may be driven slowly insane by its droning lack of content. It’s like the paint drying on a wall of gore/sex comedies.
The only DVD version of Microwave Massacre I’ve ever seen in person came from Anthem Pictures (Wikipedia claims there is a Japanese DVD, but I can’t find any box art with a studio name). It was a full-frame release. This Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack represents its first HD and anamorphic releases in any territory (it has been released only a day apart in the US and UK). Confession: because I have only seen it on VHS and it is such a cheapo hunk o' junk, I assumed that Microwave Massacre was shot either on video or 8mm. 16mm tops. My second assumption was that its intended aspect ratio was 1.33:1, since it had basically gone straight-to-video (note that imdb.com also lists the OAR at 1.37:1). It appears I was wrong on both accounts. In fact, this 1.85:1, 1080p transfer (taken from a 2K scan of the original camera negative) is actually quite handsome, making this grimey little Z-movie look surprisingly cinematic or at least something that could’ve been released in a grindhouse theater without raising too many eyebrows.
The original mono sound is presented in lossless 1.0 LPCM audio. There are some pops and snaps throughout (usually during reel changes), but the overall sound quality is clean and surprisingly dynamic for a cheap single-channel mix. The crisply-mixed dialogue exhibits only slight hiss and Leif Horvath’s keyboard & rock-infused music is pretty loud, if not inconsistent (sometimes everything dips briefly into muddiness).
Commentary with writer/producer Craig Muckler, moderated by Mike Tristano – This new track features a hyperactive, super-happy Muckler, whose almost unhinged behind-the-scenes anecdotes are barely hemmed in by a bemused Tristano (who I assume is the same Mike Tristano known for his weapon props company?). Things start pretty typical, but ‘typical’ doesn’t seem to be the writer/producer’s speed. Throughout the giggle-fits, there’s quite a bit of information. And, given the super-slow pace, this track may be the preferred way to experience the film.
My Microwave Massacre Memoirs (21:07, HD) - This retrospective featurette includes interviews with Muckler, director Wayne Berwick, and actor Loren Schein. All three begin by discussing growing-up around show business types (Berwick’s dad, Irvin, directed The Monster of Piedras Blancas, 1959, and was Muckler’s film school teacher), earlier employment in the industry, developing Microwave Massacre, finding funding, casting Jackie Vernon (the voice of Frosty the Snowman!) and family friends, editing, and the five-year struggle with distribution.