Color, 1983, 76m.
Directed by Wayne Berwick
Starring Jackie Vernon, Loren Schein, Al Troupe, Marla Simon, Claire Ginsberg
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)


Microwave MassacreMicrowave MassacreThis completely ridiculous cannibal comedy managed to sucker in a lot of '80s VHS gorehounds with its grisly art showing a severed head in a microwave. Yes, there are murders, and a a severed head, and a giant microwave, but the tone here is more like a Borscht Belt suburban comedy directed by H.G. Lewis and Lloyd Kaufman.

Nightclub and TV comic Jackie Vernon (who also voiced Frosty the Snowman in those Rankin/Bass TV specials) gets one of the weirdest starring vehicles ever here as Donald, a sad sack construction worker whose colleagues are all distracted by the female flasher who keeps sticking her breasts through a hole in the wall. That's nothing compared to his home life where his wife, May (Ginsberg), serves experimental, largely inedible dishes. Their combative relationship causes him to indulge in violent fantasies about killing her, and eventually that comes to pass. However, a mix up involving the basement refrigerator, leftover meat, and May's chopped-up remains accidentally awakens Donald to the culinary delights of human flesh. Hooked on this new savory treat, he brings home more women to use as ingredients in his quest for satisfying dishes.

If that sounds like a gory and tasteless film, this one largely sidesteps anything truly offensive by keeping most of the murders way off screen. You do see some fake body parts here and there, but compared to the slasher films pouring out around this time, it's downright genteel. The real shock value here lies in the weird clash of tones with T&A, awkward one liners (everyone keeps pausing like they're waiting for a laugh track), and sick cannibal gags all swirled up together in a big stew that'll work best if you watch it late at night when your brain won't even try to sort it all out. Adding to the fun is a Microwave Massacresoundtrack heavily loaded with '70s library music, including an unforgettable main titles with some impressive bouncing bosoms accompanied by Brian Bennett's catchy "Bourbon," used earlier to great effect in The Opening of Misty Beethoven.

So Microwave Massacreomnipresent in mom and pop video stores it actually felt like an old friend in the '80s, this film had few vocal fans but obviously got rented out enough to earn a reasonable audience. It didn't fare so well in the following decades for the most part, including a dubious DVD from "Anthem Pictures" that brands it "the worst horror movie of all time." Somehow Arrow Video managed to beat Criterion to the punch by nabbing this one for a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release in both the US and UK, featuring a new 2K transfer from the original 35mm negative that looks about a thousand times better than you'd ever believe this could look. Pretty much flawless, it's so detailed and colorful you'll wish all films made this cheaply could be treated so well. The LPCM English audio (with optional English subs) on the Blu-ray sounds really punchy as well, especially with that opening music.

Also included among the audio options is a lively and often very funny new audio commentary with writer-producer Craig Muckler (misidentified on the menu as director Wayne Berwick) moderated by Mike Tristano, with topics including early camaraderie among the filmmakers at UCLA (almost all of whom worked on Malibu High first), the miniscule budget ("just south of $100,000"), the potential early casting of Rodney Dangerfield, the rumors of Paul Reubens having a small role here, a first refusal deal with Paramount(!), the influence of Roger Corman, Muckler's highly unorthodox cameo, and much more. Muckler, Berwick, and actor Loren Schein turn up for a 21-minute Elijah Drenner featurette, "Microwave Massacre Memoirs," focusing on how they all got together through Berwick's producer father, their lack of experience ("We didn't know anything about filmmaking!"), the delay between the start of its production in 1978 and its eventual release (during which they shot more "T&A" to make it more commercial), and the limitations of working with Vernon's "shtick." The theatrical trailer and a gallery of stills and promotional material is also included, while the packaging includes the usual reversible sleeve options and, in the first pressing, a new booklet on the film's peculiar place in the history of American indie horror by the always welcome Stephen Thrower.

Reviewed on August 3, 2016.