Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tell a friend

Alan Hamel used to do commercials for one of the local grocery stores, the now-defunct Alpha Beta. The tagline in every commercial was "Tell a friend."

So to 5- or 6-year-old me, he was the Alpha Beta "Tell a friend" guy. I didn't find out till later that he's married to Suzanne Somers.

While poking around on YouTube today (I've been finding a lot of good stuff lately, so I figured I'd look for more), I found an old Alpha Beta commercial from 1981, and sure enough, right at the end, BAM -- "Tell a friend."

A popular joke at recess in those days:

Did you hear Alan Hamel died? Tell a friend.

And if that happens someday, I'm ashamed to say, that's the first thing that will come to mind. Does that make me a bad person?

Alpha Beta had the cool-ass carts that had enough room so you could sit on the bottom, and there was the bank of machines near the front of the store that you had to use if you were going to pay by check. I guess it was like a preauthorization thing. My Google-fu couldn't turn up any pictures, alas.

I'm actually surprised the store name hasn't made a comeback. I'm thinking online grocery store with a little geek factor, plus retro nostalgia. The logo, I bet, would likely look something like this:
Wouldn't be a beta logo without drop shadow.

Monday, May 14, 2007

76 minutes on 50% power

Hey, guys, there are two words hidden in this picture...Sometimes you want to rent a movie based just on the title alone. Hence today's movie, Microwave Massacre. Seriously, how can you miss with a title like that?


The movie in a nutshell: Donald is a henpecked schlub who accidentally develops a taste for human flesh.

The story: Donald (Jackie Vernon) is a construction worker who suffers at every meal because his wife, May, is interested in gourmet food, which she cooks with her enormous microwave oven from Major Electric.

Now let's take a quick look at this microwave. Here's the box:

Aw, c'mon, what's in the box?
And here's the gargantuan appliance that allegedly arrived in said box:

Obviously, this was before the advent of SpaceSaver microwaves.
One day while eating a giant-crab sandwich, Donald's co-workers, Philip and Roosevelt, see Knothole Girl (yes, that's how she's billed in the credits). Knothole Girl's sole purpose in this movie is to "accidentally" push her chesticals through a hole that just so happens to be able to accommodate them both at the same time. Roosevelt almost reaches Knothole Girl, but she moves just before he gets there.

Meanwhile, back at Donald's house, May is back from the store, and she talks to the dog about how the new microwave is opening up a whole new area of cuisine.

Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord...Back on the site, Roosevelt is trying to tell Philip how to get into the groove. This is supposed to be funny because a white guy is trying to teach a black guy how to feel music. And the white guy is named Roosevelt.

All of this within the first five minutes, by the way.

Donald wants to trade his lunch, but the guys aren't going for it.

When Donald gets home, May is preparing another meal. He fantasizes about killing May. You know, the usual.

Dinner is a bunch of back and forth half-assed bickering. Donald asks why he can't just get normal food. May says the dog eats better than him; Donald agrees.

...Happy...birthday!The next day at lunch, Donald eats a dog food sandwich, while Knothole Girl, in shorts riding up to about her sacroiliac, walks onto the construction site. She wants Roosevelt to introduce her to the big buffed guy, who -- hardy-frickin-har -- is gay.

Donald stops at a bar on the way home and is still drunk when he comes home to May. He slurs a request for a bologna and cheese sandwich. He goes on a slob rampage around the house -- spitting water in May's food, emptying the vacuum bag all over the living room and pissing on a potted plant in front of the fireplace, which prompts her to say, "Donald, there is something bothering you."

He goes to throw out May's food (to help her food go farther, yok-yok) and she dumps it on his head. He goes ape, chokes her and finishes her off with the pepper mill.

The next day, he's hung over ("Ooo, I don't remember leaving a wake-up headache...") and wonders where May is with his breakfast. He's hungry and checks the microwave for something to eat. He opens it up, and May is in there. He sets it on slow broil.

It's time for lunch at work, and nabs a Jumbo Jack out of the lunch van, which prompts Roosevelt and Philip to ask what his wife will think. He says he doesn't worry anymore.

Later, he decides to cut up May, wrap the pieces in foil and stick her in the freezer, while taking out the old stuff ("Gotta make room for May."). We get a closeup of him wrapping her hand. He puts it in the freezer, but doesn't see it fall in with the old food.

In a "comedy" bit, he watches a TV talk show about committing the perfect crime. The "comedy" comes from the swear words not being bleeped out properly. Sigh.

In the middle of the night, Donald goes to get a snack. Napoleon, the dog, is whining at the garage door, which bugs Donald.

"Napoleon, she had to call him. I'm gonna kick him in his Bonaparte."

He grabs one of the foil-wrapped goodies he took out of the freezer to make room for May. I think we know where this is going. He likes it and unwraps the rest of it -- OMGWTFBBQ! It's May's hand.

"May!" he says, while the wah-wah sting plays.

He brings some May to work with him the next day and shares some of his Maywich with his work pals, who both love it.

Later at home, we see Donald making a May-kebab.

Cut to the bar, where he is in a much better mood. A chick at the bar is making faces at him, probably prompted by the wakka-chicka music that erupts out of nowhere. Sam kicks her out, as she's, uh, looking for customers, if you know what I mean.

Outside the bar, her shoe breaks. Donald catches up with her and apologizes for how Sam treated her. Apparently she has a quota or is saving up for a new Atari or something, because she offers him a shot. Her name is DeeDeeDee (her mom wanted to name her Delia, but she stuttered).

Donald takes her back to his place, but he's reluctant to, uh, get his money's worth from DeeDeeDee, which frustrates her.

"That's it! You've been gonged, mister." There's a timely reference. She goes off to get something to eat, but that pisses off Donald. He takes her to the couch and smothers her both with himself and with a flower pillow.

He lays her out on the chopping block in the kitchen, where she both moves her hands and breathes, despite being dead. As he grabs an ax, he says the line of the movie.

"I'm so hungry, I could eat a whore."

Donald and his buddies go bowling and then harass a Jack in the Box clerk at the drive-through. And it's an old-school Jack in the Box, back in the days of giving your order via clown head.

"Hello! Anybody home?"

"May I have your order, please?"

"Uh, let down your hair, unbutton your blouse, hike up your skirt, stick out your tongue ... and a Coke!"

Follow the leader, she's wearing Honda panties.The hilarity ensues when we see them drive off, leaving the confused clerk at the window, having followed his order.

One of the running gags concerns Donald's oversexed neighbors. It's there to provide some flesh and no humor at all.

Donald has to make room in the freezer for DeeDeeDee, so he throws out some of May. Later, a homeless guy finds her arm in the trash and uses it as a scratcher. I'm ashamed to have been paying this much attention, but if he ate one of May's arms as his initial foray into cannibalism, and we saw him impaling one of her hands to make a May-kebab, how is there a hand and forearm to throw away? Unless it's from DeeDeeDee, but that wouldn't make sense following the last bit of dialogue.

Another unfunny bit at a hardware store leads us to Donald's next kill. Okay, it doesn't actually lead to it, but it is the scene that comes right before it, which in this movie, is what passes for a narrative. The victim is naked on a giant piece of bread, and he's slathering her with mayonnaise from a tub of Best Foods (I'm sure they were just ticked pink for that bit of product placement).

He meets his next victim while out for a walk. She's in a crap chicken costume shilling for a restaurant. He invites her over for dinner. The last we see of her is a detached foot that looks like it came from a giant.

Later, Donald is spilling his guts out to a shrink, who is asleep. His problem is that he can't get it on with a woman unless he plans to kill her and eat her afterward, which is sick even ignoring the whole killing and eating part, unless he cleans her first. The doctor wakes up and misunderstands Donald's reference to eating, which I think was supposed to be another joke.

While cooking up his latest b(i)atch of food in the microwave, he seems to have a heart attack or something. I guess it wasn't serious, because he goes out to the garage later to fill up the freezer. May's head keeps appearing and disappearing. He finds it in the house and is holding it behind his back when there's a knock on the door. It's May's sister.

He props up the head on a pillow to convince May's sister that she's just sleeping, but she gets closer and sees it's just a head. Donald stuffs a baguette in her mouth and thinks he's killed her, which worries him, because that would mean he'd have to do it with her.

Time for a checkup with Dr. Von Der Fool (oh sweet God, when will it end?), who tells him that all the tests are okay; Donald's pacemaker is still working just fine. A nurse brings in the results, which I thought he'd just said were fine, but whatever.

We see a truck from "Bwana Meats: Let Us Cater Your Next Pagan Ritual" and Donald getting his coat out of the closet, ignoring May's sister. Don't know what they have to do with each other, but that's the sequence in which they fall.

There's another neighbor bit, and this time she's watering her lawn in such a fashion that it looks sorta like she's taking a leak.

In short order, Donald picks up another girl, kills her, cuts her up, etc.

In the next scene, Donald's neighbor is digging holes in her flower bed with a vibrator. Yeah, your guess is as good as mine.

Hey, this isn't going to be important later, is it?Another victim, another yawn. He's in charge of party snacks. His pals arrive, only to find Donald on the floor in the kitchen. They see the body parts in the microwave -- and the sticker that says "Caution! This microwave may affect pacemakers."

A while later, the house is up for sale. Movers are taking out furniture, May's sister is finally found in the closet. Two guys in the kitchen are checking out the microwave, and in case we missed the clue with the sticker, we hear that someone screwed up the wiring in the microwave, and that it's a deathtrap for anyone with a pacemaker.

Does this remind anyone else of those shrunken-head models you used a peeled apple for?With that, the camera goes into the garage, and the freezer door opens, revealing May's head, which for some reason is back on the top shelf. Oh yeah, and her eyes start to glow. Spooooky.

And that's 76 minutes of your life you aren't getting back.

Afterthoughts: Let's talk about disappointment. Though billed on the DVD as "The Worst Horror Movie of All Time," it isn't. Not in a world where there exists "Blood Freak."

Don't get me wrong; it's not a great horror movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not the worst because I refuse to believe it was supposed to be a straight horror movie. Instead, it was the always-difficult-to-pull-off horror movie spoof. But instead of spoofing the classic movie monsters, now it was time to make fun of gory horror movies and psycho-nut killers.

Before the "Scary Movie" franchise, before "Scream" (while not a spoof, it was definitely riffing on horror flick conventions) or the proto-"Scream," "There's Nothing Out There," there was "Microwave Massacre."

Though released in 1983, presumably for the big home video boom, I've seen a few references to it being filmed in 1979, which makes a lot more sense -- both in terms of the fashions and the fact that it took four years for this to show up somewhere.

This wasn't the first horror movie spoof I'd seen. That honor goes to Paramount's "Student Bodies," which came out in 1981. I haven't seen it in decades, but there are two things I will always remember about it. During one scene, someone leaves the door unlocked, and in case we missed it, an arrow flashes "Unlocked." That made me chuckle a bit. And when someone goes to answer the door, instead of a killer or a regular person there, it's just a dog, who farts.

Dog farts = comedy gold.

But back to "Microwave Massacre." Despite the title, there really isn't a microwave massacre. When you see that title on a box (back in its VHS days, it wasn't going for the camp angle on the packaging), you expect some creative carnage. I mean, you already had "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Driller Killer" and "Love Story." The idea of someone doing a little wholesale slaughter with a microwave, man, sign me up.

The biggest problem with a horror spoof is keeping it scary and funny. But here, scenes begin and end without really having any sense of continuity. At times, it's so disjointed that it's almost like channel surfing. There's not really much in the way of transition.

I like oranges.

It's just like that.

Still, it's kinda fun anyway. Jackie Vernon is deadpan all the way through, and given the material, it's probably for the best. It's even more fun if you close your eyes and imagine him as Frosty the Snowman saying all his dialogue.

This is yet another movie that's best watched with friends. It's barely over an hour long, though it seems a lot longer in parts.