Microwave Massacre

| August 19, 2016

Thanks to companies like Vinegar Syndrome and Arrow Video, we are living in an unexpected new golden age of physical home video releases. Arrow has particularly stepped up their game over the last few years since launching their US branch, issuing an impressively varied slate of films from Japanese crime dramas to nearly forgotten American slasher classics on Blu-ray. Their work on restorations and their selection of films has been fantastic, so it’s something of a mystery as to why they decided to turn their attention to Wayne Berwick’s Microwave Massacre. Probably better known for its amazing VHS cover art than for being an actual movie, Microwave Massacre bucks the trend of Arrow uncovering lost classics by being one of the absolute worst films they’ve ever released.

Donald (Jackie Vernon, voice of Rankin/Bass’s Frosty the Snowman) is a schlubby construction worker whose shrieking harridan wife May (Claire Ginsberg) is starving him with her attempts at haute cuisine. All Donald wants is a burger, and one night after a few too many drinks at the local watering hole he comes home and accidentally kills May. Well, “accidentally.” He chops her up and then gets up for a midnight snack and accidentally ends up eating her hand. Well, “accidentally.” Suddenly Donald has a new favorite snack, and his co-workers at the construction site love it, too. Donald’s pleased with his newfound popularity, but he starts to feel kind of guilty that he has to keep murdering women and eating them for his own sexual fulfillment. In case it is unclear from this plot summary, the movie is supposedly a comedy.

The single biggest problem with Microwave Massacre is the fact that it feels obligated to remind the viewer of this fact every second of its running time. It’s constantly, aggressively, embarrassingly unfunny. This is basically a 76-minute “Take my wife, please” joke, except with cannibalism. Vernon desperately milks every line for all it’s worth and then just keeps going, eventually spending a good amount of his screen time directly addressing the camera. This has the rather unfortunate effect of making the film feel almost like a Michael Haneke-esque indictment of the audience as conspirator. Donald’s screwing hookers and then murdering them for snacks, and you allow it to happen by continuing to watch the movie. By the time Vernon utters the line “I’m so hungry I could eat a whore,” it’s too late to stop watching. You’re an accomplice now.

Arrow has inexplicably given Microwave Massacre the same royal treatment it gives every film it releases. The film has been restored in 2K from its original camera negative, and it looks a hell of a lot better than it ever needed to. The Blu-ray/DVD combo set includes a full-length commentary by writer/producer Craig Muckler, which somewhat unbelievably is not just Muckler repeatedly apologizing and expressing despairing disbelief that Arrow poured money and resources into saving this movie while countless others are lost to history. Other features include a 21-minute featurette that features interviews with Muckler, director Wayne Berwick, and actor Loren Shein, a trailer made for a previous DVD release (which refers to it as “the worst horror film ever made”), a photo gallery and the film’s original treatment and 8-page synopsis as BD/DVD-ROM files. Rounding out the package is the typically gorgeous reversible sleeve.

As a film, Microwave Massacre is as awful as Arrow’s last dozen releases are worthwhile. Maybe someone in accounting figured they were due to balance the scales or risk giving their fans an overdose of greatness. And as terrible as it is, it’s still encouraging that companies like Arrow are willing to dig deep and give weird stuff like this such a nice release. Here’s hoping the next movie they give this treatment actually deserves it.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom

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