Boutique home entertainment label Arrow Video has made a name for itself as a purveyor of premium cult schlock, specialising in the rediscovery and restoration of semi-forgotten video nasties and trans-Atlantic exploitation cinema of the 1970s and 80s. The films in Arrow’s collection may be cheap, nasty and even offensive, but they are nevertheless important, occupying their place in the canon of alternative cinema: a grimy, popular antidote to the self-regarding film school history of Godard, Tarkosvky and Bergman.
The crimson violence of Requiescant, What Have you Done to Solange, and The Witch Who Came From the Sea is immediate, political and often unsettling; even less ‘important’ titles – Hired to Kill, The Mutilator – usually have some redeeming qualities, be it gratuitous splatter, a decent soundtrack or an unruly Olly Reed in a lead role. Not so with the Wayne Berwick’s 1983 Microwave Massacre, a festering sack of garbage, its wretched drabness superseded only by its morally repugnant heart. Yes, Microwave Massacre is a failure in every possible sense, an irredeemable slog whose only questionable highlight is its sub-pornographic opening scene, in which a busty young blonde struts down the street to Leif Horvath’s trashy score and is ogled and then maybe sexually assaulted (it’s never made clear) by construction workers.
One of the workers is main character Donald, played by faded stand-up comic Jackie Vernon, frequently breaking the fourth wall with interminably unfunny one liners and gags lame enough to make Bernard Manning groan. And it’s all downhill from there. Donald’s main conflict comes from the fact that his lonely and frustrated wife insists on cooking him new, confusing recipes for dinner, preparing them in their new-fangled microwave (seriously – were microwaves even a new appliance in 1983?). He responds by verbally abusing her and spitting in her food, then leaving to get drunk and bend the ear of his local barman. Any other film would use this to set up Donald as the villain, but here we are positively encouraged to sympathise with him, so much so that when he murders and inexplicably eats her dismembered corpse – including as sandwiches in his packed lunch – it’s laughter that the film expects from us. Unfortunately, the emotion the audience is most likely to feel is a combination of derision and boredom.
There’s a rather sad meta-narrative going on here, of a once successful public figure clamouring for a sense of continued relevance and attention, doing anything he can to stay in the spotlight. But like a would-be Nigel Farage witlessly blabbing outrageous things, Microwave Massacre dares us to be offended, if only to prove that it is capable of inducing an emotional reaction in its audience. And it’s extremely easy to be, with the films blatant, stomach-churning misogyny, eye-popping racism and appallingly unfunny gags. The best response, however, is to simply ignore it, to refuse to be moved in any way by Microwave Massacre‘s utter redundancy. Connoisseurs of trash and exploitation cinema may be lured in by the film’s title, but with so many more interesting offerings available, there is simply no reason whatsoever to endure this: Microwave Massacre is one piece of trash that really should be consigned to the refuse pile of history.
Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp