Grotesque (1988)

This is the 1988 film with Linda Blair, not the 2009 Japanese torture-porn splatter flick, you sickos. Though admittedly this movie is so bizarre that a straight forward splatter flick would actually be rather refreshing.

Linda Blair and her friend head up to the mountains to visit Blair’s parents and to help her friend get over a recent breakup. What Blair doesn’t say is that her dad happens to be a horror film director, and he immediately shows off his new special effects to frighten the friend. Just as everyone gets settled into bed that night, a group of punks show up, demand money, and murder nearly everyone except Blair. That’s when her deformed cousin gets loose and murders most of the punks. A posse out the next day find a heavily injured Blair as well as her cousin fighting the punks, and they kill the deformed cousin. Since backwater cops can’t do a proper investigation, they end up forced to let the punks go, but Blair’s uncle arrives, kidnaps the punks at gunpoint, then reveals his own horrid deformity before mutilating them and leaving them trapped in a sealed room to die. That’s when it’s revealed you’ve been watching a movie in a movie, and the wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster pop out of the projection booth to freak out everyone.

Seriously.

This movie has more tone shifts than a symphonic black metal band performing an epic ballad inside somebody’s garage. You get a home invasion movie that turns into a pseudo-monster movie that turns into a revenge thriller with torture overtones that turns into a horror comedy. It even starts with some strange cult-esque movie within a movie within a movie. If you’re having trouble with the changes, that’s ok, I think the director did too. It makes it hard to pin down what the movie is trying to do, and as a result, I find it too much of a mess to figure if I actually like it.

Now the actors try their best, or at least most of them do. Linda Blair is fantastic, as are Tab Hunter, Donna Wilkes, and the actors playing Blair’s parents, who are affectionately named Kruger. As for the punks, they’re a mixed bag, and only because Robert Z’Dar gives a surprisingly subtle performance compared to just about all of them. Describing these folks as going to 11 wouldn’t even begin to showcase how ludicrously over the top they are. The lead villain, Scratch, begins by screaming at people and laughing randomly, as do the various other punks. In fact, angry shouting and random laughter seems to be what they think actual punks do all day. I’ve known actual punks. They don’t randomly laugh or scream constantly. They’re good people.

Since this is a movie about a monster movie maker getting killed, we have to talk about the special effects, specifically the monster designs. There are some nice callbacks to Halloween III: Season of the Witch with their masks showing up, but more importantly the costuming works. When the deformed people show up, they look like something out of a Twilight Zone episode. Critters that aren’t monsters look like costumes, but they help separate the “real monsters” from the fake ones. The two movie monsters at the end are comical in their stereotypical design, but it somehow fits the horror comedy vibe even as that vibe doesn’t fit the rest of the movie. The one place where things fall apart are the horrendous effects for the two punks after they’ve been mangled. I think it’s the lighting, but you can tell where the pieces begin, and it just looks bad.

Also, yes, this is one of those proto-meta horror movies about horror movies. We see this with the likes of Popcorn and There’s Nothing Out There before Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and the Scream series really go full tilt into meta horror. It’s nice to watch the steady ramp up to it, even if the style feels messy up until Wes Craven gets his hands on it. Though the best meta gag is still a guy saving himself with the boom mic from There’s Nothing Out There. Yeah, that movie deserves to be seen.

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