PrintE-mail Written by Michael Coldwell

Microwave ovens, with their strange vibrations and cancerous electronic waveforms, were once talked up as a sinister threat to the modern home. As things turned out, they’re fairly innocuous. But let’s not be to too hasty, for history is a slow burn and has exposed one dangerous side effect that perhaps only now can be fully understood: Microwave Massacre…

Filmed over a few days in 1978 but unable to find a distributer until 1983 (and when you consider how much crap was released in that period that’s quite an achievement), this ultra-cheap comedy horror curio was originally intended as a starring vehicle for comedian Rodney Dangerfield who, unsurprisingly, passed up the opportunity. Undaunted, director Wayne Berwick then cast fading stand-up Jackie “King of the Deadpan” Vernon, best known as the cartoon voice of Frosty the Snowman, as his kitchen-based mass killer. Smart move: he is far and away the best thing about the movie.

Vernon plays Donald, an aging construction worker with little to get excited about except a freshly cooked meal in the evening. When his demented spouse May (Claire Ginsberg) knocks even that on the head and starts zapping everything edible in the biggest microwave you’ve ever seen, Donald completely loses it, murdering and dicing his wife in short order before stuffing her in the fridge. Oh, and he also wees on the carpet for some reason. Later, somewhat hungover and looking for a tasty snack, he accidently eats a foil-wrapped chunk of wifey and - would you believe it - she tastes mighty fine. This triggers an obsessive spiral of luring loose woman back to his place, having sex with them, killing them, chopping them up, zapping them in the microwave and eating them with a giant helping of mayonnaise. By the way, best not screen this one in your University’s female ‘safe space’, it might not get the best response.

Plenty of movies have drawn inspiration from the Ed Gein murders but they tend not to be outright comedies and for good reason. Microwave Massacre does nothing to reverse that reasoning; just about every attempt at a joke falls flat, the tone is bizarrely uneven, the performances from everyone except Vernon are practically non-existent, and the ‘gruesome’ dismemberment effects make even the worst efforts of 1960s gore-lord Hershell Gordon Lewis look Oscar-worthy. But, for all that, it’s an oddly lovable mess delivered with a giant wink to the audience that suggests everyone involved had an absolute blast making it.

This is confirmed by the documentary accompanying Arrow’s nicely remastered print that has the cast and crew, a motley band of brothers, looking back on the movie with a great deal of affection. Particular praise is reserved for the late Jackie Vernon’s twinkling hangdog turn. Even when he’s shagging, smothering and chopping with abandon, you sort of root for the old rogue. Yes, they knew they were making a stinker but, according to the director, decided to just “embrace the stupidity”. Sit yourself down in front of Microwave Massacre with a dangerously hot Ready Meal and you may find yourself doing the same.

Special Features: Audio commentary / Making-of / Original treatment and 8-page synopsis / Trailer


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