Microwave Massacre (1983) Microwave Massacre (1983) -**½

     Where the comic sensibilities of Street Trash and Fairy Tales meet, you’ll find Microwave Massacre. It’s the only game in town if ever you wanted to see the voice of Frosty the Snowman cast as a cannibal killer, but be warned. Although everything you just envisioned when I said that is in this movie, the filmmakers spend easily half the running time on barely-related sex jokes that need to advance a grade or two before they’ll qualify as sophomoric. It’s rough going for an adult, but I’m pretty sure I would have loved the hell out of Microwave Massacre when I was fourteen years old.

     Donald (Jackie Vernon, whom we’ve seen before in The Monitors) is a construction foreman, and a man of simple tastes. Unfortunately, his wife, May (Claire Ginsberg), is constantly trying to elevate the cultural level of her household— as can be seen from the riot of signifying bric-a-brac (gilded busts of Beethoven, faux-classical lawn ornaments, etc.) cluttering up the house and its grounds. May’s latest kick is gourmet cooking. She’s had no fewer than four conventional ovens installed in the kitchen, along with her pride and joy, a giant, industrial-grade microwave. With this arsenal at her disposal, May has embarked on a project to ensure that her husband’s lunch pail and dinner plate shall never again be shamed by such pedestrian fare as meatloaf or baloney-and-cheese sandwiches— and it’s looking like this will be the last straw for poor Donald. Maybe he could learn to like it if May’s abilities came anywhere near to matching her ambitions, but she’s not so much Julia Child as the Swedish Chef. We’re talking, after all, about a woman who uses a microwave to cook veal cordon bleu. Under those circumstances, I imagine I’d be happier with baloney-and-cheese, too.

     Understandably, Donald is in no hurry to get home for dinner these days, so instead he heads over to Sam’s Bar come quitting time in the hope of dulling his senses sufficiently to withstand May’s latest culinary onslaught. (The most sophisticated joke in all of Microwave Massacre: Sam [Night Ripper’s Phil De Carlo] is a grouch who hates it when his customers pour out their sorrows to him, and he’s prepared to counter with a grotesque bullshit sob-story of his own if they won’t shut up.) Well, one evening it doesn’t seem like enough just to dull his senses, and Donald hangs around Sam’s until he’s three blind, sockless sheets in the bag. When he finally goes home to confront the unidentifiable spinach travesty that May has served up this time, all the pent-up frustration of the past several months erupts into violence. Donald kills May and stuffs her into her beloved microwave.

     Mind you, Donald doesn’t remember any of that. Indeed, he doesn’t really remember anything about the evening before until he looks in the microwave to see if his unaccountably absent wife left his lunch in there. Whoops. Fortunately for Donald, May also had a freezer nearly as overachieving as her ovens installed in the basement, so he’ll at least have someplace to stash the body while he figures out how to dispose of it permanently. He’ll just have to cut May up into pieces so that all of her fits comfortably. You all see where this is going, right? While rummaging through the basement freezer in search of a midnight snack later on, Donald mistakes a fragment of his wife for one of the foil-wrapped bundles of leftovers with which the thing was half-filled before he started stacking similarly packaged corpse parts in the other half. After said fragment is heated up, Donald starts eating before he’s finished unwrapping, and thus it is that he inadvertently gets his first taste of long pig. Funny thing about May. She might have been the worst fucking cook in the entire Western Hemisphere, but she herself tastes pretty good!

     Not only does that discovery solve Donald’s corpse-disposal problem, but it also opens the door to a new and most fulfilling hobby. Over the next few weeks, Donald teaches himself to use all of May’s kitchen equipment, and sets about mastering the art of cannibal cuisine. His coworkers, Roosevelt (Loren Schein) and Philip (Feast’s Al Troupe), rave about their foreman’s previously undiscovered talent when they try a sample one lunch hour, and the next thing Donald knows, he’s catering lunch for the whole crew most days. His nightly visits to Sam’s become much less maudlin affairs than they used to be, too.

     May’s carcass is good for only a finite number of meals, of course, but Sam inadvertently presents Donald with a way out of that fix when he gives the boot to a hooker calling herself Dee Dee Dee (Lou Ann Webber) for sleazing up his establishment. Donald gets to talking with Dee Dee Dee outside the bar, and ends up bringing her home with him. The tryst that follows is a miserable failure until he starts thinking about the cooking and the eating that he’d really rather be doing. That suddenly gets the old manly hydraulics working right up to spec, a development somewhat more surprising than Donald’s subsequent realization that fit, young gals like Dee Dee Dee are better eating than stringy old broads like May. At first, Donald worries that this may be abnormal. He even books himself a session with a shrink to get a professional opinion on whether he’s turned into some kind of pervert. But when Donald talks about eating women, the extremely elderly and somewhat senile Dr. Gestalp (John Harmon, from Hitch Hike to Hell and Malibu High) assumes he’s talking about cunnilingus, and assures him that everyone’s doing that nowadays. With his conscience thus cleared, Donald throws himself into an accelerated routine of fucking, killing, cooking, and eating young women. (Either there are a phenomenal number of whores in this town, or the girls there have phenomenally low standards.) There’s just one thing that might stop him. May’s microwave has a fault in its wiring that makes it extremely dangerous to people with pacemakers— to people, that is, like Donald.

     It didn’t surprise me to learn that Microwave Massacre had trouble securing distribution. Even in the early 80’s, a movie this dumb and uncouth was going to find few friends, and I expect it will find fewer still today. It combines the breadth of the Borscht Belt, the self-congratulatory raunch of the young Andrew Dice Clay, and the mocking misanthropy of John Waters into something significantly less interesting than that sounds. By the final two reels or so, however, this movie had doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down so many times that I had to start admiring its commitment in spite of myself. Maybe I was just punch-drunk at that point, but I even began to find Microwave Massacre a bit more than sporadically funny. I have to admit, too, that the central joke of casting Jackie Vernon as a henpecked suburban Leatherface is pretty ingenious— although I definitely want to visit the parallel universe in which the producers had been able to afford their first choice, Rodney Dangerfield. Meanwhile, the film’s tendency to wander off in pursuit of every pair of tits that enters the frame, unceremoniously dropping whatever it had been up to previously, becomes a tad more understandable when you realize that both of the screenwriters played important roles in getting Malibu High made. Most of the scenes in question concern Philip’s and Roosevelt’s tireless efforts to get laid on their coffee breaks, with the help of the inexplicably numerous construction groupies who hang around the worksite every day having wardrobe malfunctions. In those moments, Microwave Massacre really does feel like something Crown International would have released. Finally, if you’re one of the dozen or so people who got this far in the review, yet still think Microwave Massacre sounds right up your alley, be sure to stick around all the way through the closing credits. They’re the most consistently entertaining part of the film. That sounds like snark, I realize, but I mean it completely in earnest. For whatever reason, the makers of this movie saved a substantial portion of what little wit and charm they had for a part of the picture that probably four fifths of all its viewers would never bother to see. Come to think of it, that might be Microwave Massacre in a nutshell right there.



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