“Microwave Massacre”: A creepy comedy about cadavers and cannibalism

By on April 3, 2017

Advertised as “the worst horror movie of all time,” Microwave Massacre is a bizarre blend of VHS-era trash, Catskills-inspired one-liners, and plenty of sexy ladies in various states of undress and satisfies like a TV dinner. Watch it now — along with other Arrow Videos — on Night Flight Plus.

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As a young man I was drawn to the horror section of my local video store. All of those big boxes and clamshells intrigued me and terrified me at the same time, particularly Microwave Massacre.

The jaunty skeleton logo from Midnight Video, clad in a top hat and tails inviting viewers to view what I could only assume was a frightening tale of gory cannibalism.

When I finally caught up with the film in my twenties, I was surprised to find out that the movie wasn’t a late night scare-fest but rather a silly, sleazy, odd horror comedy featuring cast of weirdos actors and a very bizarre, almost vaudeville inspired sense of humor.

These days, the only person who seems to be ascared of microwaves is Donald J. Trump.

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Right from the opening credits — featuring the title splashed over a jogger’s bouncing breasts — it becomes obvious the kind of trash this film is.

Microwave Madness features former Frosty, the Snowman Jackie Vernon as Donald, a west coast construction worker who is perpetually henpecked by his shrewish wife May, portrayed by Clair Ginsberg.

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All Donald really wants is a bologna and cheese sandwich but May is intent on classing up their trashy home with gourmet style meals prepared in her brand new Major Electric microwave.

Microwave Madness not only exploits boobs and blood, but the then new trend of the home microwave that started becoming more common place in the late ‘70s.

Like all great science fiction from the atom bomb to television, Microwave Massacre takes on fears of new technology in a scary and satirical way (even though there is a dearth of actual massacring via the microwave in the film.)

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Not only will Donald be treated to his wife’s disgusting meals, but also now it’ll happen in half the time.

One night in a drunken stupor, Donald bludgeons May to death and the next morning, dismembers her and stores her in his garage refrigerator.

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A day later while looking for a midnight snack, Donald accidentally bites into May’s severed hand and discovers a new delicacy.

Donald begins preparing human flesh for his co-workers Roosevelt and Phillip who develop a taste for Donald’s particular brand of cooking.

Having now given everyone a little taste, Donald finds himself luring a variety of foxy young ladies (read: prostitutes) in various states of undress and black lingerie back to his gaudy California… for dinner.

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Susie Grubb is a vision in knee high boots and high-waisted denim shorts before Donald turns her into “Peking Chick,” Donald even makes one lucky gal a giant sandwich (literally) in a deranged fantasy sequence.

Note: if you truly have a lunch fetish, The Pink Palace Fantasy Suites at the Rainbow Motel on Chicago’s west side offers a room with a waterbed made up to look like a sandwich.

Microwave Massacre resembles William Lustig’s Maniac as told through the eyes of H.G. Lewis with its very simple style and oddball sense of humor.

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The film could be described as “Raoulsploitation” as it appears to be capitalizing on the surprise success of Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul, which featured the director and fellow Roger Corman protégé Mary Woronov and combined black humor with a dash of cannibalism.

Microwave Madness is much more similar in tone to Bartel’s film than the grimy Maniac. The movie concentrates on a very strange, Catskills-inspired sense of humor over the film’s brisk 87 minute run time with Vernon cracking dad jokes and one-liners every chance he gets.

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According to writer Craig Muckler, his original script had a much darker tone — albeit with darker comedy — that what ended up on screen and that had to do with the hiring of Jackie Vernon for the lead.

Vernon was a stand-up comedian, a regular on “Late Night With David Letterman” and probably best known as the voice of Frosty, the Snowman in the 1969 Rankin/Bass animated Christmas special as well as its two sequels, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and Rudolph & Frosty’s Christmas In July.

Despite his popularity as a favorite children’s character, Vernon was known for his raunchy stand-up and appearances at the Friar’s Club roasts.

He was known as the “king of deadpan” thanks to his dry delivery and it is certainly on display in Massacre with lines like “I’m so hungry I could eat a whore” and “I can’t make love to woman, unless I eat her.”

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It’s not surprising that Rodney Dangerfield was considered for the role of schlubby, working class Donald by producers, that is, if money wasn’t an issue. Dangerfield was having a moment in the early ‘80s on the heels of Caddyshack and his Grammy Award-winning comedy album, No Respect.

Vernon’s co-star Al Troupe perhaps got typecast as a “cannibal type” with one of his only other film appearances being 1992’s cannibal comedy, Feast.

Before Microwave Massacre, Loren Schein appeared in the exploitation favorite Hitchhike To Hell.

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The film began as a project for Craig Muckler while he was at UCLA.

Muckler: “It was a film course at UCLA called low-budget film producing. “A key of that course was to write an exploitative script that would have a shot at making theaters. I was the only one to get an A in the course because we got it exploitable, we got a good enough story that distributors could possibly pick it up if we ever got it done.”

Writers Muckler and Thomas Singer had penned the bizarre exploitation favorite, Malibu High.  If one were to judge the film by its poster and trailer Malibu High is a sexploitation potboiler with high school student Kim Bently sleeping her way to the head of the class; the film takes a dark turn with the young woman becoming a hired killer by the end of the semester.

Massacre director Wayne was working as a sound guy on Malibu High loved the concept and raised the money to shoot Microwave Massacre shortly thereafter.

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Berwick was the son of Irwin Berwick who made a name for himself in the filmmaking industry working under contract at Columbia as a dialogue coach. Irwin Berwick frequently collaborated with William Castle and directed 1959’s Creature From The Black Lagoon knockoff The Monster Of Piedras Blancas, as well as the aforementioned Malibu High in 1979.

His son, Wayne Berwick continued in the family business, and after ,em>Microwave Massacre would go on to write for television including episodes of your grandparent’s favorite shows, “Diagnosis Murder” and “The Father Dowling Mysteries.”

Berwick returned to the horror genre with a 1990 episode of the syndicated anthology series, “Monsters.”

Wayne Berwick was last scene directing and appearing in 2005’s The Naked Monster alongside genre favorites Brinke Stevens, Forrest J Ackerman, and a gigantic, three-eyed lizard.

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Microwave Madness was described by the All Movie Guide as fascinating like a car crash and like most films of this ilk, despite being considered (and in some trailers actually sold) as the worst horror movie ever made, has become a minor cult-classic.

The Arrow release that is now streaming on Night Flight Plus is a sight to behold.

The film looks better than it ever has (and some would argue, ever needed to) sourced from a 2K scan of the original camera negative and presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with just the right amount of grain.

You can stream Microwave MassacreFamous Monster Magazine called it “A creepy comedy about cadavers and cannibalism” — on Night Flight Plus, it’s quick and painless, just like zapping your leftovers.

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About Mike Vanderbilt

Mike Vanderbilt is a freelance writer and contributor based on the south side of Chicago. He has written for The A.V. Club, The Chicago Reader, and Daily Grindhouse, tackling a variety of subjects ranging from Cheap Trick, George Lucas' Red Tails, and for better or worse he knows a thing or two about online dating. A bartender by trade, when not mixing cocktails, Mike hosts and produces the Drinks On Monday With The Strike Team podcast, as well as Revenge Of The Pod People. He can also be seen performing with his power pop band The Romeros and punk act Modern Day Rippers.
  • Jordan Friedlander

    I tried. I really tried. This movie is just so bad and I waited so long for the gore, I couldn’t make it through.