Bad Channels (1992)

This is a very, very silly film.

I like it.

If you asked me what was the best part of all the films Charles Band produced under his Empire Films and Full Moon Features labels, I would be hard pressed to answer.

At least at first.

But, once I had a chance to think about it, I would have to say that it was the often goofy or outlandish things that show up in his films.  They were all made for next to nothing (and, I should note, the Full Moon offerings are even closer to nothing than his earlier efforts at Empire) but were willing to go into some very strange places, whether it was a terminator robot going mano a mano with a giant construction robot, or a computer geek doing battle with the devil, or a sex comedy/children’s film about an alien coming through the TV set.

The new DJ at station KDUL — the infamous Shock Jock “Dangerous Dan” O’Dare, fresh from being fired for his latest disgrace — has just started his new job with a marathon broadcast and a series of silly publicity stunts.

Unfortunately, this is also the day  when an alien from outer space and his robot assistant arrive in Pahoota.  Most of Dan’s publicity suddenly vanishes because of a string of UFO sightings, and things only get worse when the alien takes over the station.

In classic alien monster fashion, they want our women:  they use the station’s signal to snatch female listeners from all over town, then shrink them and put them into little jars while Dan desperately calls for help.

Not that he can convince anyone that his story isn’t just another publicity stunt.

Ted Nicolaou was one of the most prolific directors in the Band stable, and he made a number of other interesting films for them, including the utterly bizarre TerrorVision, and the well-regarded Subspecies series.  Here he combines a goofy plot with a lot of interesting details:  I particularly like the fungus alien, whose technology is also fungus based.  Admittedly, the creature isn’t exactly photogenic, but this does give us some nicely disgusting visuals of the entire studio covered in mold.  However, at the end, the creature proves to be even more disgusting when we see its true form, in a moment reminiscent of Keita Amamiya’s Zeiram (which came out the year before).

The Blue Oyster Cult provides the film score, although not the songs featured in the three rock videos which have been crammed into the film.  As the alien zeroes in on the girl he’s after, the girls fantasize that they are in a music video of the song that’s currently playing on KDUL.  These are by far the film’s greatest fault, as we all know they’re there to pad out the running time and all three go on far too long — although Sykotik Sinfoney’s massively strange “Manic Depresso” is almost worth the three minutes they spend on it.

Sharp-eyed viewers will note that the Polka record Dan plays over and over again during his first stunt is titled “Polka Party”, which is also the title of an early “Weird Al” album from 1986.  However, I have no idea whether this is a deliberate nod or a coincidence (Sykotik Sinfoney also provided one of the polkas under the assumed name “The Ukelaliens”).

There is a head-spinning moment late in the film when Dan realizes that it is when he is speaking that the aliens can capture their victims, with the suggestion that it is the sound of his voice that they need to carry out their sinister plan.  It’s an intriguing notion, but the film doesn’t stop and take the time to develop it (which isn’t exactly a surprise as it doesn’t take the time to explore most of the odd little details it casually throws out).  There is perhaps a hint of a suggestion that this might have something to do with the fact that they are broadcasting on 66.6 megaherz (and are the only channel in the county that does, for superstitious reasons).  However, this reminds me of the basic idea behind the movie version of Pontypool, where a small-town DJ realizes that his voice is turning everyone into zombies.  It does seem unlikely that this is anything other than a coincidence, but you never know.

What no one seems to notice about the film, though, is Paul Hipp’s impressive on-the-air performance as a DJ.  He managed to project the DJ voice perfectly, and yet, much to my surprise, he hadn’t actually worked in radio.  People in the broadcasting business will tell you that learning how to do that voice ruins you for doing other acting or voice work.  Whether that’s true or not, it still is something that is very hard to imitate — although it helps that the on-air chatter he’s given to perform sounds exactly right as well.

Tim Thomerson, one of the favorite members of the Band stock company shows up in a post credit sequence as Dollman, but for the fans out there it’s basically a throwaway bit, hinting at the next film in his series.

Clearly, we are not talking about a film for everyone here.  Your enjoyment is going to depend heavily on your love for the goofy and idiotically absurd.  For those of us that do, this film is a constant joy, even with the burden of all those music videos.

For the rest of you?  Well don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Buy, watch or listen to the soundtrack on Amazon:

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