Remote Control (1988)

The Eighties were a really strange time.

If you don’t believe me, look at some of the films made back in those days.

Consider, for example, Remote Control:

I mean, we’re used to science fiction films in which everyone wears shiny silver clothes, often with wide shoulders.  But one set in the Eighties?

Mind you, it isn’t just the gleaming metallic clothes: no, it is the weird fashions and odd hair styles, as if the streets of Los Angeles were a non-stop New Wave rock video.

But perhaps the most Eighties part of Remote Control is that it is about a VHS tape.

Not only that, but one of its main settings is a video store.

Now, I’ll admit it: I really miss the old video stores.

I guess you had to be there, but things were never the same after the DVD.  The old stores had separate sections for the Classics, Foreign Film, Kung Fu movies, Horror, Mysteries, Action, Science Fiction, Japanese cinema, Animated films, Anime or whatever.  It varied bit from store to store, but, as those shelves were packed full of films, thanks to the wide VHS cases which allowed you to read the title on the spine, their shelves held hundreds of films and you could walk in the store and easily find something in whatever strange niche of film you loved.

Then the DVDs came, and everything we loved about those stores vanished: the number of films on the shelves fell dramatically, as they had to be displayed facing out.  All the categories vanished, with the films now shoveled into “New” or “catalog” categories, and, with all the categories lumped together and in competition with each other for space, anything unusual or culty vanished quickly.

So it’s a pleasure to once again visit a video store from the days when they were in their prime.

Now Cosmo (Kevin Dillon) works at a video store housed in an old movie theater which is run by his friend Georgie.  A distributor just gave them a huge display and a couple of free copies their latest release, a lost Fifties science fiction film called Remote Control and it’s generating a lot of interest.

Mind you, Cosmo is far more interested in the beautiful young woman who came to the store in search of a Truffaut movie.

Remote Control was made back in ’57 and not only did it predict the coming of home video, but it tells of a secret alien plot to conquer the world through the mind control signals hidden in a videotape.

Unfortunately, real aliens have adopted this plan: they bought up the rights to the film, hid their mind control commands in the very movie that inspired their attack, and use it to hypnotize their victims into murderous rampages.

And when Georgie tries to give a video to a customer he likes but is too shy to talk to (played by Jennifer Tilly not long before she got noticed in The Fabulous Baker Boys), he and Cosmo get blamed for her murder, and are nearly killed when the policemen investigating the crime kill each other.

Now they have to avoid the police long enough to discover what’s wrong and find a way to stop the invasion before it is too late…

For a while back in the Eighties it looked like Jeff Lieberman might become a major horror director as Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and Stuart Gordon had.  His debut feature, Blue Sunshine had a strong cult following, and his deadly worms movie, Squirm is highly regarded.  For some reason it never happened.  Remote Control is not as respected as his previous movies, which seems a real shame as it is a wild, non-stop film with a lot of imagination and a very weird sense of style.

In particular, I love the choice to put so many of the characters in clothes that look like they might have come out of some Fifties science fiction film.  Yeah, you could find garments just as excessive in any New Wave music video, and it was just possible that you would have seen people dressed this way at the time (not that I did out here in flyover country) if perhaps not quite so many of them.  But it gives the film a great look and feel, as does the excellent use of existing locations.

While there aren’t many effects on display here (and, I’ll note, it isn’t like the movie needed any more) the biggest one, involving the destruction of a building, is quite impressive.

I’m also impressed by their movie within a movie.  The footage looks very much like a classic, Fifties black and white science fiction film, and their 1950s-style futuristic gadgets are imaginative and deliberately clunky at the same time, like their futuristic videotape, which features exposed reels and is far wider than a real VHS Tape.

Once again, as I noted in my review for The Blob (1988), one gets the impression that they cast Kevin Dillon because they couldn’t get Kevin Bacon (or Kevin’s brother, Matt Dillon).  He’s playing the same sort of teen tough guy outsider Bacon played in Footloose and he’s good enough in the role that it is mildly surprising that he didn’t make a lot more rebellious teen movies.

Mind you, Dillon was 23 at the time and even Kevin Bacon couldn’t keep playing rebellious teens forever.

All in all, it’s a wild and weird little film, with a great look, a lot of imagination, plenty of action, all wrapped around a wonderfully goofy idea.  It deserves to be seen and it seems a shame that it isn’t better known.

After all, there aren’t that many good Sci Fi comedies from the Eighties.

And by now, like me, you’ve probably seen most of them.

By all means check out Remote Control.

Although you should probably stop watching if you see your own face appear on the screen…

(Full Movie Available Here)



Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



Which this time focuses on Douglas Trumbull’s Other Career

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