The title and tagline are referring to the hair
“There is a fate worse than death.”
Director/Writer: Joe Tornatore / Writer: Mikel Angel / Cast: Linda Blair, Tab Hunter, Donna Wilkes, Guy Stockwell, Luana Patten, Brad Wilson, Michelle Bensoussan, Nels Van Patten, Sharon Hughes, Charles Dierkop, Billy Frank, Robert Z’Dar, Bunky Jones [as Bunki Z], Robert Apisa.
Body Count: 11
Laughter Lines: “My ass doesn’t get cold” / “I don’t doubt it, that’s because you think with your ass and not your brain.”
For a few years, when people said ‘I cannot even’ to express their speechlessness over trivial things, I was confused. ‘Can’t even what?’ I thought. But then came Grotesque into my life, sent by my good friend Ross, who was having a DVD clear out (I tried to palm off 12 Deaths of Christmas on him but he’d already read what I had to say about it and dodged a bullet).
Seriously, what the fuck happened here? This entire project appears to be some sort of exercise in LSD experimentation while writing a film script. Read on, but beware necessary spoilers so that I can stress the bizarre experience of watching it.
Long boring credits take us into a film-within-a-film intro, where some old lady is brushing her hair while some dude in a cloak approaches. Then suddenly she’s a young chick. Then old again. Ugh. Turns out it’s a screening of a new film, where the FX work has been done by wonderous artist Orville Kruger, who blabs some exposition that he’s having a little family reunion at the cabin in the mountains this weekend…
Next we meet his daughter Lisa and her friend Kathy as they grab dinner before driving up there. Kathy (Donna Wilkes, most famous for her non-stop shrieking in Jaws 2) is sad over man trouble, while Lisa (Blair) is rocking the first of many hair-don’ts Grotesque will spring on us:
The girls are warned by the local shopkeep that some ‘freaks’ happened by earlier, and we meet them in a scene: Eight punk-rock youths looking like they teleported from 1977, led by the very unstable Scratch, who looks a cross between Billy Idol and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is seemingly modelled on Zed from the Police Academy movies. Their VW bus has run into trouble and they flag down Lisa and Kathy on the road, basically threaten them, and reveal to the audience they’re planning to invade the cabin, that they killed ‘the entire family’ last time, and Scratch yells a lot.
Orville plays some cruddy pranks on Kathy; Lisa asks her mom how Patrick is. Who is Patrick? Hmm… best wait and see. Night falls soon after the ‘punkers’ break in and haul everyone inside to the den, where they assault and kill Orville, shrieking about where the money/jewellery/dope is stashed. The posturing is dementedly bad, with acting so terrible I dread to think what the other takes looked like if they chose this.
Anyway, the ‘punkers’ kill Mom and Kathy, while Lisa dives out of a window and runs off up the mountain in her PJ’s, chased by one of the gang. The others split up to look for things and find a secret room behind a bookcase where Patrick resides. Patrick is your off-the-shelf movie mongoloid: Hunched back, moans to communicate, and hideously deformed features. He’s also super strong of course, and wastes no time offing a few of the intruders and chasing the others into the night.
Morning comes and the shopkeeper from earlier drops by to go fishing with Orville and finds several bodies. Patrick kills off all but the two lead ‘punkers’, and Lisa has been strangled into a coma. Now, up rocks Tab Hunter as Uncle Rod, who is a surgeon. He, shopkeeper dude, and some cops head up the mountain and shoot Patrick dead before he can kill Scratch and Shelly, who are arrested, but swear they just stopped by for help with their van and Patrick killed everybody.
There was still about 30 minutes left at this point, so I was clueless as to what the fuck was going to happen: Patrick has gone from gross-face to no-face, Lisa is in a coma, and there are two ‘punkers’ left. The most nasty two. A very long good-cop/bad-cop sequence unrolls, all the time I was watching the clock and it was still telling me there’s 30 minutes left. HOW, universe?
Lisa dies in surgery; Scratch and Shelly are released; Tab Hunter comes back and manages to kidnap them at gunpoint and take them back to the cabin where he straps them to gurneys, reveals he is Patrick’s father and pulls of a latex mask made for him by his late bro. and then operates on their faces, locking them in Patrick’s secret room. This, apparently, is the fate worse than death the tagline alludes to.
Wait, there’s still several minutes left??? So, the film melts – it’s all been a screening! And fucking Frankenstein and the Wolfman are in the projection room, bickering about it. They go into the theater and ‘scare’ everyone (they stand there slowly swaying back and forth with their arms out) and we see several of the actors – Blair, Wilkes, Stockwell – run away screaming. Credits.
Well, what the fucking fuck, Grotesque? What are you? How did you happen? Why are there several big names in you? I cannot answer. Perhaps Blair, who served as associate producer, had the dirt of some of them? Who the fuck knows. I’m tripped out though.
Grotesque is crap, but at least funny in that it’s really a series of ‘eh!?’ moments sewed together, maybe it was supposed to be an anthology and suffered too many script changes? I’d recommend it just for the LOLs: The hair, Blair’s natural charm, her amazing sarcastic response to the child who calls to her outside the store, the hair, the diabolical overacting of most of the ‘punkers’, the makeup the girl members of the gang sport, the hair, good-cop/bad-cop 101, fucking bizarre dialogue exchanges, and the hair.
Blurbs-of-interest: Linda was, of course, the lead in Hell Night (and thus also Hellego Night) – co-star Nels Van Patten is the brother of her co-star from Hell Night, Vincent Van Patten; Tab Hunter played Blue Grange in Pandemonium; Donna Wilkes was earlier in Schizoid and Blood Song; Bunky Jones was in Hide and Go Shriek; Robert Z’Dar had the title role in the Maniac Cop movies.