Quite possibly the strangest horror movie of the Eighties, and not to be confused with the tawdry Japanese torture porn of the same name, Grotesque opens with a cod-Edgar Allan Poe tale of an old woman (Luana Patten) stalked by a cloaked monster in a haunted house. This turns out to be a film-within-a-film project by elderly special effects artist Orville Kruger (Guy Stockwell). Having wrapped his latest movie, Orville heads for a weekend at his cabin in the woods along with daughter Lisa (Linda Blair) and her best friend Kathy (Donna Wilkes). En route the girls find themselves menaced by a gang of cackling, sub-human punks led by snarling moron Scratch (Brad Wilson). Suspecting old Orville has a hidden fortune stashed somewhere, the gang invade his house and slaughter everyone save Lisa, observed by the Kruger family’s dark secret: a hideously deformed mutant hidden in a secret room! As Lisa flees across the snowy wastes with the punks in hot pursuit, the monster picks them off one by one. But this is only the beginning...
Grotesque would be notable enough as a bizarre attempt to crossbreed a home invasion thriller with the slasher genre, redneck vigilante thriller, biker movie and monster-on-the-loose romp, but the film springs an array of deranged, mind-bending twists before concluding with a campy post-modern wink aimed at fans of classic horror more befitting a Mel Brooks spoof than a seemingly “serious” horror film. Make no mistake, once seen this film is not easily forgotten, no matter how hard you might try. Co-produced by Linda Blair, who took her name off the credits once she saw the finished film, this pairs The Exorcist star with Donna Wilkes, star of Eighties exploitation favourite Angel (1984) but surprisingly dispenses with both ostensible leads early on.
Midway through, Lisa’s uncle Rod enters the fray played by former teen heart-throb turned cult film stalwart Tab Hunter, joining a posse in the hope of rescuing his niece. Thereafter the third act finds Lisa comatose while the surviving “punkers” (as the script insists on calling them) are interrogated by idiotic policemen whose good cop/bad cop routine is stupefying beyond belief and who shrug their shoulders when Rod openly admits he is planning to go Charles Bronson on their punk asses. Whereupon the twist-laden climax drags the film into another country of madness altogether. Proving even terrible movies can harbour an ambitious agenda, this delivers a faintly satirical assessment of the horror genre circa the late Eighties alongside a discussion on the nature of reality versus illusion encapsulated in prankster poppa Orville’s propensity for scaring friends and family with frankly shoddy monster masks.
Based on a story conceived by Joe Tornatore, a prolific actor on film and television whose credits include the similarly twist-laden action film The Zebra Force (1976) along with more recent, if equally inept horrors Demon Keeper (1994) and Immortally Yours (2009), the film was scripted by seventy-one year old actor/writer Mikel Angel whose past credits include the blaxploitation films The Black Six (1973), The Candy Tangerine Man (1975) and Lady Cocoa (1975) and his lone writer-director gig on The Love Butcher (1975). While the script has some potentially interesting ideas, the film is sorely let down by directorial incompetence and horrifically embarrassing performances from the supporting cast of punk-styled villains, with talentless Brad Wilson the worst offender. Like some foul-mouthed, ultra-violent episode of Scooby-Doo, Grotesque is often hilariously inept and every bit as cartoonish as the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon, although its surprise multiple endings almost redeem the entire enterprise.