Most people don’t have particularly high standards for movies about talking, computerized monster trucks. Yet no matter how low you set your expectations for the 1987 laugh-free comedy Twister’s Revenge!, it somehow finds a way to startle you with its sheer ineptitude. You sense this as soon as the title flashes on the screen and you see that big, bold, yellow exclamation point. Such punctuation in movie titles is meant to suggest excitement, a boundless comic energy, wacky shenanigans to come. Airplane! remains the high-water mark of the exclamation point school of comedy. Hot Shots! is pretty good, too, while the exclamation point in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! seems sardonic and purposely incongruous. The exclamation point in Twister’s Revenge!, however, only punctuates the film’s desperation. An ellipses trailing off into nothingness would do a better job of establishing the tone.
The title fades, the soundtrack fills with cheesy, fumbling power-chords that sound like they were learned the day of the recording, and we are treated to an extended montage of a dirty, low-rent county fair. If you ever wanted to see sweaty, unshaven men in trucker hats riding the Tilt-a-Whirl and clambering around in the sort of grimy ball-pits typically reserved for children under four feet, then Twister’s Revenge is the movie for you. For the rest of us, it’s a bit unsettling, especially when we realize the three dimwitted men—Kelly (David Alan Smith), Dutch (Jay Gjernes) and Bear (R. Richardson Luka)—are our protagonists (or maybe antagonists, it’s never quite clear). During a long scene in which we get to watch the trio watch a monster truck show, they suddenly, for no apparent reason become suspicious of the headlining truck, Mr. Twister.
“Go down and check that out,” Kelly, the ringleader, orders Dutch.
“Me?” Dutch whines. “I can’t.”
“Why not?” Kelly wants to know.
“Because I split my pants,” Dutch confesses—a comedic high never again reached by Twister’s Revenge!. Not only that, but like Ophelia’s death in “Hamlet” this great pants-splitting tragedy happens off-stage—a truly odd choice for a lowbrow comedy. Imagine if a Three Stooges short consisted of Larry, Moe and Curly sitting down and calmly discussing how they had once poked each other in the eyes at a different, unseen location.
Before we can dwell on this any further, we are introduced to Sherry (Meredith Orr), scientist and inventor, who humbly explains to her fiancé Jack how her creation Mr. Twister works.
“All I did,” she says, “was integrate the artificial intelligence system with the internal logic unit.”
“Enough of that computer talk,” Dave (Dean West) replies. “You know it gives this cowboy a headache.”
Imagine, the reader might be thinking, if Sherry applied that great mind of hers to combating global warming, curing cancer or simply unlocking the mysteries of the universe, rather than to monster truck technology. But alas, as with Stephen Hawking and his robotic jet-ski Sir Tsunami, her talents are wasted. As it is, Kelly, Dutch and Bear decide to kidnap her, apparently in hopes of getting Mr. Twister for ransom, though it’s never quite clear what their intentions are. Soon they’ve surrounded the rusting camper-van where Sherry and Dave, now wedded, are spending their honeymoon consummating their marriage beneath a pile of musty blankets, which is vaguely unsettling. In movies this low-budget you sometimes get the impression everyone involved in the production is related, so watching these two kiss is like walking in on two of your cousins secretly making-out at a family reunion.
This doesn’t deter Kelly, Dutch and Bear, however, who enact their master plan, which entails shaking the camper van really hard until the back door flies open and the couple inside tumble out. Sherry is captured in the ensuing confusion and hidden in an abandoned mineshaft. Dave and Mr. Twister must then team up to track her down, a quest that consists entirely of Mr. Twister racing across flat, barren, muddy landscapes and occasionally rolling over the rows of conveniently-placed, dilapidated Cadillacs that appear out of nowhere. At one point Bear, running for his life, ducks into an outhouse—helpfully marked Shit House—solely so Mr. Twister can run it over. Not only that, but much of this action is shot in fast-motion, which is to lazy comedy-filmmaking what the exclamation point is in Twister‘s Revenge!: An act of desperation. When in doubt, the old adage goes, get zany.
Unfortunately, bad comedy doesn’t offer the same campy pleasures that bad sci-fi and bad horror movies offer. For aficionados of the so-bad-it’s-good style of cinema, the more inept the dialogue, acting and plot, the greater the laughs. For proof, look no further than the other titles in the oeuvre of Twister’s Revenge! director Bill Rebane. He’s responsible for Monster-a-Go Go and The Giant Spider Invasion, two ultra low-budget turkeys that provided some of the best riffing-material for the crew of the Satellite of Love in Mystery Science Theater 3000. You can’t help but laugh at the lack of competence in such movies. But how can you laugh at the lack of anything to laugh at in a film like Twister’s Revenge!? What’s funny about the unfunny?
Yet the movie isn’t a complete waste. Midway through there is the sort of odd, disconcerting moment that I search for in films like Twister’s Revenge!, where the terms good and bad become almost meaningless. It’s a musical interlude by Lulu and the Lovebirds, set in a grungy biker bar where three be-spandexed women of varying degrees of doughy-ness gyrate half-heartedly to a weak rock-guitar noodling. It’s so embarrassing for everybody involved—even the viewer—you can only stare in disbelief. Is this hilarious? you wonder. Depressing? Hilariously depressing? Or depressingly hilarious?
At this point the filmmakers almost seem to be challenging you not to ridicule them. So what if we’re a bunch of unappealing, unfunny people who made a tedious, mind-numbing comedy in the late ’80s? Does that give you the right to mock us? Does that make you better than us? We, the audience, can no longer criticize Twister’s Revenge! as if it were made in a vacuum. We suddenly realize real, live human beings created this ungainly thing. They took a risk and failed so miserably it’s almost noble. Not bad for a movie about a talking, computerized monster truck.