After watching Ted Nicolaou’s TerrorVision, I just had to check out the director’s other work. Bad Channels was the obvious next choice. Like TerrorVision, it deals with aliens using technology to take over the human world. This time, Nicolaou gets Blue Oyster Cult to handle the music, establishing a specific tone early on, with every moment of suspense punctuated by hair metal guitar. It fits the theme of the movie, since rock music is a central plot point.
A Los Angeles radio station employs the help of shock-jock Dan O’Dare (Paul Hipp) to garner some listeners. Dan is known for his publicity stunts and gimmicks. The opening sees him chained to his desk as the same polka record plays on a continuous loop until someone calls in with the correct lock combination.
At the same time, UFOs have been spotted all over town, yet the police aren’t believing anybody’s claims. Dan’s popularity eventually attracts the attention of these aliens, who eventually take over the small radio station, using the radio waves to capture women, shrinking them down and storing them in small jars. This major plot point is never dissected or given any sort of motive whatsoever.
As Dan, eventually alone in the studio with the aliens, cries for help over the airwaves, the listeners all seem to think it’s just another stunt. He’s famous for his pranks that go on for way too long, so nobody believes him this time either.
Hipp does a good job playing the rascal disc jockey, but he’s unable to convey the truly serious emotions he’s required to once the aliens are inside the studio–which is a majority of the film. It’s no wonder none of the characters believe his panic voice, since it always sounds like he’s joking, even to us. He’s just not believable.
Bad Channels isn’t scary, but definitely has some creepy moments. The three “abductions” of the women each play out as a music video where the respective girl gets hypnotized by the song and actually sees the band playing in front of her. A variety of genres are covered and the songs are relatively good, but these sequences go on for way too long–with one exception. The highlight is a metal/punk band, Sykotik Sinfoney, playing a zany circus-inspired track called “Manic Depresso” as they dance around in bizarre costumes. The tune takes on different forms as they go and it’s truly enjoyable.
There’s a pseudo-romantic subplot involving Dan and news correspondent, Lisa Cummings (Martha Quinn), which feels forced and underdeveloped. The writers fail to create any sort of history between the characters prior to them meeting in this story, and they’re only shown together twice, briefly. They want us to care so badly but we don’t.
There’s so much wrong with Bad Channels, yet somehow I totally enjoyed it. Despite Nicolaou’s faults, he’s really great at world building and establishing tone. He has the visual aesthetic thing down. We’re given some great looking aliens and set pieces, as well as a fairly engaging plot filled with commendable levity. For a ’90s B-movie, that’s all you can really ask for.