Bad Channels (1992) review

Bad Channels posterDirector – Ted Nicolau

Starring – Paul Hipp, Martha Quinn, Michael Huddleston

“This son of a bitch is crazier than a tree full of owls!” (Peanut, Bad Channels)

There have been countless retellings of The Boy Who Cried Wolf over the years, but very few have featured extraterrestrials invading a radio station. The DJ Who Called Alien, if you will.

If you’ve long craved this needlessly specific type of tale then Bad Channels is your low-budget fix.

Paul Hipp stars as Dan O’Dare, a radio shock-jock who’s trying to rebuild his career after a previous stunt got him suspended by the radio authorities.

Starting again at the bottom, Dan finds himself working in the middle of nowhere at fledgling radio station Super Station 66.

As an attempt to gain some publicity, Dan makes a sneaky deal with the local news anchorman – if he can sort out an interview promoting Dan’s radio show, he’ll rig a competition so the anchorman wins a new car live on-air.

Which is surprising, considering he clearly looks like such a trustworthy chap
Which is surprising, considering he clearly looks like such a trustworthy chap

News reporter Lisa Cummings (real-life early ‘90s MTV host Martha Quinn) is sent to interview Dan and isn’t too impressed when she finds out about the ploy. However, she’s soon distracted by a set of flashing lights overhead. Thinking they belong to an alien spaceship, she drives off to investigate.

Turns out she was right, but the aliens aren’t located where she’s going. They’re where she’d been – right at the radio station. They soon infiltrate the studio, at which point a terrified Dan and his sound engineer Corky start asking listeners for help.

This is where the Boy Who Cried Wolf aspect comes into play. Since he’s known for his daft stunts, and since he’d only just pulled that one with the car, Dan’s audience thinks the alien story is another ploy, and it’s one they love.

As the ratings start to go through the roof, Dan encounters two major problems. Firstly, he can’t phone the police because the switchboard is jammed with fans calling into the show. Secondly, the aliens have taken control of the phone lines and are able to kidnap anyone who calls in.

Here's one of the aliens. He's supported by an odd robot thing
Here’s one of the aliens. He’s supported by an odd robot thing

That’s the mental bit, you see. Somehow, when someone calls the show, the aliens have a sort of camera thing that defies all technology and lets them have a look at who’s on the other end of the phone.

If they decide the caller is an attractive female, the aliens will then capture them in the most elaborate and runtime-lengthening process I’ve ever seen in a film.

Please don’t ask me how any of the next bit works because I’m completely lost. Somehow, the aliens’ kidnap procedure begins with sending some sort of hallucination down the phone line so that the caller thinks a rock band has come into the room they’re calling from.

Yup, that's more or less the reaction I'd have too
Yup, that’s more or less the reaction I’d have too

The band then proceeds to play a song – an entire song, mind you – while the caller, still in their trance, rocks out with them and dances in an overly erotic fashion.

And just to prove she’s hallucinating, every now and then we’ll see a shot from the perspective of the other confused people in the room, watching her dancing alone with no band.

Finally, after (and only after) the entire song-and-dance routine ends, said kidnapee finally disappears in a flash of light and finds herself in the radio studio, shrunk to a foot in height and trapped in a glass jar.

And if all that doesn't qualify as A Bit Mental™ then I'd love to know what the fuck you're smoking
And if all that doesn’t qualify as A Bit Mental™ I’d love to know what the fuck you’re smoking

While this sounds quirky and amusing I should warn you that your interest will likely end long before each song does.

The film’s insistence on featuring the entire song (no doubt to try and push it nearer the 90-minute mark) means we have to sit through the equivalent of no less than three amateur music videos from a different no-name bands hoping an appearance in this film is their big break (spoilers: it wasn’t).

The bands in question are DMT, Blind Faith and Sykotik Sinfoney. Were they any good? See for yourself:

So that’ll be a no, then. Mind you, I do like the music in the last one, it’s just a shame the vocals completely ruin it.

Bad Channels is undoubtedly a crazy film, but it could have been so much more.

It says a lot when a film about aliens that take over a radio station and kidnap women by sucking them through telephone lines and shrinking them to doll-size doesn’t end up being the sort of film that has me telling people “wait ‘til you hear this” at work the next day.

Give it a go, then, espeically if you’re a fan of cheesy early ‘90s rock music. Just don’t be expecting a quirky cult classic or anything.

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HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Bad Channels is only available on DVD – here’s the UK one and here’s the US one. Americans can also get it in Full Moon Classics Volume 1, a five-disc set featuring Bad Channels, Netherworld, Seedpeople, Shadowzone and Arcade.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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