Halloween Endurance Test: Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter (1990)
It’s not often that you stumble across a horror movie that has slipped completely under your radar. It’s also not often that you’ll get to watch such a film in a decrepit, burnt-out shell of a theater. This is exactly what I found with Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter at Spectacle Theater.
The film, Craig Pryce’s Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter is a relic from a bygone age. Back when Troma was king of the video-rental market, and their style of slapstick horror was still a viable business model. Without fail, almost every line uttered is followed by a punchline. This is not to say that every punchline connects, but the intent is clearly there. And often when they miss, the margin is so great that even the attempt garners the film respect.
Much like the film, the theater (Spectacle) also dwells in a strange “can’t win, can’t lose” reality. Appearing to serve double-duty as both a traditional theater (I think we passed an acting troupe leaving as we were arriving), the space has that air of DIY, “I really want to show these bad movies to a group of people larger than my friends, but don’t want to work at Muvico” feel. 28 seats bolted onto boards which are then anchored into the cement. A bathroom with no light. Literally, no light. As in no light fixture, no light switch, (obviously) no light bulb. Illumination was provided by the open window next to the toilet. I suspect there was a sink in there, but I didn’t want to feel around in the dark to find it.
Not to be too hard on the theater, because as I said, it is obviously a labor of love. Full pages of Little Nemo adorned the walls outside the world’s creepiest bathroom. A touch of class(ic comics) that only uber-nerds (films or otherwise) would appreciate.
As for the film itself, i’ts stylistically an heir apparent to Class of Nuke ’em High crossed with a liberal dose of the Toxic Avenger. An interesting mix in that many horror fans looking back on director Craig Pryce’s career (Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark?) are definitely more (straight) horror oriented, yet most likely less interesting. Pryce’s choice to meld multiple genres together to create a story that’s Darkman without all the unnecessary seriousness.
A story centered around Mike R. Wave (David Scammell), our titular reporter, who’s investigating the unscrupulous board members of a nuclear power plant. As with any film with “Revenge” in the title, Wave gets his scoop, and puts a price on his head in the process. He gets dumped into the toxic runoff, coming out burnt, scarred, and also with the ability to transmute substances into acid.
(Why an irradiated superhero would gain mastery over acid is never explained, though watching a urinating Mike turn a bathtub into a literal acid bath is worth the price of admission alone.)
Mike spends the film going along, killing off board members one by one. Meanwhile, the board members, worried about their own rapidly thinning ranks, brainstorm ideas to calm the radioactive reporter down. The winning plan is to sexually assault Mike’s ex-girlfriend, and then slowly strangle her.
The only thing keeping this scene from becoming I Spit On Your Grave-level horrific are the board member’s names; all of which are double entendres. Peter Spurtz, and the brilliant Richard Swell (Derrick Strange). A great bit of pacing, at no point does Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter force the Swell joke. Richard swears that everyone call him “Richard” or “Mr. Swell,” while our heroes use the mean shorthand of “Dick.” But not once is “Dick” and “Swell” coupled, except in our minds.
Luckily, Mike’s radioactive revenge is as inspired as his tormentors’ plans are depraved. Dressing up as a board members wife and waiting for him in bed? Check. Rolling on top of the surprised board member? Check. Using the juvenile favorite (acid) “spit torture” on the board member? CHECK! All the bases are covered here, from the chillingly real to the adolescent.
In another inspired scene, Mike tears out one of his own ribs to feed an attacking doberman. It’s little touches like this that save this film. The effects work, stand-out even, in the context of how low the rest of the budget was. Production money clearly didn’t go into rehearsing (as none of the principals were actors, nor would any of them ever work again), instead the money shored up what Pryce could control: effects. They look great, the viscera-covered rib, Mike’s radiation burns, the acid spit, exploded heads, every mainstay special effect from the 80s is on display here, and they all work.
A strength that makes it easier to overlook Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter’s more damning aspects. Its use of sex as a weapon, gratuitous overacting, and overly silly dialogue.