Remote Control (1988) - Or Pardon Me Sir, But There’s a UFO in my VCR

Despite the title of today’s film, it does not star the dearly departed Ken Ober who has gone on to the great game show in the sky. There is nary a Colin Quinn anywhere to be seen, and though it could have used it, not a hint of Kari Wuhrer. Instead this film was built on a foundation of ‘50’s science fiction coupled with the development of the futuristic appliance known as the VCR. In 1988, Blockbuster had yet to rear its ugly head, and the majority of video rental places were still little Mom and Pop joints. Getting into this movie, it took me right back to that time, and seeing that this segment is devoted to video tape in all its glory, I had to tell you folks about it.

Remote Control stars Kevin Dillion as Cosmo, a video store clerk with an inordinately low voice. Cosmo and his pal Georgie (Christopher Wynne) spend the afternoon building a display for the new hot film Remote Control, and people are strangely drawn to the display. The movie flies out of the store with the last copy going to Georgie’s crush Allegra James (Jennifer Tilly). The next day she turns out to have been killed, and the video store clerks become suspects. Soon the guys are avoiding the cops and avoiding watching Remote Control which they think makes people go crazy. A visit to the factory where the tapes were made uncovers the truth. This is no ordinary video tape. This is an invasion from outer space.

The film within the film, also called Remote Control, is a ‘50’s science fiction film about a video tape that makes people go crazy and kill their husbands with futuristic knitting needles. To say this film plays out with a tongue in cheek style is pretty obvious, but the really surprising thing is that it actually works. A lot of the credit has to go to writer/director Jeff Lieberman. He doesn’t have many credits to his name, but those he does have are singular type of films. He brought us killer hippies in Blue Sunshine (1976), an avalanche of killer worms in Squirm (1976), Robert Vaughn starring as the diabolical doctor in Franken (1980), and the killer rednecks feature Just before Dawn (1981). While Remote Control goes for a more broadly comic feel, there should be no doubt to anyone that’s seen Lieberman’s other films that the director always seemed to be directing horror with a humorous slant.

While the script was clever and most of the scenes well put together, none of it would have worked if it hadn’t been for Kevin Dillon. The lesser known, or lesser employed, brother of Matt Dillon is best known now for his role as Johnny Drama on the HBO series Entourage, but back in 1988 he just looked like a skinny stretched out version of his big brother. Oh, and his voice. I mentioned it briefly earlier because it was so striking. Dillon physically didn’t even look like his balls had dropped, but his voice was already giving James Earl Jones a run for his money. It was strange to hear that voice come out of that body. Dillon was great in the film, and his personality totally fit the film’s tone. He played his part straight while campiness exploded around him, and it was just what the film needed. It also begs to mention that after this parody of ‘50’s Sci-Fi Dillon starred in a remake from the same genre with the 1988 version of The Blob.

The film features a few other good players, but before I get to them I have to mention the future star in this film. Way before Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon heated things up in Bound; Tilly was just starting out with bit parts on TV and film. (Her last role was in the Anthony Michael Hall film Johnny Be Good.) Her role in Remote Control is fairly small, but she makes an impression while she’s around. This is partially because you know it's Jennifer Tilly, and partially because her character’s hair looked a lot like a gothic version of Bozo the Clown’s coif. Sadly, her character Allegra Jones doesn’t last long, and it's too bad. Tilly was much better than the girl cast in the lead role, but maybe they just didn’t have that much hairspray in the budget.

The lead female part is played by Deborah Goodrich, and she was mostly forgettable as Cosmo’s unrequited crush Belinda. The only really interesting thing about her character was how Lieberman played with ‘80’s fashion and made it come off looking like costuming from the ‘50’s Sci-Fi he was paying tribute to. Also fairly enjoyable was Christopher Wynn as Georgie. Wynn provided the perfect foil for Dillon’s over the top heroic character. Wynn still shows up form time to time in bit parts, but never a guest role on Entourage. Come on Kevin; throw your old co-star a bone.

Remote Control works as a pretty clever satire of both classic science fiction and the VHS boom. Just the shots running though the video store were enough to take me back. There was one scene that especially made me nostalgic. A kid is told to pick up a movie, but to “cover your eyes while you go by the adult section”. Like any good kid, he peeks and gets an eyeful of sleazy cover art. I recall stealing quite a few glances into that section in my youth. If you grew up in the era where VHS became king, I think you’ll enjoy this little flick and the unique spin on the alien invasion storyline. It’s a film with an important lesson. Be kind, rewind, or the aliens will get you.

Bugg Rating

There's no trailer available on this one, but you can check out the whole film in parts on YouTube. Here's a link to part ONE.


  1. This sounds awesome and right up my alley! Great review.

  2. Thanks Planet of Terror. This one was a random great surprise, and I had a great time watching it even if it was a middle of the road film in the end.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...