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Hipster Holy Grail: Twister's Revenge (1988)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The blurb for people who don't like to read actual criticism:

Twister's Revenge is something of a marginal recommend.  It is an action-comedy whose laughs come entirely from its more serious beats, whereas its comedy generally falls flat.  Its first act is a bit of a slog, but once it actually gets going, there's enough fun stuff to make it worth your while as long as you've got ninety minutes and a bottle of whiskey to kill.  Or, in other words, this movie's about rednecks who square off with an AI-controlled monster truck.

My Rating: 3 / 5

The longer bits for people who like film discussion:

The Bit Wherein I Introduce Things

Ironically, this is the first time that I felt compelled to do some research on the history of a movie before I did a write-up, but it really didn't get me anywhere.  I actually put in time on this one, guys.  Not my usual "check IMDb, check Wikipedia, then give up" bullshit.  But I couldn't find any good background.

All I know is that Bill Rebane directed this in 1987.  Rebane is renowned among B-movie nuts and MST3K fans as the director of such cheesy classics as Monster a-Go Go and The Giant Spider Invasion.  My best guess is that his co-writer / co-producer, Larry Dreyfus, either owned or knew somebody who owned a junkyard, and they decided to team up to make good use of their assets.

This would have freed up their budget on pyrotechnics, of which there are plenty.  Considering that the video quality is so poor, I can't imagine they spent too much on anything else.

Twister's Revenge was made in 1987, 20 years after Rebane made his directorial debut, and represents his final work.  (Technically, he released it at the same time as Blood Harvest, which is only slightly better known.)

It gives you good reason to wonder what the thought process was behind the production.  By this point in his life, Rebane was entering his 50s and had left his mark on cinema, albeit probably not in the way he had intended.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 had yet to premiere, so he probably wasn't being celebrated quite the same way as he would be in the '90s and today.  On top of that, he was probably in declining health, since he suffered a stroke in 1989 that more or less marked the end of his film career.

It makes me think about that 40+ year late Coffin Joe sequel.  Maybe this was a case where Rebane was kicking back on his ranch, just about ready to retire, and then he said, "Man, I loved making movies.  I think I oughta do another one."  He called up his friends to see what he had available to him, and then he committed to monster trucks - because why not?  It was the 80s.  Monster trucks were in their heyday.

I wonder if it turned out like he had envisioned.  Was it his last chance at making the legitimate movie he had always wanted?  Or was it just a chance for him to screw around?

The Bit Wherein I Describe the Plot

The short version of it is that three bumbling thugs (Kelly, Bear, and Dutch) try to get rich quick through various crimes before ultimately settling on kidnapping Sherry, the wife of a celebrated monster truck driver, Dave.  Unfortunately for the thugs, Sherry isn't just any ordinary woman - she is also a master computer programmer who has created a sophisticated Artificial Intelligence to control Dave's truck, Twister.  Now, Dave and Twister are teaming up to get their revenge!

The movie is meant to be a light-hearted romp.  The three goons are modeled after the Stooges and fall victim to their own incompetence more often than they succeed in causing any kind of real mayhem in the world.  Dave and Twister exchange a lot of good-natured ribbing.  All the violence is cartoony, with characters walking out of explosions with their faces covered in soot and crossing their eyes  whenever they get smacked in the crotch.

But beneath this silly exterior lies a dark and cruel layer of vengeance.

First the movie starts out with some silly antics.  The goons hear about the computer inside Twister and decide to steal it, since "compyootors" are worth a lot of money.  But they can't get past Sherry's extensive security measures (i.e., she locked the car door).  So they decide they'll steal the keys from Sherry and Dave, but they can't catch up to them.  For about half an hour, they bumble around and mug at the camera.  It's all terribly painful and not especially funny.

(On the plus side, the actors are trying their best and the goons are actually characters, even if they're not innovative.  You have The Strong Dumb Guy, The Fat Slob Guy, and The Short Bossy Guy.  It's more thought and personality than go into most low-budget movie characters, so that's something to be grateful for.)

Before I go on, you have to understand that the first half hour is grounded in reality even though the characters are larger-than-life.  Sure, the idea of Monster Truck AI is a bit far-fetched, but up to this point, Twister is basically portrayed as just a remote-controlled car.  And sure, the goons are ridiculously dumb, but they haven't done anything at this point that suggests that they're superhuman.  Just dumb.

Eventually they finally kidnap Sherry and the movie can begin.  And this is where things go off the rails.

First, Twister suddenly comes to life.  This is no longer a surprise to you because I already mentioned it above, but in context it's a bit alarming.  Why didn't Twister tell anybody it was alive before?  Did it just not feel like it?  Were its Speech Circuits not working until now?  Did it just now attain sentience, and it decided as its first action that it should go hunt down some hicks instead of trying to make contact with other artificial intelligence throughout the world?

But, whatever.  You accept a reveal like this because otherwise the movie would be dull, so let's run with it.  Twister's alive.  Great.

Next, Dave and Twister go to a rundown dive bar to try to get some intel on who might have taken Sherry.  And here we get the next big freak-out moment: a long, glittery song-and-dance sequence performed by an obese woman and her two sidekicks dressed in spandex pants intercut with footage of various bikers on the dance floor, along with occasional glimpses of a literal bat-man.

I have no idea why there is a bat-man in the audience.  He does not speak.  He does not interact with anybody.  And he does not appear again.  I had to rewatch this scene just to be sure that he was actually there.

The mind boggles.  Is he a biker that's really into cosplay?  Is he a genetic mutation?

Doesn't matter.  The point is, Dave learns enough to find out that the Three Redneck Stooges are responsible, and now he can go get some Revenge.

Now, in any other vengeance-themed movie, you'd expect the hero to corner one of the thugs alone.  Maybe there would be an action sequence where the hero chases him down, or maybe not.  But either way, the hero would get the thug alone, tie him to a chair, and get some clues out of him.

So it's no surprise that the next big sequence has Dave tracking down Bear at his little shack out in the woods.  But what is surprising is that Dave never bothers with the interrogation.

He just plows over his damn shack and tries to run down Bear's girlfriend.

Yes, this light-hearted comedy turns into a bloodthirsty rampage as Twister and Dave embark on an attempted double-homicide, which culminates in Bear hiding in the sewage tank of an outhouse while his girlfriend flees into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

Next up, Dave gets into a shootout, tries to murder Kelly, and then blows up Kelly's parents' house.

Finally, we get to Dutch.  Dutch gets off light.  All that happens to him is that he accidentally blows up his own car with a rocket launcher while trying to shoot a missile at Twister.

(By the way, Dutch has a rocket launcher.)

This rampage ends up being the best part of the movie, as you keep expecting it to slow down at any moment in order for Dave to do something productive.  Every time it cuts away to a new scene, you think, "Surely, he's going to ask where they're keeping Sherry.  He wouldn't just try to murder them outright, would he?  How's that going to help?"  But you're wrong.  The movie just keeps trying to outdo itself with each new set-piece.

Speaking out out-doing itself.... The goons reconvene at a junkyard for a final defense against Twister's bloody spree of violence.  There they unleash their last resort option: a fully-armed and operational tank.

This means that Twister's Revenge has at least one good reason for you to see it, in case Dollar Store Batman wasn't enough; you get to see a cat-and-mouse game between a monster truck and a tank.

Eventually, Dave chases the goons back to their underground hideout and rescues Sherry.  The hideout explodes (naturally) and the day is saved.

The Bit Wherein I Discuss Socio-Cultural Relevance

A close reading tells us that this movie is a celebration of capital punishment, self-sufficiency, and the Castle Doctrine.  It's basically a log cabin manifesto.

Consider the characterization of Twister itself.  It is a Monster Truck - a massive force of chaos, controlled by an intelligent entity that acts out of self-preservation and the desire to protect its family / creator.  Twister is both a weapon, in and of itself, and a force of justice that wields a weapon.  But it is not a cop, and at no point do Twister or Dave attempt to get the police involved.  Instead, they seek to (literally) crush their enemies and rescue their family.

Dave and Twister are a force of independence and isolationist action.  They neither want nor need the authorities or government to get involved in their affairs.  They will enact their own brand of justice as they see fit.  This is the dream of the most extremist libertarian, anti-government gun nuts: get rid of all authority and let me sort out my problems my way.

Consider also that the thugs and their homes are being systematically hunted down and destroyed, yet they too refuse to bring outside help into their affairs.  No, they have a better idea: scrounge up a tank (a tank!) and fight back.

Think about this in realistic terms for a minute.  Your neighbor is grumpy because you haven't pruned the oak tree in your backyard, and he thinks its crossing over the property line.  You keep telling him you'll get to it, but you haven't yet.  One day you go out back... and he's got a tank pointed at your house.

You'd be concerned, right?  Leaving alone the logistics of how he managed to secure, transport, and operate a tank, wouldn't you at the very least feel compelled to report him to somebody?

Ah, not Dave or Twister.  No, they are happy to actually square off against the tank; your guns versus mine.  Owning a tank is simply the ultimate expression of The Right to Bear Arms, and this movie is proud to have it.  Hell, the tank even joins a town parade at one point, resulting in a loud cheer from the onlooking citizens.

The only way it could top itself is if it ended with Twister and Dave declaring their trailer park an independent nation and printing their own currency.

Now, let's get serious.  I don't think Rebane necessarily intended to create right-wing survivalist porn.  I think it just kinda happened as a side effect.  If you create a movie about Monster Trucks, then you already know that you're catering to a certain audience, and certain attitudes are going to be a little more prevalent than others.  Twister's Revenge is basically what you get if you take the most extreme stereotypes of that audience and cater to their politics.

It still doesn't explain the bat-man or the dance sequence, though.  Let's just say they symbolize drugs.

The Bit Wherein I Conclude Things

Hey guys, I know you don't go to bad movie review sites / junk culture blogs to listen to the reviewer blab about their feelings, but I need to wrap up on a personal note here.  I think it's fitting.

Every week I agonize for a painfully long time over whether or not I should do an HHG write-up for a movie that I've seen.  I'll remind myself that there are 300 bad movie websites out there already - most of them with better web design and more traffic than I could ever hope to see.  And if either the movie I'm writing about isn't 100% obscure - as in, nobody else has ever written about it before ever - or if I don't have something especially new and notable to say, then maybe I'm wasting my time.  I picture myself as the Internet's younger brother.  Hey guys, can I play, too?

I end up putting myself into a bit of a tizzy for probably the dumbest reason one can have a tizzy: I'm worried I'm not good enough for the Internet.

(Ugh.  How often do people say that?)

Anyway, Twister's Revenge has some amount of notoriety in bad movie circles already.  There are plenty of bad /  obscure /  B movie review sites that feature the flick.  But here's the shocking - ahem - twist.  Unlike the other movies that I watch, I didn't do this research before I saw the movie.  I did it after.

Twister's Revenge was an entirely blind watch for me.  I didn't know anything about the plot, the history, the reaction, or even the genre.  I only knew the title and the length.   It was a movie I never knew anything about that I had a fun time watching, and it felt like some amazing discovery.

And that feeling?  That's the stated purpose of the Grail.

Finding out afterward that others have had that same feeling and felt compelled to write about it doesn't discourage me at all.  It just inspires me to be a voice that joins a hundred others, so that we may be heard more clearly by other ironic movie snobs, enthusiasts, and connoisseurs.  Clear some room in your schedules, gentlemen; this is what you're looking for.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

Despite it's rep among bad movie circles, it still gets a hefty forty point obscurity bonus for having under 200 IMDb ratings.  It also gets the "I want to share it" bonus of thirty points, so right off the bat it's sitting pretty.  I'll give it another ten points for Rebane's involvement, plus another ten for the practical effects.  That adds up to a whopping 90 hipster cred out of 100. Make sure you see it before the ratings start piling up or you'll lose that cred fast.