In 1986, Penn & Teller put out “Barbecue Death Squad from Hell,” a parody short film purporting to advertise a company whose business model was to take home movies shot in vapid suburbia and transform them into heart-palpitating schlock horror movies, all for the low, low price of $109. The movie lasts eight and a half minutes and manages to represent the brash and sarcastic comedic style of Penn & Teller adequately.
The idea of the short is that Penn & Teller portray two sleazy Hollywood producers who think they have hit upon a can’t-miss idea: send them your otherwise-useless home movies and, with the use of automated dialog replacement, or ADR, and a little bit of added footage, they will turn it into a schlocky horror movie in the Troma style, a type of entertainment that was seemingly omnipresent during those years. Somehow the conceit allowed the two alt-magicians (?) to direct their satirical eye at two hated groups, regular normies and shitty fly-by-night entertainment people.
What sets the project apart isn’t so much the content but the collaborators. Former Monkee Michael Nesmith was firmly ensconced in the world of video production by that time, and he is credited with directing “Barbecue Death Squad from Hell.” Strangely, at the precise moment this was being produced, the other three Monkees were enjoying an improbable career renaissance courtesy of MTV. Furthermore, no wave goddess Lydia Lunch was featured in the video for no discernible reason, other than the obvious.
The main actor in the “home movie” featured in the movie is James Rebhorn, a noted character actor (a favorite of mine) who appeared in such movies as The Game, Lorenzo’s Oil, and Scent of a Woman before unfortunately passing away in 2014. For a brief moment I thought that “Uncle Ernie” was a very young Ben Stiller, but no such luck.
At the very end of “Barbecue Death Squad from Hell” there briefly flashes a disclaimer, which is sort of the funniest thing in the video. Using my “pause control,” I froze the image and read the following:
If you went to all the trouble to use your pause control and read this, you probably have enough of a brain in your head to realize that this whole thing is a joke, get it? We don’t really beef up videos, and if you do send your tape and money to us, Mike Nesmith will keep your hundred and nine dollars and we will all laugh at you and make fun of your family.
You can check out the video after the jump…