One of the biggest duds I saw at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival was Twister, a self-consciously weird movie about a self-consciously weird family. It’s a film that tries so hard to be wacky that it becomes insufferable almost immediately.

The head of the household is played by Harry Dean Stanton, a wonderful actor in a nearly nonexistent performance. (Good for him.) He presides over a big mansion that, like the house in Giant, sits in the middle of a flat expanse. His daughter (Suzy Amis) is jolted out of her customary ennui because her man (Dylan McDermott) has just shown up on the doorstep. He wants her back. Because he seems almost halfway normal, this is a strange request.

Stanton’s son (Crispin Glover) skulks around the house in red crushed-velvet suits, tossing off tortuous one-liners and generally spooking everybody with his bad haircut. Glover is a strange actor who made a vivid impression with his over-the-top performance in River’s Edge. Here, his strangled-voice shtick runs thin after about 10 minutes.

There is a tornado that blows through and forces these maddening creatures down into the cellar for a while, but to little effect. They’re twisted enough already.

You know something’s wrong when the most intriguing scene in the movie has McDermott setting a tabletop on fire (with his shot of booze) and then anxiously trying to put it out.

In the opening 10 minutes, director-writer Michael Almereyda establishes everything he has to say, and for the remaining 80 minutes repeats himself. Except for a colorful interlude involving a cheesy kiddie show hosted by Stanton’s girlfriend (Lois Chiles), Twister stays in the same rut throughout.

This film hungers after cult-movie status, but I doubt it will achieve even that. All of which goes to show that you can’t plan a cult movie; they just happen. Twister is a midnight movie that doesn’t know the time of day.

First published in The Herald, June 1989

Well jeez, I feel kinda bad about how downbeat I am here, having come to like Almereyda’s work in recent years (Experimenter and Marjorie Prime are terrific). It never really did garner a cult reputation, except by default. The cast also has Jenny Wright, Charlayne Woodard, and William S. Burroughs, and Tim Robbins is in there somewhere. SIFF co-founder Dan Ireland was a producer on it (this was Vestron Pictures), and Hans Zimmer did the music.

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