As a kid perusing the shelves of my local mom-and-pop video store every weekend, there were two VHS covers that scared me every time I looked at them. I made sure to avoid the box art for Neil Jordan’s horror fantasy film The Company of Wolves; something about the wolf’s snout protruding from a person’s mouth was too disturbing for my eight-year-old brain to comprehend. The second box, however, was one that I always made a point to walk past because while I found it gross and scary, I was weirdly drawn to it. I had no real desire to see the movie—if the cover was that nasty, the film itself had to be ten times more sick—but I was forever daring myself to sneak one more look at the video box. That movie was the 1983 horror comedy Microwave Massacre.

It wasn’t until Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of the film that I finally saw Microwave Massacre, and I can now say that all those moments spent simultaneously transfixed by and afraid of the movie were wasted. It has to be one of the least horrifying—and, worse, least funny—horror comedies ever made. But because we are living in the golden age of cult horror movies on home video, even something like this can get the deluxe high-definition treatment, including a gorgeous 2K scan and newly commissioned special features. The people at Arrow were so preoccupied with whether or not they could restore Microwave Massacre, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Comedian Jackie Vernon makes his final film appearance as Donald, a construction worker with a wife who is a terrible cook. She recently purchased an enormous microwave (remember, this is 1983) and insists on cooking everything in it, which only upsets Donald further. During a drunken argument one night, Donald kills her, then cuts up her body and stores it in the refrigerator. When he starts eating her corpse and enjoys the taste, Donald develops a hunger for human flesh that leads to more and more murders.

It takes a special kind of incompetence to make a movie as bad as Microwave Massacre. Everything about the film, from the writing to the photography to the way the kills are handled, is done poorly. Technical crudeness could be forgiven—director Wayne Berwick clearly has no aspirations of making high art—but for that to happen, the movie at least needs to be funny. Microwave Massacre is not. While clearly built around Vernon’s comic persona, the film is almost wholly dependent on goofy puns and terrible wordplay delivered by the star with all the polish and confidence of a first-time actor.

The second half of the film finds him in a series of sexual encounters with women, which isn’t a problem of strained credibility (most of them are prostitutes), but because Berwick seems to think that just the sight of Vernon grunting and sweating is inherently funny. It is not, and that disconnect is the most damning flaw of Microwave Massacre: the movie wants to be in on the joke by being hacky and stupid, but it comes up short even on that level. It’s the worst kind of intentionally bad movie—the kind that’s never “fun” bad, but rather just plain bad.

Much better is Arrow’s new Blu-ray release of The Bloodstained Butterfly (Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate), the 1971 giallo directed by Duccio Tessari. It tells the story of Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia), a TV sportscaster arrested for the brutal murder of a young woman. Despite a great deal of forensic evidence backing up the arrest, some of the police suspect that they have the wrong man in custody, especially when more bodies begin piling up. Enter Giorgio (Helmut Berger), a pianist dating the daughter of murder suspect Marchi. He’s just one of a half-dozen characters in the film who could either be the murder-solving hero or the killer himself.

The thing about most giallo films is how big they are: the blood flows liberally, the sexuality is intense, the stylization much more dramatic than in other horror movies. They reach a kind of operatic state in their depictions of sex and violence and mystery. Not The Bloodstained Butterfly, though. This is a giallo defined by the way it defies so many of the conventions of the giallo film. It is almost entirely a procedural; the body count is low, the sexuality kept to a minimum (with the exception of one very unusual sex scene, shot not for exploitation or eroticism, but rather to explore a specific character dynamic. There are plenty of red herrings and amateur detectives—both hallmarks of gialli—but Tessari is not dependent on set pieces or the type of tension/relief structure employed by other movies of this sort. It would be unfair to label the movie “classy” (because it implies other gialli are not), but it is certainly more subdued and interested in procedure than in visceral thrills.

Arrow’s releases of these two wildly different films showcase their usual stellar work. Microwave Massacre boasts a new 2K scan, while The Bloodstained Butterfly has been remastered in glorious 4K; both look excellent—clean and detailed and almost totally new. Though Microwave Massacre director Wayne Berwick is listed on the disc menu as having recorded a commentary track for the movie, he is nowhere to be found on the commentary, which actually features writer/producer Craig Muckler and moderator Mike Tristano. Their back and forth is kind of fun and Muckler has some amusing stories, but like the movie on which they are commenting, it’s not essential viewing. A 20-minute featurette of interviews with Berick, Muckler, and co-star Loren Schein is also included, as well as an image gallery and the original trailer for the movie.

The Bloodstained Butterfly offers two audio tracks, the first in its original Italian and the second an English dub. There’s an optional introduction from star Helmut Berger, which is eccentric and weird and offers very little actual context or information. Berger also appears as part of a longer interview recorded in 2016, as do actress Ida Galli and Lorella De Luca, wife of director Tessari. Historians Kim Newman and Alan Jones have a great commentary in which they discuss the way that Butterfly is different than other gialli, while Troy Howarth’s video essay “Murder in B-Flat Minor” puts the movie in context of the other great giallo films of the early ’70s and explores the career of Duccio Tessari. Finally, there is a gallery of promotional artwork and production stills, plus the original Italian and English trailers for the movie.

Even more than the beloved horror classics released by the likes of competitor Scream Factory, Arrow seems to specialize in extreme niche titles that may at first appear obscure, but which certainly have their respective fanbases. That’s the case with both of these new releases. With its mix of tired Catskills comedy and juvenile depictions of sex and violence, Microwave Massacre is the kind of horror film best viewed ironically by those who enjoy the “so bad it’s good” experience. The Bloodstained Butterfly, however, is a rather beautifully constructed variation on the standard giallo that stretches the form and offers a unique experience for fans of the genre. I can really only recommend the latter and not Microwave Massacre, but if you’re anything like the eight-year-old version of me, you won’t be able to help yourself.

Microwave Massacre: Movie Score: 1.5/5, Disc Score: 3/5

The Bloodstained Butterfly: Movie Score: 3/5, Disc score 3.5/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.