Twister

Don't bother warning auntie em to take shelter in the fruit cellar. The tornado ripping through this fiendishly funny farce is more likely to cause psychic than property damage. The setting is contemporary Kansas, and Dorothy would hardly recognize the place; it looks like Oz gone to seed. This Cleveland family resides in a mansion that reflects conspicuous consumerism. There's even a live-in maid (Charlaine Woodard). But inside, everyone seems ready to crumble. Dad (Harry Dean Stanton) has made millions selling soda pop and operating miniature-golf courses; now he's thinking of breeding miniature cows. Mom has long since fled to the comfort of a mental institution. Sonny, played way beyond the hilt by Crispin Glover (Back to the Future), dresses in black and carries a whip; he's trying for "a total look." Daughter (Suzy Amis) is a boozing, tantrum-tossing unwed mother whose advice to her precocious eight-year-old, Violet (Lindsay Christman), runs along the practical lines of "Get me a beer."

First-time director Michael Almeredya, who adapted the script from Mary Robison's 1981 novel OH!, has etched a disturbingly comic portrait of the nuclear family nuked. Storm clouds loom when Violet's father (Dylan McDermott) returns from Canada to rescue his kid and her mother from these loonies, but he's another of the walking wounded - just less recognizably so. The same is true for Miss Virginia (Lois Chiles, in a knockout performance), a TV-kiddie-show host who's never scarier than when she thinks she's being sane. Still, even Miss Virginia is on target when she tells Dad, her demented suitor, that his family "has lost the habit of thinking."

Almeredya hasn't. His auspicious debut augurs a stunning future. The film may be blissfully bonkers, but it also speaks tellingly of the dislocation in American life. Part fun house, part chamber of horrors, Twister emerges as outrageous, original entertainment.

From The Archives Issue 558: August 10, 1989