Trawling the UK Netflix for films worth watching is generally a fruitless endeavour, packed as it is with straight to DVD sci-fi and horror and films everyone has seen a million times before. Whilst working my way through it’s various genre categories I found a cult 80s film that I had never seen before. It wasn’t Princess Bride though, which is a shame, because people will not stop telling me how I should have seen that by now. Sorry, but my film watching youth was different to yours. The cult film I saw in amongst all the cyborg based films was, in fact, Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF. To many of my US readers this is a cult film that they grew up with. Here in the UK it was released straight to video and promptly went out of print. It’s only really been available in recent years with the advent of digital streaming and download services such as Netflix. Naturally I had to watch it. Click the link for my thoughts on what the hell I just watched.
UHF (which stands for Ultra High Frequency – as in the TV signal) Follows the exploits of a constant daydreamer, and serial loser of jobs, George Newman (Weird Al himself). After losing his, and his friend Bob’s (David Bowe) job George feels he’s hit rock bottom and just wishes he could find a career where he could put his over-active imagination to good use. When his uncle wins the deed to a bankrupt TV station called Channel 8 in a poker game he gives control of the station to George so he can have one last chance of making something of himself. Things go slowly at first but when George puts his bizarre janitor Stanley (Michael Richards) on TV suddenly everything changes. Before long the station is a ratings winner and George has incurred the wrath of rival network manager RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), who isn’t too keen on being shown up by some curly haired weirdo. A televisual war ensues and George has to set up a telethon to save the station when RJ begins closing in on a deal to buy Channel 8 TV and turn it into a car park.
Seems like a pretty standard comedy plot there, and for the most part UHF is pretty standard. Except for one aspect, Weird Al Yankovic. This is his humour in the film format. The film opens with a Raiders of the Lost Ark Parody, that’s full of tiny details just to show the love, which instantly throws you off of what you’re expecting. Over the course of the film there’s a parody of Status Quo’s Money for Nothing that instead tells the story of the Beverly Hillbillies, there’s a wheel of fish (Red snapper… veeeery tasty!.. I knew that line already) and to add to this weirdness there’s an extended Rambo parody sequence at the end. One thing I’ve always liked with Weird Al is that the stuff he parodies isn’t out of spite or an attempt to show up someone else’s work. His devil is in his details which all goes to show why when Weird Al does a parody it has a better effect than, say, dropping a cow on Iron Man because Iron Man is a thing. It’s a shame what this sort of parody has become in recent years.
The film itself goes for the laughs per minute rule of thumb by chucking every gag you can imagine, and this being Weird Al, a whole load you likely didn’t. Many fall flat on their face, which is a shame because this sort of comedy ruled the 80s. You kind of go in expecting a lot of the oddball humour to hit the mark most of the time. That said, there are a few moments of brilliance here and there and the film doesn’t stop being fun. The cult status of the film can also be traced to a few films and internet projects around today. There’s a tone running through UHF that you’ll recognise in things such as Nostalgia Critic and Angry Videogame Nerd. Hardly high art, I’ll agree, but it shows that some people get what made this humour work. The line delivery of Weird Al himself is very similar to the way many internet video makers today deliver their lines. In turn Al’s slightly cartoonish tone mimics works from the likes of the Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks.
There’s not really a massive amount that can be said about UHF. It’s a curio of the 80s. A film largely forgotten by the mainstream but loved by fans of Weird Al. It features a few faces you’ll recognise today, such as Michael Richards and Fran Drescher as Channel 8’s receptionist turned reporter Pamela. The film was never going to win awards for its direction, score or writing. UHF is just a film made to be fun, pure and simple. Part of me would like to see Weird Al make another film someday, as he’s certainly not lost his comedic touch. But that sort of film would likely have to be crowd funded or very low budget to even have a chance of being made. So, UHF… it’s fun and silly and you may like it. It may even become a cult favourite of yours if you can dare to be stupid enough to enjoy it.