There’s always been something mildly disturbing about canned laughter (to paraphrase Man on the Moon ‘those are dead people laughing’) although maybe it’s just the way some television shows shoe horn it into scenes whether it’s merited or not. Which in some cases in most of the time. Family meals and other social gatherings are ripe for making fun of, so it’s not a big shock to see someone decided that the sitcom format might work as a horror subject. Despite a ‘filmed in front of a studio audience’ gag conflicting with the idea, Dinner With The Dwyers runs with this anyway and in the brief running time of under ten minutes they manage to get in plenty of awkward and gross moments played over with a laugh track. However like the shows they are parodying, how much of this works is up for debate.
In what is a fairly familiar domestic setup, Debbie (Fest) has to bring her new boyfriend Max (Degard) to meet her eccentric parents. This itself might be a disturbing scenario for some viewers, but of course a series of far stranger moments begin to unfold soon after their arrival. While her mother Nora (Rose) is drunk and out of control, the real moments of weirdness come along once they talk about how they met and what happens next. Max as it turns out is a perverse serial killer, and the story he tells is well … a less than romantic tale of being caught in the act and hooking up with his prospective victim. It’s soon apparent that this is all rather fascinating to his potential in-laws who may have a few surprises of their own to reveal.
The cast all do a reasonable job with the material although the father Peter (Marv Blauvelt) seems to be sidelined while his other half gets to have all the fun as a wine swilling bored house wife figure who can’t keep her hands to herself. It could have been a lot less civil considering the turn things take, and it would have had more impact when scenes are so short. With a stronger focus on giving each character a distinctive moment of their own and a more dramatic sense of style they could have gone to town on the idea of twisted family meetings, after all this is well trodden material. It doesn’t have that real punchy sense of self awareness despite having some charm.
Of course this is a format which has been used to create more than comedy melodrama in the past, and anyone who remembers Natural Born Killers will recall the bizarre sketch sequence complete with a Rodney Dangerfield cameo. Although they used a gaudy yellow typeface for the opening title card and include a few musical cues that suggest an offbeat tone, things are never quite pushed towards that level of sinister or amusing. To really get things to feel right they could have put those recorded laughs in at far more inappropriate moments or even gone all out with the kinds of bad sound stage backdrop you’d expect to see in a TV production. Perhaps they can expand all this to feature length and really polish things in the future, but it stands it’s a sort of fun but mostly uneven distraction.