While we’re waiting for the next instalment of the “Made In STL” series, and summoning up the mental fortitude to watch another David A Prior jungle-set war epic, we always have our long-running mission to review every SyFy Channel movie ever made, and that brings us to the nicely bleak “Living Hell” (aka “Organizm”, a rather peculiar title).
A military base is being closed down so the land can be given back to the Native American people who originally lived there. No, this isn’t a comedy! This is totally a thing that the US military might do! Anyway, a team of army scientists is gradually clearing out all the old experiments and thoroughly disinfecting everything when a strange guy turns up at the front gate, asking to see the Colonel in charge. When he was a kid, his mother (who apparently worked there, although no record of her employment can be found) lost her mind, carving a message into the palms of his hands before killing her husband and then turning the gun on herself.
Having just read 80s speculative fiction classic “Blood Music” by Greg Bear, I had high hopes for this movie, but it takes a similar idea and spins it in a more traditional SyFy Channel way. Buried inside the wall of a remote sub-basement is a tank, and inside the tank is a corpse. One touch of the corpse is all we need for a super-virulent…plague?…organism?…to break out, and for all hell to break loose. It almost immediately takes over the entire base, then starts spreading out to the nearby town, where the native peoples are waiting patiently to take back their land.
It’s down to the strange guy, who it turns out is a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher called Frank (Jonathan Schaech), and one of the army’s top decontamination people, Carrie Freeborn (Erica Leehrsen), to save the world. And it’s the world, too, because this stuff spreads quickly and feeds off energy, so bombs are no good, and when dawn hits and the sun starts shining down, it’s all over for humanity. Luckily, there’s a bizarre bit of good fortune that allows them to fight back, a friendly Army guy, and so on.
There’s two ways these movies can go, as I’ve hinted at. First is, the world ends, but a few lucky survivors make it through to start the world afresh. This is about 20% of potential apocalypse movies; the other 80% is either a last-minute scientific breakthrough, or some chosen-one style nonsense (this is the latter, I guess). I like the bleak nature of it, though, as one character is prepared to sacrifice himself and even, based on his rather sad upbringing, seems okay with doing it; there’s an “Aliens” style ending as he walks back through the origin of the mega-organism to find its source and end both their existences. It aims a little higher than your average SyFy movie, is what I’m badly getting at.
It’s fairly “blah”, in all other respects, though. Effects are really cheap, and although the main two characters are strong actors, everyone else seems a little embarrassed to be there, or a little too pleased. There’s no romance element, as Carrie’s husband is one of the other army guys, and he dies quite quickly into proceedings, so there’s a slight hollowness at the centre of things too. They have a curious moment where she gets entirely naked to “protect” herself against the encroaching organism, like it was a scene left over from a previous version of the script (put the protective substance in a jar and let her apply it herself, maybe?)
Anyway, I complain when the nudity is gratuitous and when it isn’t, so perhaps I’m just bored of nudity (even in SyFy Channel movies, which leads me to believe this is a special DVD edit). But if I ever get bored of cheap special effects, bizarre plots and interesting denouements, then I’ll stop writing for the ISCFC, and I hope that day never comes. “Living Hell” is definitely in the top half of all SyFy movies, and should be enjoyed if you ever happen upon it one evening.
Rating: thumbs in the middle