Shocking Dark (1989) (aka Terminator 2)

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This is the fifth unofficial sequel we’ve covered; as well as two truly miserable “Night Of The Living Dead” efforts, we’ve also reviewed “Alien 2: On Earth” and “Savage Vengeance”, which was originally going to be released as “I Spit On Your Grave 2” before Donald Farmer got sued. While this is aka “Terminator 2”, a name it was released under in many countries, it hews a great deal closer to another famous film of the 1980s; more on that later.

 

Post-apocalyptic Venice is the location for this…well, some tunnels under Venice, I should say. A poison cloud (I think that’s the excuse they gave) has caused people to go crazy and mutate, so the authorities send in Mega-Force to save the day and rescue the notes of a scientist who had his base right under the cloud. This, sadly, isn’t the same Mega-Force as was featured in the 1982 classic of the same name, but this group differentiate themselves by absolutely going crazy for ethnic slurs – memorably, when the hard-ass woman insults the Italian member of the team with “wop” and other such gems, despite them, y’know, being in Italy and all. The Tubular Corporation is your generic evil corporation in this, and they send a rep too.

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I’m wondering how long I can go without the big reveal. Just a little further. The spectacularly wooden group of actors wander through the tunnels for a bit, only to start getting picked off by a pretty ugly fish-monster-looking thing. “Hold on,” you might say at this point, “isn’t this also known as Terminator 2? Why is the monster a giant walking fish? And why does that webbing they’re storing the humans in look familiar?”

 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this could be the most copyright-flouting movie ever. I’ll recap the story (it’s on Youtube, definitely watch it if you don’t want it “spoiling”) and see how quickly you spot it. A group of marines is forced to take a non-soldier along on a mission – a woman with curly auburn hair. They encounter a creature which doesn’t kill them immediately, but takes them away and stores them in a gooey webbing, where they beg to be killed. They rescue a small girl who’s survived in the hostile environment for some time. The soldiers have radar trackers, and at one point they’re detecting signals from monsters who should be in the room with them, they’re so close. The corporation representative tries to trap the female and the kid in a room with the monster, and turns the camera off so no-one knows what he’s doing. While setting off the base’s self-destruct mechanism, the woman gives the girl a wristband that will allow her to be tracked, seconds before she falls down a long slide and out of sight.

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Okay, the ending is way, way out of left field, but an absolutely enormous amount of “Shocking Dark” is a very close ripoff of “Aliens”. The paragraph above even misses some stuff out – my notes feature the line “OKAY, WE GET IT, YOU’RE RIPPING OFF ALIENS”, underlined several times as yet more direct lifts were wheeled out onto the screen. There’s a ton of very similar dialogue too, almost word-for-word in some segments, and I’m quite surprised they never got sued.

 

Because it’s set on Earth, the plot isn’t about trapping an alien, it’s about rescuing an experiment, which is some DNA-like substance which can mutate people or turn them into “androids” or something. Who cares? The scientists are the people who turned into the monsters, I guess. There’s a great scene near the end where a video from Tubular plays, with their CEO laying out their entire evil plan, with a quick “if you’re watching this, please don’t tell anyone” at the end.

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Because this is Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso at work, it’s not just a normal movie, though. The “Newt” character (I nearly just wrote “Newt”, which is an indication of how similar they are) is about 15 years old, which is why it stretches credulity when she’s seemingly unable to move to protect herself. After rushing around like mad, they suddenly grind to a halt and just walk round really slowly, despite the base being minutes from detonating. The same two chuffing corridors are used over and over again. The weird thing is, your brain sort of fills in the blanks from the more famous movie, so this was rather entertaining, despite its high amount of lunacy. The only really terrible technical flaw was sound, but we can let them off with that.

 

It’s the ending which really delights, though. 100% spoilers from this point on, but it’s a Youtube Film Club review, so you have no excuse. It turns out the Burke character is a Terminator! He chases them round a bit, and the weird thing is he never fights any of the monsters, which would have been fun to see. And then…I can’t quite believe I’m writing this…they find a Tubular Corporation time machine and go back to present day Venice. No-one seems all that surprised that this technology exists, which is cool, and in a “we almost predicted the plot of the actual Terminator 2”, they get followed back by the Terminator. Rather than hanging around to give the corporation his technology, thus giving them a head-start on destroying the world, they just throw the time machine remote control at him, sending him back to the future. Those two ladies have a world to save!shockingdark27

 

The main lady, Dr Sarah Drumbull, is played by a Haven Tyler, for whom this was her only film role. The rest of the cast have sterling resumes full of “bodyguard” and “goon no.2” roles, which is a shame as Mattei’s films usually have at least one or two half-decent actors in. Talking of Mattei, this movie represents the end of his and Fragasso’s working relationship. Noooo! Don’t worry, though, we still have a few films of theirs left to review – I hope you’re watching along too, because this stuff is gold.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Freeway (1996)

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Our love of cinematic trends here at the ISCFC is not (of course) for the initial, brilliant movies that started them, but for the trash that came after, as every bottom-feeder and indie company would try to wring a few £££ out of us. We’ve reviewed plenty of movies that were “inspired” by “Alien”, “Porky’s” or “Die Hard”, emerging in their wake, but today is the turn of Quentin Tarantino, whose shadow falls wide over 90s cinema.

 

“Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” caused more missing of the point than a nervous person at a “lay on a bed of nails” competition. Rather than the intricately crafted plots, ingenious pop culture dialogue (it’s tough to remember a time when that was remotely original) and violence-drenched non-heroic action, the producers we’re interested in saw “violence, scumbags, and swearing”. How many terrible 90s crime movies have you seen? “Very Bad Things”, “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead”, “8 Heads In A Dufflebag”, “Two Days In The Valley”, “Coldblooded”…these are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head, but it’s a deep list. And “Freeway”…is definitely on that list!

 

The plot is perhaps the 90s-est, Tarantino-rip-off-est of the lot. It’s “Little Red Riding Hood”, but with the Wolf as a paedophile serial killer, Red as a violent foul-mouthed teenage criminal, and the woodsman as “Chopper”, her drug-dealing gang member boyfriend. Red’s mother is also a drug-addict prostitute and her stepdad appears to do nothing but smoke crack and lay around in filth watching TV. I couldn’t shake the feeling that people this tick-all-the-boxes sleazy wouldn’t be able to exist, but you never know I suppose. Anyway, her parents are arrested for the usual catalogue of crimes, and Red decides to handcuff her social worker to a bed, steal her car and make a run for her Grandma’s house up in northern California.

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“The I-5 Killer” is operating on the stretch of highway she’s on, and wouldn’t you know it, her car breaks down, and she gets a ride from Mr Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), who’s definitely not an insane murderer, oh no. They have a conversation which seems to go on forever, with her shrill foul mouth, and his vaguely creepy platitudes – it must have seemed like a lot of fun to film, all that dialogue, but it comes across horribly on screen. Anyway, after him admitting he’d like to do “sex stuff to (her) dead body” she shoots him six times (including once in the head) and leaves him in a clearing miles from anywhere. He survives, of course, hideously disfigured, and the chasing and murdering and robbing and prison stints all goes on til we get a denouement of sorts at Grandma’s house. There’s lots of those sort of performances which are just the wrong side of over-the-top, like Brooke Shields as Mrs Wolverton, Dan Hedaya as a cop, and Brittany Murphy as Red’s cellmate.

 

There’s another scene, the police interview, where you can tell everyone expected this to be in some “90s crime drama” highlight reel for years to come. The dialogue overall is like an empty impression of Tarantino at his worst, and by the end you’ll want to mute the TV whenever Reese Witherspoon is on screen. It’s a really annoying central performance, which might have been okay if you were young and in the 90s, but if you’re any age in 2016, you’ll get really tired of it really quickly.

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The guilty party is writer / director Matthew Bright, who took a brief detour through Full Moon early in his career (1988’s “Shrunken Heads” is one of his) before an odd, if thankfully short, career. He also wrote and directed this movie’s straight-to-video sequel, and a few other crime-y movies, before wrapping up with “Tiptoes” in 2003. Never heard of “Tiptoes”? It’s the one where Gary Oldman plays a midget (by walking on his knees) and Matthew McConnaughey his brother, who grew up average-sized. Widely regarded as one of the most spectacular misfires of all time, it finished off Bright’s career, but if this was the best he could manage, it’s perhaps not that great a loss.

 

Witherspoon is awful and Sutherland is as good as could be expected, going wildly over the top and obviously having a great time. But…I feel this misses the mark by not understanding why this genre (and the director they’re aping) was so popular. There’s no-one to cheer on or even to operate as an anti-hero, it’s just scumbags against slightly bigger scumbags. “Hey, what if we did a fairy tale where everyone was absolute human garbage?” You need some real skill to pull that sort of story off, and no-one involved in making it had that skill.

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It’s interesting  to see what a strong critical reaction it got at the time, with people like Roger Ebert being very positive about it. While I’m sure many smart people hold different opinions to me for entirely legitimate reasons, I think at least some of the critical lauding this got was a case of Emperor’s new clothes, with no-one wanting to say “this hyper-cool, stylised, violent, profanity-laden new movie is a bit rubbish, isn’t it?” It’s so different to the source text that the occasional nod to the fairy tale (like the final scene) feels weird, like I was wondering why they bothered. It’s a little too humourless, unless you find a shrieking Deep South accent saying horrible things intrinsically funny.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Independence Day-saster (2013)

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Independence Day-saster could well be the most stupidly titled film SyFy have ever made, and that is an award with very heavy competition. It’s long been my contention that the dumber the title, the worse the film, but will this buck the trend?

I started off worried – the cast list is star-free, with the biggest name being Tom Everett Scott, who I remember fondly from “Dead Man On Campus”, here playing the President of the USA. But as the film went on, I became less worried. In fact, I have a dark confession to make…

I actually rather liked this! Just random chance indicates that every now and again, they’ll pull it off, and here we are with a fairly decent (if extremely low budget) version of “Independence Day” (unlike their occasional workmates at The Asylum, SyFy are less worried about ripping off the title and the plot at the same time). It rips along, there are no particularly terrible performances or gaping plot holes, and aside from an unsatisfying ending, it’s about as good as SyFy movies have ever been.

The President is in his special helicopter, going back to his small home town for a July 4th celebration. His son is already there, along with his brother (who’s a firefighter), a few of the son’s friends and a sexy scientist who’s been experimenting with a special “phonon” ray. Unfortunately, a bunch of aliens decide to invade, so we get these weird spinning balls spoiling the party that have what looks like a sawblade in the middle – tell you what, here’s a picture of them:

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The President’s helicopter gets shot down and we’re told more than shown about the widespread destruction the aliens have caused to the rest of the world – capital cities getting wiped out, that sort of thing. The brother, the scientist and the teenagers sort-of bumble along in the countryside, trying to get to a military base but mostly just watching the aliens and realising the phonon ray can be used as a weapon against them.

The President survives his wreck and at the first barn he comes to, finds the world’s two greatest hackers. The hackers help him stop the Vice President, who’s seized his opportunity to take the reins of power without bothering to check if the President is still alive or not, and stop his crazy plan to blow up the aliens (which wouldn’t have worked) just in time. There’s a very weak version of the famous speech from “Independence Day”, some brave sacrifices, and, like I said, a really dumb “horror film that’s expecting a sequel” ending, devaluing everything that’s gone before.

I’ve been trying to think of why this film works where so many other SyFy / Asylum films don’t. Firstly, it’s got a nice sense of humour – the funny situations and lines aren’t overplayed; and they trust most of them to the best actors. There’s no attempt to crowbar in a romance anywhere, which is just an excuse to manufacture drama. They don’t try and put their cheap CGI front and centre of any scenes, really, and use it fairly sparingly (although this does result in some odd shots like people watching a space battle rather than just the space battle itself). There’s relatively little padding too.

If you’re the sort of person who’s watched a few of these sort of films, I’d definitely recommend this one. Fun, fairly exciting and I was so engrossed I barely wrote any “what is this garbage?” notes.

 

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