Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Strangeness, The (1980)

Directed by:
Melanie Anne Phillips

A young couple are killed after an earthquake unleashes something inside an abandoned, multiple-level mine. Later, rumors circulate around about some gold possibly being located inside, prompting wealthy contractor Myron Hemmings (Rolf Theison) to organize an expedition to see if the mine is worth sinking money into. Writer Dan Flanders (Mark Sawicki), his photographer wife Cindy (Terri Berland), grizzled Aussie spelunker Morgan (Keith Hurt), geologist Angela Platt (Diane Borcyckowski), guide Geoff Calvert (Dan Lunham) and his assistant Tony Ruggles (Chris Huntley) are all on board. The seven descend into the mine and their rope is mysteriously cut, trapping them inside. Unfortunately, the greedy contractor didn't bother to inform anyone at his company about the expedition, so no one knows they're even there to come to the rescue. As they search for a way out, there are mysterious and powerful gusts of wind and a slimy, tentacled creature (which has something to do with an Indian legend) shows up to pick them off one-by-one.
A very low-budget, very uneven regional production, but one with some merit. The mine setting; a labyrinth of dark catacombs illuminated only by lanterns, helmet lights and flares, creates an effective horror atmosphere that becomes increasingly more claustrophobic as the film goes along. In that regard, and the general idea of people trapped deep underground due to a selfish, foolish member amongst them, the film reminds one of the recent hit THE DESCENT (2005). Also making this worth a look are some good stop-motion special effects (created by Ernest D. Farino and actors Huntley and Sawicki) used to bring the monster to life... Nevermind the fact it essentially looks like a giant, mutant female reproduction organ! Farino also contributed some great opening credits to the film and I was actually taken by surprise at the order in which the characters are picked off. Unfortunately, some other important areas are less successful and keep this from reaching its true potential. With better dialogue, more convincing acting and tighter pacing this would have been a fine sleeper.
Filmed in 1980 but not released until five years later, it's one of just a handful of 80s horrors directed by a woman, who ironically used the male alias "David Michael Hillman" and also co-wrote, co-produced, did the score and edited. The original American VHS release was through TransWorld Entertainment. Code Red released it on DVD in 2009.


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