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.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Syngenor (1990)

... aka: Cyborg Soldier
... aka: Scared to Death II
... aka: Soldat Cyborg
... aka: Syngenor: Synthesized Genetic Organism
... aka: Syngenor: The Synthetic Experiment

Directed by:
George Elanjian Jr.

The Norton Cyberdyne Corporation has created the "virtually unstoppable soldier of tomorrow" in the form of Syngenor, which is short for SYNthesized GENetic ORganisms. These black, reptilian-looking killing machines (played by men in suits) are impervious to conventional weaponry, trained only to kill, can easily survive harsh desert climate because they require no water and live only on their victims' spinal fluid and are capable of asexually reproducing every 24 hours. Wanting to sabotage the company, smarmy executive Stan Armbrewster (Charles Lucia) lures "expendable" PR man Tim Calhoun (Jon Korkes) and a couple of drunk party girls to the basement of the high rise Cyberdyne building where the creatures are kept and lets one free. The Syngenor lives up to expectations by quickly dispatching Tim and the girls, then escapes the building and goes to the home of scientist Ethan Valentine (Lewis Arquette), the man who originated the Syngenor project but has since quit. It kills him and then goes after his niece Susan (Starr Andreeff), who manages to fend it off using a can of aerosol spray and a lighter. Naturally, the police don't believe Susan when she tells them what really happened, especially after Cyberdyne CEO Carter Brown (David Gale) throws them off their trail.

Nosy reporter Nick Carey (Mitchell Laurence) shows up to do a piece on Ethan's death and teams up with Susan. She wants to justice while he's simply looking for a good story. Meanwhile, at Cyberdyne, icy megalomaniac Paula Gorski (Riva Spier), another high-ranking exec, wants to take over the entire company by any means necessary. Not only does she have the pussy-whipped Stan wrapped around her finger and at her bidding, but she's also been sleeping with Carter while conspiring behind his back to drive him crazy. Stan tricks Carter's 17-year-old bimbo niece Bonnie (Melanie Shatner, daughter of William) into going to the basement and unleashing over twenty of the Syngenor they have on hand from the thermal vault. After she's electrocuted and her death is relayed back to Carter, he starts going even crazier than he already was. Nick and Susan (posing as his photographer) arrange for an interview with Stan, who wants to use the opportunity to implicate Carter for the deaths that have occurred thus far. Our heroes have the misfortune of showing up on a Saturday morning just when the shit is really hitting the fan. Not only are the creatures on the loose throughout the building (even wiping out all of the facilities armed guards) but the unhinged Carter proves to be even more dangerous.

Apparently, this is a loose, belated follow-up to director William Malone's Scared to Death (1980) featuring the same design of monster. A sequel had been announced in Variety back in 1984 (see below) complete with a great poster and with Malone listed as the director and co-writer, but the project was shelved at the time after Malone bowed out to direct the higher-budgeted Creature (1985) instead. It would later be made without his involvement. While I have yet to see Scared, for a medium budget 'B' monster movie, Syngenor really isn't too bad. It's consistently entertaining and often very amusing, the creature designs (by Malone and Doug Beswick Productions) are decent, the production design is heavy on silver, blue and purple giving it a handsome, sleek futuristic sheen, there's plenty of chaos and action and even a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about the whole silly thing. I enjoyed myself.

The 1984 Variety ad.

French poster. Soldat Cyborg = "Cyborg Soldier"

Trivia Note: The kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel doubled for the Syngenor lair!

We call this "corporate scum."

Green Eggs and Gale.

The original, none-too-exciting-looking American VHS box.

Now this is more like it!

I've always enjoyed Andreeff as an actress, especially in Katt Shea's underrated vampire film DANCE OF THE DAMNED (1989). She makes for a likable tough heroine in this one as well and is nicely-paired up with the amiable Laurence. Gale is also another standout, though I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's more just like a weird thing. The late actor, who was able to secure work in films just like this after his memorable turn as Dr. Hill in the cult classic Re-Animator (1985), gives one of the most unrestrained, over-the-top performances I've ever seen in any film. He screams and laughs maniacally while injecting some kind of glowing green drug into a boil on his neck, makes hilariously goofy faces, bugs his eyes out, childishly bounces up and down, starts blasting his employees to smithereens with a "Death Rattle Gun" (which can dispatch 1000 rounds of ammo in a second) and keeps crying "Hold me!" in a baby voice. By the end, he's running around wearing a bunny mask and killing more of his own employees (after stripping them down to their underwear) than the monsters! If you're a fan of completely unrestrained acting, you won't want to miss this.

Syngenor was a modestly successful venture that apparently did better business overseas (particularly in Japan) than here in the States. After a brief theatrical run, it was issued on VHS by Southgate Entertainment and then reissued by Hemdale a few years later before making its DVD debut in 2003 through Elite Entertainment. In 2008, a "Special Edition" DVD was released by Synapse Films, which includes several behind-the-scenes featurettes and a commentary track from star Andreeff, producer Jack F. Murphy and writer Brent V. Friedman.



crow said...

These movies have always been close to my horror/sci-fi heart. I would like to see this just because of Gale and especially Andreeff whose work in Dance was a nice surprise (she isn't too bad in the low budget Corman flick, with Andrew Stevens, The Terror Within) that I think I'll always consider a fine example of how little-financed horror B movie can still feature strong acting. I look forward to reading a review from you on Scared to Death one of these days.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

It's quite amazing what a strong cast and good writing can do overcome a really low budget and Dance is a primary example of that. I think it's one of the very best films Corman produced in the 1980s. Starr also has a good part in the killer clown movie Out of the Dark if you haven't seen it. Been ages since I watched The Terror Within. That one needs a re-visit here soon! I know there is a sequel too but I haven't seen it.

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