Friday, July 31, 2015

Shocking Dark (1989)

... aka: Alienators
... aka: Aliens 2
... aka: Contaminator
... aka: Shocking dark - Spectres à Venise (Shocking Dark – Specters of Venice)
... aka: Terminator II
... aka: Terminator 2
... aka: Terminator 2: Shocking Dark

Directed by:
"Vincent Dawn" (Bruno Mattei)

What's to be said about Bruno Mattei that hasn't already been said? The man was simply one of the biggest rip-off artists exploitation cinema has ever known but he did know how to sell a picture, even if that meant he had to plagiarize, confuse or deceive to do so. Mattei first entered the film industry through his father's editing studio, which kept him busy for a number of years. By the early 70s, he'd moved up to directing and proceeded to hop on every single hot exploitation trend that was going on at the time. He made Nazi camp movies, nunsploitation movies, women-in-prison movies, soft-core porn movies, hardcore porno movies, mondo movies, gore movies, zombie movies, monster movies, sword-and-sorcery movies, post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies, westerns... You name it and he probably did it, and he probably did it after someone else had done it first and had success with it. Among the more notable films that “inspired” his work over the years were The Magnificent Seven (1960), Jaws (1975), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Caligula (1979), Mad Max (1979), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Conan the Barbarian (1982), First Blood (1982) and the 1985 Rambo sequel, PREDATOR (1987) and RoboCop (1987). Not content to just borrow ideas from these films, Mattei often tried to emulate exact scenes, even going so far as to try to shoot and edit them exactly the same way.

I'm listing this Mattei film under the title Shocking Dark simply because that's the title I saw it under. This was actually first released as Terminator II in 1989, despite the fact it has nothing at all to do with James Cameron's 1984 hit. While Cameron was waiting for computer technology to catch up to his ideas before filming Terminator 2: Judgment Day (which would become the #1 box office draw of 1991), Mattei took it upon himself to make a sequel for him. That was then ushered out on video in a box ripping off the poster for The Terminator, right down to the half-robot face and the sunglasses. What makes this even more confusing is that the film itself is actually more of a rip-off of another of Cameron's big hits: ALIENS (1986). Because the filmmakers knew they'd get their pants sued off if they even attempted to try to pass this off as a Terminator sequel here in America, it was released pretty much everywhere else but here. Instead, it found its way onto the bootleg circuit under the name Aliens 2. In Japan it was titled Alienators, which then pretty much forced Fred Olen Ray's Alienator (1989) to become a bogus sequel (Alienators 2) itself.

Because of the high tide and “seaweed killing the oxygen in the waters,” the foundations of the city of Venice corrode and a toxic cloud settles overhead that kills off most forms of life there. (Huh?) By the year 2000, the last survivors are evacuated and Venice is marked a disaster area. A group of patrol guards and scientists stationed in a research facility and tunnels underneath the city end up getting slaughtered but a professor gets out a warning message to others first before all of the cameras go haywire. Colonel Pearson (Bruce McFarland) then has Captain Dalton Bond (Mark Steinborn) put together a mission called “Operation Delta Venice” to investigate matters. Tapped for the mission are scientist Dr. Sara Drumbull (Haven Tyler) and steel-jawed marine Samuel Fuller (Christopher Ahrens), who's now working as a representative for the Tubular Corporation; who built the tunnels in the first place in an effort to try to help purify the waters. Or so they say...

And what would a movie like this be without a bunch of brainless gung ho grunts to help up the corpse count? Here we get five noisy soldiers with big guns who make up something called the “Mega Force.” That consists of a foul-mouthed tough chick named Koster (Geretta Giancarlo from Demons), hot-blooded Latino Franzini (Italian actor “Tony” / Fausto Lombardi), dim bulb blonde surfer dude Caine (Cortland Reilly), “dumb fuck” Price (Richard Ross) and some guy named Kowalsky (Paul Norman Allen) because every movie like this needs someone named Kowalsky in it. We don't learn much about any of these people except they're all loud and Koster (“Sit on this grease ball!”) doesn't like the Latino (“Sit on this, black beauty!”). They're all given dumb lines like “Alright ya bunch of pussies, I'm back and I'm kicking ass!” and “Let's get out the KY so we can shaft 'em real good!” that manage to make them even more annoying than they already are. These characters are pretty much the equivalent of the “Space Marines” from Aliens, which is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the blatant plagiarism is concerned.

As the group venture on through the tunnels, they stumble upon deranged scientist Paul Drake (Clive Riche) who shoots at them and then lets out an ear-piercing scream (?) that disables the soldiers long enough to allow him to snatch Price and run away with him. Everyone splits up to find him and he's finally located wrapped in a cocoon-like substance (a la Aliens) before something bursts out of his chest (a la any Alien film). One of the men barely survives an attack by a big mutant creature and everyone continues on until their radar picks up something else moving. That turns out to be a dirty little girl dressed in rags named Newt. Uh, I mean Samantha (Dominica Coulson). Samantha bites a guy when he tries to reach for her (a la Aliens) and then runs off, but they manage to catch her and then take her with them. Making a pit stop at a lab, the hysterical girl is given a sedative so she can sleep. All of this manages to awaken the protective maternal instincts inside of Ripley. Uh, I mean Sara.

Snooping around the lab they discover the scientists were working on genetic mutation experiments and applying cybernetics to molecular biology, thus creating an enzyme similar to DNA in the process . The Tubular Corporation were also responsible for destroying Venice and then launching a profitable “reclaim” project... and they did it over a decade before Halliburton! Many scenes to follow are direct copies of how things went down in Aliens, with Sara having to save the shrieking little girl ("Saaaaaaaara!") numerous times, including during a scene where they become locked in a room with several of the creatures. The other two primary characters in Aliens; Bishop and Burke, have been combined here into one character, who's both a scumbag representative of the corporation and a “replicant” / robot, though this time the latter is pretty much exactly like Ash in the original ALIEN (1979). Scenes toward the end of the “immortal” robot pursuing Sara and Samantha are about all this really has in common with The Terminator.

Knowing Mattei is at the helm and he's working with a script from “Clayde Anderson” / Claudio (Troll 2) Fragasso, it should come as no surprise that this is bad. Really bad. Aside from ripping off other, much-better films at every turn (including stealing entire passages of dialogue), this suffers mostly from horrendous acting. It was common for Italian productions from this time to be shot in English and tap American actors to play the lead roles to broaden their distribution reach, but where on Earth did they find all of these untalented, inexperienced nobodies at? Was there some kind of third rate talent or modeling agency that hooked foreign producers up with these people at a bargain rate or something? Of course, if you're a struggling actor, who wouldn't want a part in this film? If it were me, I'd be running to every casting agent in Hollywood afterward saying “Hey, I just starred in Terminator 2... now hook me up!”

I'm sure having an Italian director and a mostly English-speaking cast is at least partially to blame but when nearly every single line of dialogue is awkward and stilted and lines are being flubbed you're left with the impression that no one really cared. The aforementioned Troll 2 became legendary for that same exact reason, only this isn't nearly as funny.

To be fair, this isn't the absolute worst thing you'll ever see. If you're able to find a decent quality print, the lighting (heavy on the blue-greens and reds) and photography are both decent enough. Though this appears to have been shot at some large power plant, the settings are reasonably efficient given the plot. There's no real gore and it's surprisingly tame violence-wise, though they were smart enough to keep the undoubtedly cheesy-looking man-in-a-suit creatures shrouded in enough darkness to where you could see them but not really make out many details. This also throws in a twist at the very end involving time travel, which is ridiculous and random but at least it's unexpected... unlike nearly every other aspect of the film.



Anonymous said...

The ‘robot’ in Alien was Ash, not Kane...

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Gah! Thanks for the correction.

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