Sunday, December 29, 2019

dave alien at large.

Getting set for not only a drunken new years eve (or 'The Hogmanay' as they cry it up here) but also the return of Doctor Who to our screens (hence the alcohol) so thought I'd prepare myself with some top quality sci-fi.

Unfortunately it appears that it's in my other jacket so had to make do with this. 

Shocking Dark (AKA Terminator II, Aliens 2, Aliennators, Contaminator. 1989).
Dir: Bruno Mattei.
Cast: Cristopher Ahrens, Al McFarland, Haven Tyler, Geretta Giancarlo Field, Tony Lombardi, Mark Steinborn, Dominica Coulson, Clive Ricke, Paul Norman Allen, Cortland Reilly, Richard Ross, Bruce McFarland and
Al McFarland.

"It's not alive until it finds something to live in... something to reprogram on the basis of its own genetic program — a chromosome databank."

The place: The late 70s clad fashion hell that can only be someone's scratchy home movies from a family holiday to Venice, hastily edited and with a morose voice-over quickly added in order to make the film that is to follow look at least a little bit expensive than it really is.

Or that a bit of thought went into it.

As a variety of overweight plaid-clad tourist feed the pigeons the aforementioned voice-over informs us that due to it's polluted algae filled waters and toxic badness polluting the air that the city is doomed.

And as if to prove this the image cuts to a group of men in bootleg Power Rangers suits, BMX helmets and gas masks guarding a homemade sign that reads:


Hastily drawn in Sharpie and placed on the edge of the duck pond in the directors local park.

Job done.

As the credits play out over even more stock footage - this time of bombed out and derelict buildings, well it's either that or footage of the poshest housing estate in West Bromwich - we're suddenly transported to the local electricity board power station where the stoic Colonel Barry Exposition (McFarland in his only screen appearance) is busy watching an important video transmission from the deserted (sort of) city featuring three blokes in muck encrusted Kwik-Fit overalls running down a corridor and screaming.

Which is nice.

To add to this already exciting scene the group split up with two of them being overcome by a vaguely threatening shadow obscured by some smoke whilst the other - a man named Towers (like that's important. I really only mentioned it to prove I was paying attention)  shits himself when yet another guy pops out from behind a pipe and gently taps him on the shoulder.

Luckily he recognises the newcomer as assistant researcher Charlie Drake (actor and composer Ricke, best known for Rome - as in the TV show not shagging your mum when she was on holiday there) whom it seems is an old friend.

Unfortunately Drake appears to be completely insane  and suddenly strangles poor Towers whilst guffawing like a mentalist of the kind only found in - badly - dubbed Eurohorror.

You know the drill.

Shocked by the appalling lack of any discernible talent on show Colonel Exposition calls a staff meeting in what looks like the local school IT room to discuss the situation with the hunky military type - wait for it - Captain Dalton Bond (Steinborn) and a slightly less hunky science type named Sara (ex-Aerosmith frontman Tyler probably) in the hope of finding out what the fuck is going on.

Shifting uncomfortably on the child-sized seats our amazing trio sit in stunned silence as the tape plays out.

It seems that one Professor Ralph Raphelson (another McFarland, probably the dad of the other guy) whilst working on a top secret project to restore Venice to its former glory has inadvertently created a device that can turn people into monsters.

Monsters with massive paper mache heads.

As you do.

His assistant, the aforementioned Drake, upon discovering this went mad and decided that he alone could communicate with the creatures.

And on that bombshell the tape ends.

"Sorry Miss, the dog ate my homework!"

After sharing a few knowing - and vaguely erotic - looks with each other Colonel Exposition orders Bond and Sara to head to Venice to rescue any survivors and to retrieve Raphelson's diary - as opposed to his lab notes, am I being picky?), to this end they'll be accompanied on their mission by the mysterious Samuel Fuller (not the director unfortunately but some guy called Ahrens) from the rather quite radical sounding Tubular Corporation who I assume from the name - and from Fuller's Sun-In style locks are a surfing company.

So far so Aliens.

All we need now is a squad of gung-ho hard-bitten marines.

Unfortunately the budget can't spread to this so instead we get a handful of non-actors in market stall shellsuits.

And a few kiddies skateboarding helmets with masking tape stuck on them.

Oh yes and the fabulous friend of The Arena Geretta Giancarlo Field (AKA Geretta Geretta) carrying a big gun so it's not all bad.

Koster (for that is she) is joined in this elite fighting team - dubbed 'The Megaforce' (tho' not this one) - by the cleanliness obsessed Kowalsky (Allen from What Would Jesus Buy?), ponytailed pretty boy Caine (Reilly - Ace of Spies) and the slick-quiffed Franzini (Lombardi who actually went on to have a career appearing in such quality fayre as Heaven - but not the gay nitespot - Blue Tornado and Vita di Antonio Gramsci) as well as a few other folk I can't be arsed listing who all excitedly polish their weapons whilst chatting about the mysterious 'Operation Delta Venice'* that they're about to embark on.

So without further ado it's off into the tunnels below Venice (played here by an underground car park just outside Rome) where literally within seconds everything goes to pot.

You see deranged Drake has found a machine gun and is currently firing it in the general direction of our crack squad of soldiers whilst shouting random shite like "I CAN SEE YOU......I KILL YOU NOW!" at whoever is listening.

Which unfortunately is the viewer.

Luckily Bond stays cool under pressure - well it's either that or he just can't act - and orders Kowalsky and some other guy (look if the director can't be arsed why should I?) to "Take him from behind!" which obviously leads to a bumsex joke and a classic bit of playground rolling before Drake is apprehended but as the team attempt to question him he starts to laugh maniacally before letting out a high pitched scream that leaves the squad holding their heads in agony and Drake enough time to escape with Private Stevie Soontodie as a hostage.

"He did WHAT in his cup?"

 Slowly recovering from the ear onslaught Bond counts the number of soldiers (twice) before realising that they're a man down so quickly sends everyone off to look for him giving the film a chance to copy the spooky motion tracker scene from Aliens only this time using a desk calculator and a pinging egg timer.

Being the only two cast members with any ounce of acting ability (well one of them does) it's Caine and Koster who finally find Stevie, who by this time is covered in what looks like dried whale spunk and glued to a wall alongside the remains of the base scientists.

Begging for death (most likely as he knows the film is utter guff rather than for any other reason) Koster can only look on in horror - well I say horror but it's actually mild indifference and slight annoyance - as a shoddily painted glove puppet bursts forth from Stevie's chest just like the one in Alien.

If Alien had been directed by a blind, hook-handed child that is.

To say the effect is underwhelming is an understatement.

It's just shit.

Luckily the film cuts to Koster and Caine reacting giving the crew just enough time to replace this affront to visual effects with something slightly less crap to wrap itself around Koster's neck.

Unfortunately it's still not good enough to look like anything except a stringy green scarf.

A stringy green scarf constructed from condoms.

Never mind tho' as Caine quickly shoots it and the pair run away.

 quick reaction-shot cutaway, a slightly more dignified prop wraps around Coster's neck, until Kane fires a few rounds into what was once his fellow-Marine.

Meanwhile the movies answer to The Chuckle Brothers, Franzini and Kowalsky have problems of their own seeing as they've rounded a corner and literally bumped into the shadowy monster from the films opening.

Being proper tough guys the pair start screaming and run  back to where Bond and Sarah are currently busying themselves hypnotically staring at the flashing light on their motion scanner.

It's almost as if they're standing about doing fuck all just waiting on their cue to start recycling even more of the dialogue from Aliens and this time it's the whole "The tracker's off scale, man. They're all around us, man. Jesus!" bit delivered so fantastically by the late great Bill Paxton only here it's spoken in the manner of a recently woken child who's only just discovered the power of speech.

As tensions rise - well as everyone stands around looking bored if I'm honest - Fuller suggests that they all beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of Zone 14.

It's all just words isn't it?

Let's be honest, it's not even worth typing 'Laugh Now' on something this shit.

Arriving in/at Zone 14, Sara's calculator prop is soon pinging again and the group this time decide to follow the ping rather than running away which is quite lucky as it's not a big slimy monster they come across but a small disheveled girl named Newt.

Sorry I mean Samantha (Coulson in - again - her only film role tho' I think she didn't suffer too many after effects of being in this movie and now lives in Maine and enjoys drinking coffee if the interweb is correct**).

Five fingers - never touched the sides.

As you've guessed the entire Newt plot from Aliens will now play out in it's entirety.

Just with worse costumes.

Well worse everything if I'm honest.

Luckily for Fuller It just so happens that Zone 14 is actually where Raphelson's lab is located so he gets to work looking into kids microscopes and flicking thru flipcharts whilst Caine and Koster sneak off for a crafty fag.

It's almost as if he knows more than he's letting on.

Wanking himself silly at his discovery he announces that Raphelson had created an enzyme that has similar properties to DNA and the ability to reprogram on the basis of its own genetic level.

Or something.

As all this high-tech nonsense is going down, Caine and Koster are also getting a violent tossing - off a walkway by a beast that is.

Samantha - being about 12 - is old enough to realize that the whole thing is utter bollocks and is desperate to get the whole thing over and done with announces that her dad, Raphelson if you hadn't guessed - it's easy to tell as they both have odd shaped ears and a limp, suspected that the Tubular Corporation was experimenting with enzyme-DNA type stuff in order to take over the world or something which annoys Fuller no end.

Which makes me think who Raphelson (you know head of a project funded by Tubular) actually thought he was working for in the first place.

We have no time to think about that tho' as  the power suddenly goes out.

"They cut the power!" exclaims Sara.

"What do you mean, they cut the power? They're animals!" Answers Bond.

And that whirring noise in the background?

That's James Cameron spinning in his grave.

Yes I know he's not dead*** but he got so angry he actually dug one just to spin in.

And with that the group hurriedly make their way toward the Tubular Corporation headquarters in the building because as Samantha puts it "It is very safe".

Well I'm sold.

This gives us time to sit back and enjoy 10 minutes of various cast members shouting loudly whilst pretending to shoot homemade  fireworks at some poor sod in a big green rubber gimp suit growling as he waves his little thin arms around trying to pretend that there's more than one monster suit.

Tragic doesn't begin to cover it.


Saying that something exciting (sort of) does occur when one of the beasts attacks Fuller and slightly scratches his arm revealing not blood and bone but printed circuits and tin foil....Yup Fuller is a robot!

But there's no time to waste on that plot revelation as Sara is getting confused as to how doors work.


I'll admit now that by this point any goodwill I had for the film had evaporated so I sneaked off to get some crisps and by the time I returned Sara and Samantha seemed to be sitting in a leisure centre office watching a badly dubbed public information film with no signs of any monsters or any other members of the cast.

Checking it was still the same movie I sat down, began to weep and carried on in the hope that it had nearly finished.

Instead of an exciting pulse pounding climax tho' I re-entered the film to see a bleach-blonde Barbie doll in a hideous 80s power suit attempting to explain the films plot via a bunch of cue cards.

Unfortunately they appear to have been written in a language she couldn't understand seeing as what should have been a 3 minute scene descended into 9 minutes of uncomfortable pauses and mispronunciation where we discover that Tubular, although originally contracted to clean up the toxic environment in and around Venice actually planned to release the mutating virus thing into the city in order to turn everyone into monsters so that they could loot all its famous art and antiques.

No me neither.

Noticing that everyone now knows the companies evil plan Fuller goes into full Terminator mode (if the Terminator was a slightly fey guy with a home hi-lighting job) and proceeds to kill the remaining soldiers before activating the big 'DESTROY VENICE' device and shouting "You have 30 minutes to escape....if escape were possible! Ha! ha! ha!" before watching Sara and Sam run leisurely  up some stairs.

It's then he remembers that Samantha has the diary he was sent to retrieve so gives chase.

"Shoot me now!"

As the evil robot bloke gets ever nearer all looks lost until that is Sara rounds a corner and finds a time machine parked in a corridor.

A time machine with what looks like an old Major Morgan toy as a controller.

No, really.

Pressing all the buttons randomly the pair travel back in time as the whole of Venice explodes.

Surely this must be the end? both Samantha and Sara must be thinking as they stumble into a children's playpark.

I know I was.

But alas no, you see there was a second time machine hidden just behind the first one and it was set for the same point in time and space.

And Fuller found it.

Stepping out of his time machine he advances menacingly on our terrific - and toothsome - twosome, stopping only to throw a tramp off a bridge which gives Sara time to reprogramme the Major Morgan toy and toss it to him sending it and Fuller back from whence he came.

Which I assume is an exploding future Venice and not his mother's womb.

Regular readers will already know how much I love dear old (and dead) Bruno Mattei as well as writer Claudio Fragasso - I mean come on, between them they gave us the fantastic Zombie Creeping Flesh as well as the fur-tastic Rats so you can kinda forgive them most things.

Except this film that is.

For Shocking Dark is bad.

And not just bad, I mean arse-clenchingly, shite-curdlingly bad.

It's almost bad beyond words, taking everything you love about not just the film it copies but everything wonderful about 80s Italian cinema then proceeds to piss on it before sticking a rusty knife in its heart and finally setting fire to it creating a celluloid inferno from which no-one will survive unscathed.

Especially not the viewer.

Insert amusing caption here.

Unlike most (all?) Italian - and sometimes Spanish - 'homages' - OK rip-offs - of major Hollywood films and themes that were commonplace during the 80s Shocking Dark lacks that sense of fun that everything else from the aforementioned Zombie Creeping Flesh to Panic via the Alien-baiting Contamination with the entire film played so straight as to become deadly dull, you can't even snigger at the lo-fi effects because you know that no-one save the director is ever going to get paid and that everyone else is going home each night full of broken dreams and with an empty stomach.

Tho' in Cristopher Ahrens case that's probably not a bad thing.

Smug git.

And why should I put the effort in if the folk behind the camera aren't?

Not wanting to end on a downer it seemed at least Mattei realised the error of his ways and attempted to make amends later on in his career with his - actually brilliant - second attempt at ripping-off Aliens, Zombies: the Beginning, a film that has everything Shocking Dark lacks from naked Filipino children covered from head to (tiny) toes in green house paint wearing  joke shop Austin Powers-esque teeth and a paper mache headpieces pretending to be the undead to a sexy, charismatic lead in local swimwear model cum 'Hotgirl of The Week' and former electrical company receptionist Yvette Yzon.

Bizarrely Yzon after becoming something of a muse for Mattei in his later life she retired from acting upon his death, becoming an accountant and working on Argento's Dracula 3D.

Now that is scary.

*Which is not to be confused with Delta of Venus, the saucy short story collection by Anaïs Nin published posthumously in 1977.

The short stories that make up this anthology were written during the 1940s for a private client known simply as "Collector".

This "Collector" commissioned Nin, along with other now well-known writers (including Henry Miller and former Doctor Who editor Terrance Dicks) to produce erotic fiction for his private consumption.

Which in layman's terms means wank fodder.

A bit like how people see this blog.

His identity has since been revealed as your mum's cousin Jim, remember the guy that always used to hug you too tightly at Christmas whose keys always dug into you back?

**I say that because from what I can gather she attended the Maine Restaurant Week event that was hosted by Coffee By Design last year where guests tried coffee in many forms paired with sweet and savory treats created by local bakers and pastry chefs.

"They mostly come in cups....mostly!"

The lineup included: Baristas & Bites; Cakes by Babbs; C-Salt; Dean’s Sweets, Foley’s Cakes; Frisky Whisk; Landry’s Confections; Stones Cafe & Bakery; Tin Pan Bakery; TIQA Pan Mediterranean and Walter’s.

Tho' Walter's what we shall never know.

***Unless you're reading this in the far future when he is.

No comments: