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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

SHOCKING DARK -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

"So bad it's good" has a new name, and that name is SHOCKING DARK (Severin Films, 1989), a mind-rotting Italian sci-fi/horror fever dream from director Bruno Mattei and writers Claudio Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi.

As Drudi admits in an interview included on the Blu-ray, she and Claudio were hired to pen a direct rip-off of James Cameron's ALIENS and TERMINATOR, which would be released to theaters in time to cash in on Cameron's own upcoming TERMINATOR 2 (in some countries, they even used the same title along with copycat posters).

The main difference here, besides the rock-bottom budget, is that Mattei's film is set in scenic Venice as well as a genuine nuclear power plant, complete with control room, endless hallways, and massive machinery surrounded by walkways.  It's a goldmine of found locations that add immeasurably to the production values. 

Not that this makes SHOCKING DARK look like a lavish or even competent effort. The film is laughably bad from start to finish, with subpar performances and some really poor dialogue (some of which is lifted right out of ALIENS), and the big, scaly creatures that menace our heroes aren't far removed from the ones that stalked THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH.

And yet these very qualities are what make it such an involving experience.  The story is about a future Venice that's so polluted it's uninhabitable, and a research company called Tubular that's working to solve the problem when something goes terribly wrong (something involving monsters, that is) and all contact with them is lost.

Enter this movie's version of Cameron's colonial marines to venture into Tubular's vast underground system of corridors, laboratories, etc. and try to sort things out along with a brainy civilian, Dr. Sara Drumbull (Haven Tyler), who will be our official equivalent of Ripley.

Part of the fun of SHOCKING DARK is spotting all the other equivalents, such as the female marine who reminds us of Vasquez, other soldiers who remind us of other ALIENS characters, and the Newt-like little girl Samantha who latches onto Sara (even though the actress playing her appears to be far past adolescence).

Last but not least, there's the member of the group who is secretly a robot (or "replicant") and will eventually stalk Sara and Samantha through the compound like a Terminator as the familiar countdown to self-destruct ticks away. 

Whole scenes are copied, as when Samantha asks Sara, "Why do monsters exist?" during an intimate moment, right before they get locked in a lab with two of the slimy buggers while the traitor in the group turns off their surveillance camera.  Earlier, victims of the initial attack are, as you might guess, found cocooned.

Things don't really take off until the final third when all the stalking and counting down to self-destruct begin.  As a recorded voice reels off the elapsing seconds, Sara chugs through a series of Ellen Ripley/Sarah Connor moments until finally there's a rather unexpected time travel finale involving the one and only set built specifically for the movie. 
SHOCKING DARK is one of those movies that's sort of beyond criticism since the worse it is, the more fun I have watching it.  It's sincerely, almost creatively bad.  The filmmakers set out to entertain, and in their own colorful, flamboyantly inept, and wholly inadvertent way, they pretty much did just that.

Buy it at Severin Films

Special Features:
Terminator in Venice – An Interview with Co-Director / Co-Screenwriters Claudio Fragasso and Co-Screenwriter Rossella Drudi
Once Upon A Time in Italy – An Interview With Actress Geretta Geretta
Alternate Italian Titles


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