Friday, August 10, 2018

SHOCKING DARK (1989) (Severin Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono, Sponaish Dolby Digital Mono, German Dolby Digital Mono, Italian Dolby Digital Mono, Chinese Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Bruno Mattei
Cast: Christopher Ahrens, Haven Tyler, Geretta Geretta, Fausto Lombardi, Dominica Coulson

Italian master of schlock Bruno Mattei (Violence In A Women's Prison) was never one to shy away from a good knock-off, and never was this more evident than with this balls-deep and shameless mash-up of a pair of sci-fi action cinema classics, swiping from both James Cameron's Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), aping the latter film almost beat for beat in a way that is actually quite breathtaking in it's sheer audacity. Set in Venice, Italy in the once futuristic sounding year of 2000 we find that the scenic city has fallen on desperate times due to pollution, oxygen clogging seaweed, and corrosive sea water. The now dead city has been abandoned by all except the insidious Tubular Corporation who are supposedly there to rehab the city with a variety of eco-friendly experiments, all the while guarding the city from outsiders with their own private military force known as the Mega Force. The story starts proper when a trio of Tubular employees send a scream-filled video distress call to the Tubular headquarters, when the video is cut short the Mega Force is sent in to investigate, the group being a z-grade version of the marines from Aliens, highlighted by the presence of b-movie queen Garetta Garetta (Demons) as a foul-mouthed and ill-tempered bad ass named Kostar, and the inclusion of scientist (and a total Ripley stand-in) Dr. Sara Drumball (Haven Tyler). The band of mercs venture down into the subterranean utility tunnels beneath the city and find more than they bargained for, first one of the scientist they are there to rescue opens fire on them and then they encounter red-eyed rubber monsters who quickly decimate the team. The creatures here looking like a mix of Marvel's Man-Thing by way of General Ackbar from Star Wars, there's one that looks decent but they're mostly awful, but they're good in a trashy sort of way, wisely seen in only fleeting glimpses throughout. 

The Mega Force also discover a young girl who has survived on her own amidst the monster menace, she of course being the Newt character in the film, and as far as annoying kids in Italian cinema go she's right up there with "Bob" from Fulci's The House by The Cemetery (1981), maybe even a little worse, towards the end of the film she and doc Sara become separated in the tunnels and just start screaming each others names for what feels like fifteen minutes, it's nerve-shredding cinema at it's worst-best-worst.

Late in the game this slice of Italian exploitation comes through with some surprises, starting with the revelation that one of the Mega Force-ers is a cyborg - and thus begins a short-lived Terminator riff complete with a facial wound revealing cyborg circuity and a stiff Terminator strut. Then, with just a few minutes left Mattei pushes full-on with a head-spinning time travel element that comes out of nowhere and really goes nowhere, but damn if this thing is not entertaining through and through. As the saying goes, good artists borrow and great artists steal outright, if that's the case then judging him by this movie alone director Bruno Matteil was possibly the greatest Italian director of all time! Few have pilfered so freely with so few resources to make it happen, but he made it happen, this movie exists, somehow. The biggest downfall of the film, aside from the derivative nature, is some overly-long dialogue stretches that will bore you to tears, but if you love trashy knock-off of the Italian variety there's plenty to love about Shocking Dark, which was distributed in Italy under the title of Terminator 2!

Audio/Video: Shocking Dark (1989) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Film in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, "scanned in 2k from the Director’s Cut negative discovered in a Rome lab vault", 
the image looks good within reason. This was shot on the cheap and not exactly shot well either, the steam and smoke filled shots can be soft looking and lacking detail, not helping is a diffused lighting style, but some of the shots that are well-lit and have a fair amount of fine detail. Colors look nicely saturated with the exception of some poorly lit shots, the black levels are adequate, and while there's some age-related wear and tear on the print it's all very watchable, and at times modestly impressive. 

The main audio option is an English DTS-HD MA Mono track with optional English subtitles, there's alsob Dolby Digital mono mixes in Italian, German, Spanish and Chinese. The mix is good, there's a little bit of hiss present, and occasionally during the livelier scenes the sound can be a bit shrill on the ears, the cheesy synth score from Carlo Maria  Cordio (Pieces) is pretty good, it definitely suits the film, but it's not very memorable. 

Severin offer a few nifty new extras on this one beginning with a nicely candid interview with Co-Director/Co-Screenwriters Claudio Fragasso and Co-Screenwriter Rossella Drudi who give an overly honest recollection of this one, such as being assigned the project with the explicit direction to rip-off Aliens, which they didn't seem too happy about. They seem surprised that this stinker has the cult-following that it does, with Drudi saying she regularly omits this from her filmography, but I'm glad she's here to talk about it. Also discussed is shooting the film in a decommissioned nuclear facility, the less than stellar special effects by the Paolocci Bros., and how the producer is the one who re-titled the movie Terminator 2, the interview is in Italian with English subtitles.

Portland-born model/actress Geretta Geretta shows up to discuss her whole career, beginning with being cast in the punk cult-classic The Smithereens, doing some modeling and moving to Italy. She discusses working with Lucio Fulci (Murder Rock), Lamberto Bava (Demons), and Bruno Mattie on Rats: Night of Terror, describing how they would "recycle" the mice used in that film. 

The disc is buttoned-up with the alternate Italian title sequence with the Terminator 2 title card, plus an Asian trailer for the film with the Alienator title card, but the English voice-over which advertises it as Shocking Dark, with a bizarre coda right at the end that had me in stitches. The single-disc release comes housed in a spiffy black Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork. the disc also featuring the same key art as the sleeve.

Special Features:

- Terminator in Venice - Interview with Co-Director/Co-Screenwriters Claudio Fragasso and Co-Screenwriter Rossella Drudi (13 min) 
- Once Upon A Time in Italy - Interview With Actress Geretta Geretta (13 min) 
- Alternate Italian Titles (2 min) 
- Trailer ( 1 min) 

There are a metric shit-ton of Italian knock-off films from the 70s and 80s, but very few were as shameless as this one at lifting directly from the films they were aping,it's sort of amazing how much this straight-up steals from Aliens and Terminator. It's on the level of the infamous Jaws knock-off Great White, but somehow this one hasn't been banished to copyright infringement limbo the way that one (or the black Exorcist knock-off Abby) have been, and of course it had to be Severin that brought this bonkers slice of trash to to Blu-ray, and that's why I love them!