I’ve often said that, if I was ever rich enough, I would move to Venice, Italy to live out the remainder of my days (it’s usually either this or buying my own island/small country). I’ve done no research into the place, unless movie viewing counts. It just looks like the kind of city that would appeal to me. There are no cars to run you over or blare their shitty music at all hours of the day and night (maybe they do that by gondola?). It has a quiet, rustic quality to it while also being just modern enough for my taste. This is why it works so well as a horror film setting (witness: Don’t Look Now). Its silence, its narrow, mazelike streets, and its floating, sea-worn characteristics are both peaceful and unsettling. I tend to think, based on its location, that there is likely a large rat issue, so that wouldn’t be fun, and I’m sure that the salty, ocean air plays hell with the architecture and metal plumbing (thank God for PEX). Still, I imagine that the positives would vastly outweigh the negatives, so all I have to do now is become a multi-millionaire. Not even a toxic cloud over Venice, like in Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark (aka Terminator 2, aka Aliens 2, aka Alienators), could deplete my desire to live there. The genetic mutations might be a sticking point, though.
An S.O.S. is received from some underground scientific/military bunker. Operation Delta Venice is activated, and the Mega Force (Hal Needham should sue) of Space Marines are called in to investigate and retrieve the head scientist’s diary (automatically assuming that everyone is dead or about to die). Joining the cosmic grunts are Sam Fuller (yes, really; played by Christopher Ahrens) and Sara Drumbull (Haven Tyler), a fellow scientist. And then the rest of the plot of Aliens plays out with a smattering of The Terminator.
There is an earnestness present in the best of trash cinema. Even at its most mercenary, even when you can almost hear the conversations behind the scenes about blatantly ripping off popular films for the sake of quick box office (possibly the progenitor of the current pass/fail attitude towards opening weekend sales? Maybe), junk movies often still contain an openness that appeals in part because they are taken or given in “as-is” condition. They are the runts of the litter, the dog or cat with an overemphasized underbite or other physical imperfection that plays to our sympathies and fondness for things that may need a little more love than others. This is part of the reason why it has become so fashionable to like “Bad Movies” (and something which most intentionally “bad” or throwback films don’t seem to grasp), the line between intent and result. Most filmmakers don’t set out to make bad movies. Yet, when the reach of a film exceeds its grasp, it becomes fodder for mockery (right or wrong).
In films like Shocking Dark, no one bats an eye at the inanely wrongheaded actions of the characters or the dialogue that wouldn’t even make it into a comic book (and this is coming from a longtime devotee of the comic book form). To wit: Two of the Marines enter a room, walk a couple of steps, and stop. Koster (Geretta Geretta) turns to Kowalsky (Paul Norman Allen), and pulls a photo of how Venice used to look out of her pocket. They both pine for a moment, and then Koster gives Kowalsky the picture, stating that she has a lot more. Hopefully, in her other pockets. In generic terms, this scene is meant to flesh out the characters a bit, to spark in the audience a desire for these people to make it to the film’s end. Instead, it plays like an awkwardly inserted scene that kills a bit more time so the film can reach feature length. There are a couple of video presentations that are just like any other dull, corporate video presentations except these ones are for evil exposition (because if you’re going to do something highly illegal and unethical and immoral, you should keep some evidence of it on video). And sample some of this dialogue. “Let’s get out the KY so we can shaft him real good.” “What bastards. They’ve done it.” “We’re the computer.” And so forth. This is all done with the straightest of faces, and you just know that Mattei and screenwriter Claudio Fragasso (he of the infamous Troll 2) felt genuinely proud of their accomplishments. Too bad that what accomplishments this film does achieve were done so three years earlier by James Cameron and have nothing whatsoever to do with this film’s writing and/or direction.
To say that this film is derivative is like saying that the Big Bang was a historical event of note. Shocking Dark doesn’t just follow in the footsteps of Aliens. It stomps in them. The Space Marines are the same ballbreaking hardasses. Koster is Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez character with the exception that she LOVES taking potshots at her mates’ ethnicities (there are many references to Italians and grease; Again, you can almost hear Fragasso and Mattei grinning). Fuller is a representative of the Tubular Corporation (I can’t imagine this world being bereft of other corporations with names like Radical, Gnarly, and Totally), and his reason for being there is sneaky and underhanded. There is an android who nobody can guess is an android, even though he acts like an android from the very start. There is a young girl, Samantha (Dominica Coulson), who has managed to stay alive on her own, and she connects with Sara in a maternal way. The monsters wrap their victims in cocoons for later feasting. There are some deviations from Cameron’s template, but they’re so blatantly and haphazardly tossed off, they trigger nothing so much as incredulity.
I guess I could get over this film’s swindling of its audience if it were competent. After all, how many art forgeries are there that we still enjoy based on the assumption that they are the originals due to their technical quality? But no, Shocking Dark is painful in its lack of originality. It doesn’t try to do anything more interesting than evince thoughts of better films. This is a copy of a film done with tracing paper, getting the shapes and placement right (mostly), but completely fucking up the details. There are endless scenes of people walking through factory corridors. When they do stop for some action, it’s shot and edited in the exact same way every time, with the exact same result, and presaging more endless walking through factory corridors. My Dinner with Andre had more shot variety than this film. The thing which completely flattens any chance of a good time, however, is that the characters all seem extremely depressed. Not so much because of the situation their world is in, but because of the situation that the actors are in. Namely, Shocking Dark.
MVT: James Cameron’s script by way of Claudio Fragasso, such as it is.
Make or Break: The break really depends on how long you can stand watching Aliens filtered through store bought marinara sauce. Personally, I’d prefer a homemade pesto, but whatever.