Severin Films do a great service for those of us who aren’t as familiar with the “second tier” Italian horror filmmakers like Bruno Mattei. (The “first tier” for me being Bava, Argento, and Fulci; your rankings may vary.) I just haven’t seen much of his work, but of what I have, The Other Hell (1981) is my favorite. I should say it’s my favorite film of his that borrows from Carrie and The Exorcist; apparently I need to start a new list of faves that are influenced by Aliens and The Terminator, starting with Shocking Dark (1989), a jaw-dropping mush of both that manages to entertain almost as much as either.
AKA Terminator II in certain markets, the term “rip-off” was pretty much perfected by Shocking Dark; but this was neither Mattei or co-screenwriters Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi (Troll 2) fault, but rather producers eager to jump on Cameron’s bandwagon and hijack it before it reached the next station. The writers were told specifically how much of Big Jim’s DNA to inject, and they ended up supersizing (and because of obvious budget restrictions, narrowing down) everything that audiences wanted from sci-fi horror – everything but logic, naturalistic dialogue, and strong performances, that is. Shocking Dark however, surpasses its many limitations to arrive at a place of good-natured awe. It’s just a lot of damn fun.
Since this film is all about cribbing, here’s the plot summary directly pulled from IMDB:
“In a polluted future Venice researchers work to improve the situation. One day, unknown forces start killing them. A team of soldiers and a couple of civilians is sent to investigate. Soon, they encounter strange murderous creatures.”
There really isn’t much more to say story wise, except the devil is cackling in the details. Venice, Italy has been decimated by pollution, and is under the watchful eye of the (totally) Tubular Corporation, run by a group of square jawed He-Men in brightly colored garb two steps removed from Menudo (ask your parents). When the crew at the Venice base comes under attack from something, Tubular sends in *checks notes* the Mega Force, a group of gung ho soldiers that will not remind you at all of Cameron’s crew. Also along for the mission are a concerned, headstrong scientist, Dr. Sara Drumbull (yes, Sara) and a buff company man, Samuel Fuller (named after the noted body builder/cult director, I guess), whose intentions may not be entirely honorable.
Once they hit the underground Venice base, there be monsters. And a Newt substitute. Not to mention a T-800 substitute, which leads to some time travel, because you have to, right? It all wraps up with a hopeful finale for a future where people are free to roam the streets, instead of hanging in the same underground facility hallway shot from different angles.
Shocking Dark’s biggest asset is its blatant plagiarism; if it didn’t hew so close to Cameron’s world it would be just another cheap knock off released at a time when the cinematic universe was littered with them. The film’s audacity sets it apart and gives it a sheen that others simply don’t have; the viewer has no choice but to compare, and the end result is a compulsion to praise it rather than admonish. It has balls, for lack of a better term.
But is it entertaining on its own merits? Surprisingly, Shocking Dark offers nothing in the way of titillation, and the gore is very tame by any standards (but especially by Italian ones). With those avenues closed, you’re left to absorb it for what it really is: a gee whiz colorfast updated ‘50s sci-fi thriller that throws zippered kelp monsters at the screen while the cast does everything short of yelling “pew pew” when attacked. As for that plastic cast, Geretta Geretta (Demons) is the one who really registers because her personality is too irrepressible to contain, she knows damn well the movie she’s making, and she revels in the B-movie madness.
B-movie madness is the hallway that Severin Films lurks in, and once again they pull back the curtain on how something like this was brought to life. Special features include:
Severin Films once again has shone a light on a film I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. Shocking Dark furrows its brow, inputs a couple of the Titanic auteur’s films into its mainframe, and prints out a spreadsheet that can’t be interpreted as anything but winning. The only way it could be improved is if Barry Bostwick himself led the Mega Force. I’d gladly stick around for that sequel.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5