Reader Request – Shocking Dark (1989)

So, I have a particular affinity for this particular kind of exploitation film, which used Italy’s less-than-rigid laws concerning copyright and trademark to create unofficial “sequels” to films. Basically, you couldn’t make an actual sequel, but you could market a movie as part of a series even if it wasn’t. Fun fact: There are FIVE unofficial Italian sequels to Evil Dead, all of which have been released in English, the worst of which shares a writer with this film, Claudio Fragasso. Oh, and this is also the guy who wrote Troll 2, a movie so bad its documentary is called Best Worst Movie. For the record, this is something that this director, Bruno Mattei, and writer have done multiple times. Another of their previous collaborations was an unofficial sequel to Night of the Living Dead that is, like the Jem film, truly, truly bad.

This movie was marketed as being a sequel to The Terminator in 1989, a full two years before Terminator 2: Judgment Day came out. Its original title was even Terminator II. However, after it became obvious that the movie has very little to do with The Terminator, as you’ll see, they instead decided to market it as a sequel to Aliens. In Japan, they even split the difference and marketed it as Aliennators. For legal reasons, this movie was never released in the US until this year, when apparently Severin Films (distributor of Birdemic: Shock and Terror) decided to just assume no one cared anymore. I’d have agreed, except they put out the greatest promo trailer of all time, making fun of the Robert Patrick promo for the Terminator 2 VHS release, which should have made everyone want to see this film.


This ad is far better than the movie. I should have asked the Grouch to do this one. Okay, let’s do this.

SUMMARY

ShockingDarkVeniceIntro.png
Who doesn’t love stock footage?

The movie begins in the style of many low-budget rip-offs: With narration over stock footage. In this particular case, the stock footage is of Venice, Italy, apparently “before the year 2000.” Venice is apparently being threatened by the “High Tide” because the water around Venice is now toxic and eating away at the foundation of the city. A day later, a toxic cloud has now settled over the city, requiring it to be evacuated, explaining why there are no extras. It spends a solid 2 minutes showing the empty city with the guards blocking people from entering.

ShockingDark-1VeniceOffLimits.png
Note: The sign is not in Italian. Apparently, America owns Italy.

We then see a group of men in a command post. They receive an emergency broadcast from Venice and see three men (whose names I can never figure out so I can’t credit them) running through underground steam tunnels. The men approach the camera and start screaming “help” and “they’re coming,” in some absolutely spectacularly bad acting, before the feed cuts out. The command post now isn’t getting footage and, for some reason, can’t transmit. Inside the tunnels, the men are still trying to contact the base for help as they run from something at a pace best described as “light jog.” One of the three men goes in a different direction. The other two see by a monster with a hard exoskeleton and a slimy carapace. The third finds Drake (Clive Riche), another tunnel worker, who seems traumatized. Drake then strangles the guy to death while laughing like a madman.

ShockingDark-2aCommand.png
The middle guy seems to be confused as to whether they’re still rolling. 

Back in the command post, we see a broadcast from Professor Raphelson (Al McFarland) which explains that several of the people working in the tunnels have been going mad and dying, but also communicating with “strange creatures.” The broadcast then cuts out. Conveniently, all cameras throughout the tunnels and Venice are now offline. The people watching the broadcast, Colonel Pearson (Bruce “I clearly can’t remember all my lines” McFarland), Captain Dalton Bond (Mark Steinborn) and Definitely-Not-Ellen-Ripley Dr. Sara Drumbull (Haven Tyler) are joined by odd-accented Marine Samuel Fuller (Christopher Ahrens) from the “Tubular Corporation” who wants to recover the diary of Professor Raphelson so the company doesn’t lose his research into “purifying the waters of Venice.” Bond and Drumbull don’t want Fuller coming, but the Colonel overrules them. They set off on “Operation Delta Venice.”

ShockingDark-2TheTrio
Operation Gamma Venice produced the Italian Hulk, Hulkalino.

We’re then introduced to the Megaforce (yes, really), a group of definitely-not-space-marines consisting of generic tough-girl Koster (Geretta “I’m the best part of this film” Giancarlo), stereotypical hot-blooded Latino Franzini (Fausto “My name is so awesome” Lombardi), stereotypical SoCal idiot Caine (Cortland Reilly), generic smart-mouthed soldier Kowalski (and yes, Kowalski is already a generic soldier name) (Paul Norman Allen), and generic idiot Price (Richard Ross). They’re introduced swearing at each other, using a bunch of jokes about each other’s stereotypes, and threatening to kill each others just so we’re clear that they are all tough soldier guys. Oh, and their dialogue is so god-awful it’s hilarious, especially Koster’s opener “Alright ya bunch of pussies, I’m back and I’m kicking ass!”

ShockingDark-3Megaforce.png
The random nunchuckery goes on for 5 minutes, and yes, he’s always faced away.

The Megaforce, led by Dalton, go into the tunnels along with Drumbull and Fuller. Shortly into the tunnels they’re ambushed by enemy fire, revealed to be Drake. Two of the soldiers ambush him, with the line “Let’s get out the KY so we can shaft him real good,” which made me laugh for like 15 straight minutes, because damn, that’s awful. Reminder: Same writer as Troll 2. Drake fails to kill anyone, because instead of shooting, he delivers the epically bad line:

Now I can see you. Now I can kill you easy. I only have to take one step towards you.

After he’s captured, Drake (who is the second-best part of this film because this guy clearly believed he was a naturally gifted actor and was very wrong) tells them they’re going to die. Drake utters an inhuman scream that incapacitates all of the Megaforce and runs away, dragging Price. They track Price down by his radio tag but find a room of bodies cocooned against the walls, with strange spider-like things “hugging” their “faces.”  They find Price in one of the cocoons and he begs them to kill them, in what is a clear rip-off of the same scene in Aliens. A monster then “bursts” out of the “chest” of Price and yes, we’ve just started to hit blatant thievery. At least the monster is clearly a guy’s hand in a glove that chokes Koster, not an actual prop from Aliens.

ShockingDark-5Facehuggers.png

As Franzini and another one of the generics make their way through the tunnels, Franzini is grabbed by a monster and pulled away quickly. We then see the face of the you know f*ck it I can’t pretend this isn’t terrible and I have an hour left give me a second f*ckyouJesseH.

ShockingDark-7Whiskey.jpg
The water is my tears.

Okay, I’m back. Finally, we see the face of the full budget of an Italian B-Grade knockoff film and H.R. Giger’s corpse is vomiting just from me publishing this.

ShockingDark-6Monsters.png
That’s some good Papier-mâché. You can almost read the lawsuit from James Cameron.

Franzini breaks free as the other guy shoots the monster and they run. They come back with the group and detect movement. We then see POV shots of something running through the tunnels as Drumbull somehow sees things coming from her device beeping really fast. They report the findings to Command and are told to continue. They get inside the lab they were searching for and find a life reading. They follow it and uncover a small girl are you f*cking kidding me? Yes, they find definitely-not-Newt Samantha Raphelson (Dominica Coulson) who has been surviving in rags in a facility filled with monsters. And while Carrie Henn’s portrayal of Newt in Aliens is one of my favorite child performances, the young Ms. Coulson’s is decidedly not, occasionally switching accents for entire lines. Granted, she’s still better than many of the adults in this film.

ShockingDark-8Newt.png
Nothing about this seems familiar.

Inside the lab, they find evidence that the scientists were studying genetic mutation, not how to clean water. You’d think that someone would have noticed. Koster and Kowalski search the facility and Koster gets attacked by the monster’s prehensile mouth-tentacle, which is apparently long enough for it to move around and kill Kowalski before grabbing her from behind and cocooning her. Newt-mantha wakes up screaming, because that happened in Aliens. Meanwhile Fuller accesses the Tubular mainframe and delivers the single most dispassionate monologue of weird pseudoscience in history to explain that the scientists created an enzyme that through some applied phlebotinum can find any host and turn it into a monster. So, it’s not actually aliens and therefore not a rip-off.

ShockingDark-9KosterDies.png
They were better when they were in Call Girl of Cthulhu.

The monsters cut the lights, so the group makes their way out. We are then treated to a re-make of the scene in Aliens where they detect movement and life signs approaching but can’t see anything. Except in this, they don’t show the monsters going through the vents, so I guess they teleport or phase or plot hole. The monsters attack, killing Caine, using the same two sound effects every time, one for “I’m attacking,” and one for “I’m dying.” This scene goes on forever and it gets really repetitive. Fuller and Dalton are injured, with Fuller being revealed to be A ROBOT. What a twist for a movie called Terminator II.

ShockingDark-ATerminatorReveal.png

They reach a safe place and NewtMantha and Drumbull bond, including Drumbull saying “I cross my heart” in another blatant rip-off. The two later wake up and believe they’re in trouble as a monster is in the room. Sadly, they aren’t seen on the camera by anyone but Fuller, who pulls a Paul Reiser and turns them off. Yes, I know his character was named Burke, but I assume Paul Reiser sabotages rescue attempts regularly. Drumbull pulls the fire alarm, alerting the others, who save them. As they make their way through another level of the facility, they find the control center. It’s revealed that Tubular Corporation caused the original toxic infection in order to make money on real estate they acquired after the city was abandoned, after they clean the city and re-sell it. Due to the writer being the level of understanding it takes to write Troll 2, the reveal actually says that they’ll be re-selling the land for 70% of its purchased value… which would be LOSING money. It’s also revealed that this was over 10 years ago, so the plan clearly failed.

ShockingDark-BControlRoom.png
I’m pretty sure they broke in to film here.

NewtMantha reveals that Fuller is a robot, resulting in the remaining Megaforce trying to kill him and failing, seemingly dying in the process. However, he does bleed liquid metal, despite this being BEFORE Terminator 2. Hey, maybe James Cameron figured ripping off a movie ripping him off was fair. So, the movie, which has been ripping off Aliens now decides to rip-off The Terminator as promised from the original title. Fuller, for no reason, gives them a head-start and starts to menacingly walk slowly after them in the facility as they have to make it to the exit within 30 minutes or the facility blows up. Fuller somehow gets ahead of them and, in a delivery clearly ripping off Ripley’s catchphrase, Drumbull shouts “You bastard!” before shooting a series of high-capacity wires above him, electrocuting the robot.

ShockingDark-CElectroNator.png
No, electricity, my only minor inconvenience!

NewtMantha is then dragged away by the monsters, because we needed to rip-off Aliens some more, and Drumbull has to find her. Meanwhile, Command is trying to rescue them by sending another party. Dalton is revealed to be alive and tells them that the place is going to blow. They end up being useless as the monsters easily kill them. As the monsters attack NewtMantha, FullerNator attacks Drumbull and she throws him off of the third story. Drumbull finds NewtMantha and rescues her from a cocoon. Dalton rescues them from monsters and is killed. The timer hits 0, but… nothing f*cking happens. The facility starts to slowly overload, I guess, cuz some red lighting hits and there’s electricity effects. They then say there’s 1 minute to leave the building, so I guess the countdown was just the last time they could stop the explosion. NewtMantha and Drumbull wait to die, but they stumble into, I SWEAR TO GOD I’M NOT F*CKING KIDDING, a time machine.

ShockingDark-DWTF.png
Even they seem to be thinking “what the f*ck?”

The pair go back in time while we see stock footage of a thriving Venice. So, they are apparently far enough back to be before the toxic poisoning. However, somehow, FullerNator is there too, having taken the other time pod. Drumbull rips part of his face, revealing a robot eye because of f*cking course. He continues to follow them as they run through Venice. She then throws the time-machine controls at him, which I guess sends him somewhere through time even though they’re not in the pod? Whatever, almost over. They look out over the water and say they’ve got a lot of work to do.

ShockingDark-EFaceOff.png
Not on the same side as the poster. 

END SUMMARY

What. The. Hell. Did I just watch?

Okay, cards on the table, I’ve seen other stuff these guys have done, and it’s usually been really bad exploitation, but it was at least exploitation where we’re rewarded with over-the-top gore or nudity or something super cheesy that’s hilariously bad. This was still exploitation, but it’s exploitation of BETTER MOVIES. And that’s actually what kills the film.

As I say many times, a “So bad it’s good” movie requires that people don’t know that they’re making a terrible film. It requires basically everything to go wrong, like with Troll 2 or The Room. But this movie ripped off two actual GOOD movies, sometimes stealing entire scenes and lines of dialogue, and that keeps it from being really bad enough to be hilarious. Other elements are also too good to be a truly enjoyable trash film. The costumes aren’t good, but they aren’t completely incompetently made. The lighting and sound are mostly good, if cheap.

ShockingDark-4aMegaTunnels.png
See? Mostly in focus.

Now, if everything in the movie was the kind of dialogue that we get from Drake and the Megaforce (cool band name), we’d be set, because my God is it bad. Then we get to Fuller’s dialogue. See, everyone in this movie is terrible, but at least with Fuller, since he’s a Terminator rip-off, delivering lines in a monotone with a weird accent should be how the character works. The problem is that most of his dialogue is filled with extremely expressive language, which seems… ultra-dumb.

The ending is insane, but kind of funny. Random time machine? Why not?

Ultimately, I’m just not a fan of this movie. If you’re a fan of terrible films, I’d skip it and watch other, better, terrible Italian rip-offs, like Zombi 3, the crew’s unofficial Night of the Living Dead sequel.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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