BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Another take on Shocking Dark (1989)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com.

Shocking Dark, also known as Terminator 2, is a mockbuster that can’t even decide what it is ripping off. The film was advertised in many countries as a Terminator sequel, yet it’s basically a remake of another James Cameron film, Aliens, with identical plot points and even characters. The whole thing is so derivative that the film was not even allowed a release in the United States until nearly thirty years after it was made. Although Bruno Mattei manages to eke out a few good scenes, the film as a whole is a waste of his talents.

Shocking Dark follows a rescue mission into the heart of near future Venice, which has been abandoned in the wake of an environmental disaster. A scientific expedition by the totally Tubular Corporation has gone missing, and the “Megaforce” is sent in to retrieve them, unfortunately without the help of Barry Bostwick on a flying motorcycle. The soldiers, accompanied by a female scientist and a corporate apparatchik, soon find that the scientists were wiped out by Venice’s new inhabitants, a race of mutants.

Pretty much every character in this film is a carbon copy of a character from Aliens, only far less likable. For example, Geretta Geretta of Demons and Rats: Night of Terror plays a blatant knock-off of Vasquez, right down to similar-looking clothes and a headband. Even worse is the dime store version of Ripley who serves as our heroine. While actress Haven Tyler is dressed up to look like Ripley, the film removes everything that made Sigourney Weaver’s character entertaining – her compelling back story, her courage, and even her competence. At one point, the Ripley analogue gets several people killed because she keeps pushing the wrong button to open a door while the monsters are attacking. This lack of charm extends to the other characters, to the point that even the Burke analogue manages to be less likable than Paul Reiser’s sleazy executive (something of an accomplishment when you consider that Reiser’s own parents nodded with approval when first seeing their son’s character die in Aliens.)

The film also suffers from some major plot issues, starting with the fact that the origin of the mutants is not adequately explained. It’s stated that the corporation was behind the disaster that ruined Venice, but their role in creating the monsters is only implied. Furthermore, the writers paint themselves into such a corner at the end that they have to insert a deus ex machina to avoid a downer ending. It’s bad when your ending is the equivalent of Adam West Batman pulling some miracle gizmo out of his utility belt.

However, Mattei’s skills as a genre director allow him to pull a few good scenes out of this garbage. For instance, the opening credits give a convincing portrayal of an abandoned, decaying Venice, a rather impressive feat given that Mattei was obviously just shooting parts of Venice from a boat in these scenes. Furthermore, some scenes set in tunnels underneath the city have a genuine aura of dread and suspense, a product of Mattei’s skill at using lighting to create a somber mood previously displayed in Women’s Prison Massacre.

The film also boasts a one-scene wonder in Clive Riche, who plays the deranged scientist Drake, the lone survivor of the first expedition who is under the control of the mutants. Riche appears to recognize that he’s in a piece of crap and compensates for it by chewing every piece of scenery he can lay hands on. Unfortunately, he only appears in two scenes early in the film.

Shocking Dark is available for free on Tubi.

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