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Shocking Dark (1989)

Severin Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/29/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/13/2018

We've discussed this before, but some of you may be unaware of the bizarre practices undertaken by the Italian film industry in the 1980s. It's not unusual for opportunistic producers to make an attempt to capitalize on the success of someone else's movie -- cheap knock-offs were a staple of American drive-in fare during the 50s and 60s. But, the Italians take this notion a step further by giving their movies misleading titles. When George Romero's Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy as Zombi, it didn't take long for Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 to hit Italian theaters, although it had nothing to do with Romero's movie. (Zombi 2 was released in America as Zombie. Confused yet?) But, I've now been introduced to a movie which takes this "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" notion to a new level. Upon its initial release, Shocking Dark was called "Terminator 2" in some regions. However, that's only the tip of the iceberg.

In an indeterminate future, Venice is now in ruins, as pollution has choked out the oxygen from the water surrounding the city. Apparently, a certain Dr. Raphelson has been doing some sort of research in the area. When communication with the lab is lost, Colonel Parsons (Bruce McFarland) decides to send the "Megaforce" group of Marines to investigate. So, Marines Bond (Mark Steinborn), Franzini (Tony Lombardo), Koster (Geretta Giancarlo Field), Drake (Clive Ricke), Kowalsky (Paul Norman Allen), Caine (Cortland Reilly), and Price (Richard Ross) head out, accompanied by scientist Dr. Sara Drumbull (Haven Tyler) and Samuel Fuller (Cristofer Ahrens), a representative of the Tubular Corporation. This group makes their way down dark tunnels to the lab, when they encounter strange creatures and realize that this isn't a simple rescue mission.

Shocking Dark may have been called "Terminator 2" in some places, but the movie is actually remake of Aliens. It my not seem like it at first, but it doesn't long for a certainly sense of familiarity to set in. Following this, you realize that the movie is lifting entire scenes from James Cameron's classic film. As if the discovery of a young girl named Samantha (Dominica Coulson) who is suspiciously like Newt from Aliens wasn't enough, the scene in which the motion-trackers are reading that the things are right there in the room with them will convince you that someone was simply jotting down the dialogue from Aliens and having the actors regurgitate it here. Some have compared elements of the third act to The Terminator, but they still fall in line with Aliens. The only diversion is the ending, which is just weird enough to stand on its own.

So, a group of kids wanted to remake Aliens using only things from around their houses, what's the big deal? Oh wait, this wasn't made by children? Uh-oh. Yes, Director Bruno Mattei, here credited as Vincent Dawn, had made many movies by this point in his career, such as Hell of the Living Dead and Rats Night of Terror. Writer Claudio Fragasso, here billed as Clayde Anderson ("Clayde"? That's not even a word.) had worked on many of Mattei's projects and made the immortal Troll 2. And this still looks like it was shot over a weekend after a someone who worked at a power plant was able to sneak the crew inside. Apparently someone misread a memo, as the Marines in Aliens wear football shoulder pads, while the Marines here were shoulder pads straight from the runway in Milan, along with children's soccer shin guards on their arms. The characters continually walk down the same pipe-covered corridor, while the monsters are simply slime covered heads and hands. The actor who plays Colonel Parsons can't remember more than four words at a time, and a big deal is made about exploring a place which is apparently right next door to headquarters. And the movie never provides an explanation for how that one guy can hurt people with his medium-pitch scream.

So, in other words, this whole thing is a low-budget mess. And yet, it's one of those movies which has to be seen to be believed. I'm sure that when I say things like "entire scenes lifted from Aliens" you assume that I'm exaggerating. I assure you, I'm not. And one must admire a movie which has the audacity to name a character "Samuel Fuller". On the other hand, there's some racist statements here which probably wouldn't fly today. From the costumes to the locations to the acting to the dialogue, everything here is Grade-Z, but if you think that you've seen the bottom of the Italian barrel, prepare to be shocked. In the film's favor, the opening shots of Venice do show what appears to be an accurate person-to-pigeon ratio.

Shocking Dark never explains what in the world that title means on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Severin Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The opening sequences contains some shots which look like a soft-focus nightmare, but otherwise the image is fairly sharp and clear. Aside from some very mild defects from the source material, the picture has a decided crispness to it, showing that some real work went into the transfer. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, we don't get a lot of dynamic effects here, but there's no hissing or popping. We can't escape the fact that the dialogue has a canned, dubbed sound, but the music never overpowers the actors.

The Shocking Dark Blu-ray Disc contains just a few extra features. "Terminator in Venice" (13 minutes) is an interview with Co-Director/Co-Screenwriter Claudio Fragasso and Co-Screenwriter Rosella Drudi. Drudi does most of the talking here and she's brutally honest about certain things and uses the term "rip-off" multiple times. She admits that the producers asked for specific elements to be included in the story, elements which were to be taken from other movies. "Once Upon a Time in Italy" (13 minutes) is an interview with actress Geretta Geretta who shares some anecdotes about her career and her memories from Shocking Dark. The "Alternate Italian Titles" deliver the "Terminator 2" title card. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long