Friday, June 12, 2009

Shadowzone (USA, 1990)

(Spoilers.) Shadowzone is J.S. Cadone’s third film as both writer and director, a combination that he generally engenders to cultivate. Almost as good as his first flick The Slayer (1982) and miles above his second, Thunder Alley (1985), Shadowzone still in no way gives any indication that Cadone would, for roughly a decade, be a master of laconic, sun-burnt southwest crime and horror. In comparison to his later back-country movies such as A Climate For Killing (1991), Black Day Blue Night (1995), the offbeat Outside Ozona (1998 / trailer) or even the decidedly trashy teenage vampire roadflick The Forsaken (2001 / trailer), however, Shadowzone can only be viewed as more of a product of the movie’s producer, the ubiquitous Charles Band, a man who for awhile seemed the heir-apparent to the crown of Robert Corman as the new true king of contemporary, low budget teen trash and skid row movie theatre exploitation fodder. (That is, were there still any skid row movie exploitation theatres still in operation.)
Shadowzone is a cheap child, a low budget mating of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979 / trailer) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982 / trailer) populated by a number of familiar faces and complete unknowns, entertaining in its own bargain basement way but never any real competition to its original sources.
Louise Fletcher, seemingly forever doomed to this sort of trash—much like her onetime One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) co-star Brad Dourif—does her typical, well-honed version of The Bitch In Power. James Hong, a familiar face on TV and in the movies for the last 40 years, competently walks through his roll and simply lets his presence fill in as characterization, while Shawn Weatherly (Miss South Carolina/Miss USA/Miss Universe of 1980) reveals why she's gone into real estate to pay the rent. Most entertaining but regrettably also most fleeting, are the periodic appearances of Maureen Flaherty, who speaks all of three words in the whole film, but who nonetheless amply reveals why she has had parts in such great films as Bikini Summer II (1992), Bikini Squad (1993) Bikini Traffic School (1997) and Bikini Hoe Down (1997), even if she does wear much, much less than a bikini.
For the most part, the special effects in Shadowzone are laughably bad, the only scenes that really cause the viewer to cringe being the autopsy ones. The creature itself never looks convincing no matter what form it happens to have, but its last appearance takes the concept of unconvincing to new heights. Still, the acting is bit better than most films of this sort, and there are enough laughs—both intentional and not—to keep the film fun. Not only that, but for as predictable as they are, many of the scenes of the various characters wandering to their death actually do have some tension.
Shadowzone begins with David Beecroft—in another of his rare excursions from the world of day and nighttime soap operas and into B-films—as Capt. Hickock arriving at Jackass Flats Proving Grounds, having been sent by NASA to investigate a mysterious death that has taken place at Project Shadowzone, a NASA-financed experiment in extended sleep taking place deep underground in an old, desolate nuclear testing complex. The experiments are being led by Dr. Erhardt (Louise Fletcher) and Dr. van Fleet (James Wong), and neither they nor their various assistants want to reveal what has really happened, in fear of becoming unemployed. Basically, the experiments in “extreme dream sleep” have opened portals to another dimension—the "Shadowzone"—populated by extremely unfriendly creatures. When one pissed off dimensional-alien breaks out into this reality, none of Shadowzone’s characters can control their urge to wander around alone and the body count begins. Some character are killed by the thing he/she thinks/dreams of—Dr. van Fleet by a circus ugly lady, Dr. Kidwell (Weatherly) by a monstrous monkey—while the death of others is usually presented by a scream of terror, the attack of something unknown and a flying bucket of blood and guts. Capt. Hickock keeps running back and forth, refusing to desert the sleeping Jenna (Flaherty), who despite having been in a deep sleep for a full six months, still has a perfectly trimmed bush and a fabulously fuckable body (a logical enough reason for Hickock’s hardcore case of love at first sight). Luckily, the nasty alien gets homesick, so Hickock and Erhardt help to send him home. As a thank you, he impales Erhardt with a metal rod but leaves Hickock alive to wake his sleeping beauty and live happily ever happy.

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