Watching Bruno Mattei’s SHOCKING DARK (1989) now, it becomes quite obvious it’s one of those endearingly inept ‘bad films’ that hasn’t garnered nearly the same fanfare as say, something along the lines of Claudio Fragasso’s TROLL 2 ( Fragasso also penned the script for SD), which is most likely attributable to the film’s general unavailability for years outside the grey market. Well now, thanks to Severin Films, SHOCKING DARK is making its worldwide Blu-ray and DVD debut in a brand-new, eye-popping transfer and, in spite of its many hackneyed attributes, it remains a must-see for trash-film fans, especially of the Euro variety.
After an opening showing typical travelogue footage of Venice, Italy, we learn that the city’s water has – as is told through some laidback and nonsensical narration – become (quote) “putrid” and created a “giant toxic cloud”(?!?), which has engulfed this once-prosperous, history-steeped tourist destination. In the ‘future’ year of 2000, Venice is declared a (quote) “dead city”, and many of its last inhabitants are evacuated, but beneath the city’s labyrinthine network of tunnels, a research facility has been set up by the Tubular Corporation in order to try and purify the waters. However, something has slaughtered most of the researchers, so a crack team of marines – who are hilariously referred to as the Megaforce ([!] shades of the kitschy Hal Needham sci-fi actioner of the same name from 1982) – along with scientist Sara Drumball (Haven Tyler) and Samuel Fuller (?!? [Cristopher Ahrens]), an ex-marine now representing the Tubular Corporation, are sent in to try and rescue them.
Bravely released in some territories as TERMINATOR 2, this utterly shameless rip-off of James Cameron’s THE TERMINATOR (1984) and ALIENS (1986), is so upfront with its plagiarism that, even for an opportunistic director such as Bruno Mattei, it is utterly mind-boggling, even more-so than his earlier – and equally shameless – PREDATOR (1987) rip-off, ROBOWAR (1988). The general set-up, entire sequences and even characters from ALIENS are copied almost verbatim with some of the most wooden, stilted actors ever seen in any Italian exploitation film. While most Italian films were usually dubbed into English by a talented – and familiar – group of voice artists, SHOCKING DARK is actually shot with sync sound, flubbed lines and all, which lends the film an even cheaper quality than usual. ’80s Italian trash-film regular Geretta Geretta (who also starred in Mattei’s RATS: NIGHTS OF TERROR  as ‘Chocolate’) has the most fun here as a fast-talking, bigoted marine named Koster. Her character is a distaff blend of ALIENS’ Hudson and Apone (as played by Bill Paxton and Al Matthews, respectively), and she gets to mouth some of the film’s best lines (“Alright, ya bunch of pussies! I’m back and I’m kickin’ ass!” or “What you greaseballs eat to make yer shit smell like that?!”), while Fausto Lombardi (Geretta’s co-star in RATS) is Franzini, the sole Italian grunt, who is also the recipient of many off-colour remarks (e.g., “Wopface!”) courtesy of Koster.
Shot in and around Italy’s oldest and – still-functioning - power plant, Mattei gets the most out of this terrific location, which tries to emulate the harsh, industrial look of ALIENS on a 100thof that film’s total budget, and actually does so quite admirably. Although, Francesco and Gaetano Paolucci’s creature effects leave a lot to be desired and are a far cry from H.R. Giger’s original designs, but at least Mattei had the foresight to keep their screen time relatively limited or obscured with smoke and plentiful shotgun blasts. Anyone even remotely familiar with James Cameron’s highly influential film has already seen most of SHOCKING DARK, but in a bizarre, unexpected twist, scriptwriters Fragasso and Rossella Drudi (Fragasso’s wife, who goes uncredited for her efforts here) decided to incorporate that other Cameron film in a completely ‘out-there’ last act that just about redeems many of the film’s faults. As awful as it is, it really is an unforgettable experience!
Never released on U.S. or Canadian Beta/VHS videocassette, SHOCKING DARK first flabbergasted many viewers via Caution’s Japanese VHS tape, which was retitled ALIENNATORS and housed a nice, letterboxed print in English with customary Japanese subtitles. Scanned in 2K from (quote) “the director’s cut negative”, Severin’s new Blu-ray looks terrific in spite of the film’s low-budget nature, which also retains the more spacious and better-balanced 1.85:1 framing as opposed to the Japanese VHS, which had a 1.66:1 aspect ratio; and while Severin’s new transfer is not perfect, marred by some occasional dirt and debris, it looks pretty spectacular just the same, especially during many of the film’s more darkly-lit scenes, which were a tad problematic on the old Japanese tape, especially with all those rather troublesome diffusion effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English track also sounds fine, but be aware at 29m20s, as the sound here is poorly-recorded and gets pretty faint for a few seconds. Unbelievably, Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks in Italian, German, Spanish and Chinese are also included, as are closed captions for the hard of hearing.
Once again Severin have included a number of unique extras, beginning with Terminator in Venice (13m14s), another on-camera interview with Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi where they discuss the foreign markets and their hunger for product, plus how they were (quote) “commissioned” to write SD. They also go on to discuss the film’s original concept about (quote) “alien spaceships landing in the Venice lagoon”; the hilarious CHiPs-styled wardrobe of the marines; and the (quote) “shameless” producers. In Once Upon a Time in Italy (12m44s), Geretta Geretta talks about her time working with and landing a part in Susan Sidelman’s SMITHEREENS (1982) and her eventual migration to Italy in the early ’80s for modelling assignments, which led to an extended acting career working with such admired directors as Lamberto Bava, Bruno Mattei, and even Lucio Fulci, whom she was initially warned to be cautious with (“Don’t talk back, mind your manners and do what you’re told!”), but goes on to say what a pleasure he was to work with. Other extras include the alternate Italian TERMINATOR 2 opening credits and the Japanese video trailer, titled ALIENNATORS (“A ferocious, indestructible, ruthless Terminator!”).
Undeterred by his lack of budget or anything resembling an iota of originality, Bruno Mattei has, in spite of everything, still managed to produce one of his most audacious and irresistible copycat films yet, which you’ll want to revisit, perhaps even more than twice! And if you’re feeling particularly courageous, why not set-up a double bill with Mattei’s ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING (2007 – also available from Severin’s subsidiary, Intervision), which pilfers the ALIENS storyline yet again! Severin Films are currently offering “The Zombie Dark Super Deluxe Bundle”, “The Zombie Dark Deluxe Bundle”, “The Zombie Dark Blu-ray Bundle”, the Blu-ray (including one with a very limited and controversial slipcover) and DVD for pre-order. It’s also available for pre-order from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.