In the past, wars were fought by men - men susceptible to fear and bullets. And in the past wars were lost in jungle terrains. But in the future war will not be fought by American men, but by a new breed of soldier without fear: A soldier impervious to conventional weaponry; a soldier trained to kill and survive in the desert, and a soldier capable of reproducing every 24 hours. That solider shall be called…SYNGENOR!
Loosely employing designs from 1981’s Scared to Death Syngenor picks up at the Norton Cyberdyne (guesses anyone?) weapons technology corporation. They’ve recently developed a new form of killing machine, but when one is let loose during a drunken night of perverted passion by the snivelling Stan Armbrewster (Charles Lucia) it goes on a killing rampage. Finding its creator, Ethan Valentine (Lewis Arquette) the beastly thing kills him and runs away. Shortly afterwards his granddaughter Susan (Starr Andreeff) arrives home to find him in a bit of a mess. Suddenly she’s attacked by a Syngenor but manages to flee. Susan happens to run into the arms of an eager reporter named Nick (Mitchell Laurance), who has a lead on the Norton company, which is being led by the unscrupulous Carter Brown (David Gale), who has a penchant for green ooze and overacting. The investigative duo soon find themselves in a battle between life and death - that is if the Syngenors can ever catch up with them.
I’ll give it some dues, the ridiculously named Syngenor [SYNthesized GENetic Organism] certainly doesn’t mess about when it comes to revealing the titled monster, who shows its ugly mug within the first ten minutes after something of a weak set-up. Director George Elanjian, Jr sacrifices a tense build up here in favour of delivering fast and cheap thrills - and I mean CHEAP thrills. From here on it’s simply a mash-up of pre-existing horror and sci-fi thriller clichés, offering absolutely no surprises, no acting and no, well…
One problem with Syngenor is that it’s difficult to sense exactly what it aims to be - a cheesy riff off shoddy B-movies, complete with obvious contemporary reference points as it employs a loose satire, or a serious attempt in creating a solid, scary sci-fi horror...with loose satire. There are attempts at military ridiculing as witnessed via the Norton Cyberdyne promo footage and design room maquettes, but this is far from what Verhoeven - whom this appears inspired by - had achieved earlier with the likes of Robocop: a film that managed to convey its social messages and set a perfect tone as it went somewhat against the conventions of its genre. Juxtaposing supposed satire with the Gulf-War conflict heating debate during the beginning of the nineties, the film leads us to believe that genetically engineered super-soldiers are an inevitable replacement for American troops who are all too susceptible on the field to bullets and huge explosions. So, yea, I can see where it might be coming from, but what’s so funny about that you ask? Not much until we come to the Syngenors themselves, who are absolutely useless, yet are handled here with the clear intent to terrify. These creations are in fact where the comedy gold lies. For instance, why create a solider that looks like a throwaway H.R. Giger design, that couldn’t possible blend in to its desert environment and then give it serious weaknesses against fire, water and - wait for it - bullets! Then programme the so-called intelligent creatures to have a personal grudge against every human being on the planet and skulk around as if they had bricks tied to their feet. And while we’re at it, why not just design a super-sized cannon especially for killing Syngenors, just in case the bullets fail. They also have the ability to regenerate, which is also beyond me because from the evidence presented here it seems totally random as to how they manage this: one dies immediately from bullet wounds, another is blown apart by the aforementioned canon and revives itself - purely I imagine just so the effects team can have an excuse to show off a pastry-lady hybrid at the end. I don’t know who’s at blame here of original writer Michael Carmody and Screenwriter Brent V. Friedman, but I’m pretty sure they made all this nonsense up as they went along during filming. I’d dearly like to think that they were taking the piss but the film is filled with so many inconsistencies and plot contrivances that it’s simply incoherent from beginning to end. These soldier thingies are the main draw to the feature and if they’re not remotely interesting then you can bet your brain that little else is going to be.
It’s the more you try to pay attention to the little things that you realise the writers have indeed hit a wall they can’t quite get past. In-between the brief Syngenor (I’m really starting to hate typing this word out) encounters the film is padded with a bunch of corporate nonsense as certain figureheads attempt to usurp others against a backdrop of political slurs, while a hackneyed romantic sub-plot is thrown in for good measure. Again it’s treading on Verhoeven territory through and through, but without an ounce of subtlety as it goes about lifting ideas unashamedly. And it’s by no means helped with such a strange cast. They often look lost themselves as they struggle to get their heads around the story, only getting to enjoy the occasional throw-away comic line. There are clear distinctions between abysmal acting and genuine sincerity, which again does nothing to provide any assurance as to how seriously we're meant to take all of this. To be fair the main ensemble do alright and I suppose you could assume that they all sensed exactly the kind of ridiculous movie they were in, which accounts for the incredibly larger-than-life performances, save for lead actress Starr Andreeff who tries to be a little more down to earth. David Gale is the only chap who’s totally in his element here, tremendously over-the-top as a corporate leader who has a penchant for injecting himself with an unexplained green serum. Why, it’s almost as if he’s just stepped off the set of Re-Animator! Still, he keeps things just about entertaining enough to allow us to sit the rest of the picture through. It’s just a shame it happened to be one of his last.
The considerably low-budget nature of the film doesn’t do a great deal to lend any credibility to proceedings either, with a rather staid looking picture in which not even the visual effects can shine. The creatures are poorly lit, showing up obvious flaws and at no point do they ever look menacing, while the set pieces (if you can call them that) are so tightly framed and badly edited that there’s never any excitement to be had; it appears that certain scenes are meant to provide the illusion of claustrophobia, such as the lifted Aliens air vent crawl, but when there’s no flow to anything on screen and the sets are so terribly dressed it’s awfully difficult to become wrapped up in. The basement showdown between the Syngenors and the Norton Cyberdyne security troopers is perhaps the most ridiculous thing in the entire picture: a bunch of hopeless looking guys dressed in silly jumpsuits and hardhats trying to look convincing against a party of Halloween props. And there you have it, it leaves me with absolutely nothing more to say other than if you dig movies that are so bad they’re bad then you’ll probably - err - hate this.
Synapse’s 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation isn’t too shabby given the film’s evident low-budget roots. Colours are nicely balanced although there are a few issues with black levels and shadow detail. Given the nature of the night-time sequences and low-lit interiors I presume much of this is entirely intentional in capturing a certain mood and hiding as much of the creature make-up effects as possible. The image is a little soft overall, but detail is quite pleasing nonetheless and the quality of the source material is respectfully maintained with no obvious signs of modern tinkering. A little spot of aliasing gets in the way at times, but overall this is a perfectly fine offering.
The sound on the other hand isn’t particularly great. We have English DD 2.0 and 5.1 tracks and for my main viewing session I opted for the latter. I honestly don’t know what Synapse did with this but I can’t say anything stands out as being impressive. Dialogue in often very low, especially with some of the actors saying their lines quietly, and there’s no chance you’ll enjoy this without having to raise volume levels at least twice as high. Meanwhile the rear channels are very weak, doing little to enliven the action sequences. Best bet is to stick with the functional 2.0 offering. There is also French and Spanish 2.0 audio.
I do feel a bit bad for having slated the film a bit having listened to the main audio commentary. Actress Starr Andreeff, producer Jack F. Murphy and writer Brent V. Friedman provide a pleasantly laidback and soft-spoken discussion as they fondly reminisce about production. Friedman discusses his script, including certain theories that were shared between cast members which aren’t so apparent onscreen; although he doesn’t go into any great detail about various elements of the story he does bring up . Murphy talks plenty about the kind of film they were working on against a small budget and does well to lead the commentary with plenty of questions. Starr Andreeff clearly has fun watching the film again and talks about how much fun she had on set and how enjoyable the cast and crew were to be around. She puts herself down at times, at one point mentioning her “baby fat” which couldn’t be any further from the truth, but she also laughs a lot and you can sense the real admiration she had for the overall production. There are pauses here and there, but the track isn’t without plenty of background info and the occasional chuckle.
Photo and Publicity Library contains 49 pictures, consisting of lobby cards, set photography and posters and pamphlets, while Filmographies offers very little of worth in simply showing cast and crew resumes.
Featurettes offers a selection of archive footage. David Gale at the Tokyo Fantastic Film Festival (8.34) is accompanied by a commentary from director George Elanjian, Jr. We see David Gale at the 1990 festival to promote his film in front of an ecstatic crowd. As pointed out the footage is very poor, having been filmed on a secret camera snuck in by a fan. The actor comes across as a lovely, accommodating fellow, who is obviously enthusiastic about his work. He also answers several questions in regards to Re-Animator.
Next up we have Publicity Photo Shoot (1.55) which is a rather low rent shoot taking place in the corner of a house. Again the footage is quite poor, having been shot on camcorder. Following on from this is Doug Beswick’s Creature Shop (1.43), once more with director commentary as he explains using the old moulds from Scared to Death. Finally there’s David Gale’s Audition (1.43).
A few trailers for upcoming Synapse titles rounds off this small selection of bonus material.
As I watched Syngenor I kept thinking to myself “Is this meant to be funny?” and yet I wasn’t laughing in all the right spots, with anything satire related falling pretty hard. There are certainly funny moments to be had here, but most of it is clearly unintentional: the mostly bizarre performances, the terrible visual effects from the guys who worked on Aliens and The Abyss of all things, and one of the most dumbfounding scripts of all time.