Grindhouse 12 - Shadowzone Review
Sleep. Those little slices of death. How I loathe them.
Edgar Allen Poe
So began A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, one of a series of films that redefined horror for the 80s and 90s as well as creating a host of imitators and rich New Line executives.
88 Film's Grindhouse series release of the Full Moon thriller Shadowzone also deals with sleep – primarily how to keep awake as a viewer during each of it's painfully dull 85 minutes (each one a little slice of death in itself. Thanks Poe.) Plotwise, and I struggle to say 'plot', a secret subterranean research laboratory is inducing artificial sleep in two of it's 'volunteers' – discovering a portal to a parallel universe in the process – the Shadowzone. Into this mix, a NASA investigator steps to try to uncover the mystery behind a fatal accident at the lab. An accident that may have involved a life form not of this earth...Cue the lockdown of the lab and a race against timezzzzzz.....zzzzzz...
A Grindhouse release can usually be categorised as either so bad it's good, or so bad it's just unwatchable.
There's usually a good reason why many of these pictures have disappeared into the sands of time. However, the fashion at the moment is for all things Grindhouse, buoyed along by Rodriguez & Tarantino's Planet Terror & Death Proof double bill that didn't set the box office alight – I guess that constitutes a success for Grindhouse pictures – and the crunching Machete character of Danny Trejo expanded into two (and maybe three if Machete flies again into space as threatened) unnecessary films) and so it's time for labels like 88 Films to bring out the cheap exploitation films that are so bad, they can't be sold under their own name.
Borrowing scenes from The Thing and Alien, Shadowzone wears it's unoriginality on it's micro budgeted sleeve. Featuring the usual Full Moon clunky dialogue and woeful acting, any momentum that the film builds up towards it's climax is wasted by the slow and uninteresting build-up. Plenty of chat by the reel to reel computers (this was released in 1990 right? Someone ought to have told the 1970s set designer) and discussion about dream states and pushing things 'too far' are all well and good provided the dialogue is up to scratch and the cast can deliver the lines with something approaching 'bothered'. Directer and writer J.S. Cardone does his actors no favours with his approach to the potentially tense and scary notion of an alien life form creating your worst nightmares in front of your very eyes and the final reveal of the alien is comical beyond belief.
Oh what fun Screaming Mad George (Society) would have had with the nightmares and alien creature. We have a leading man in David Beecroft who seems shocked to be even on a film set and then just as quickly bored by the dialogue he's delivering. James Wong is great value as ever as a sneaky doctor popping up just long enough to ensure his cheque is cashed.
And then there's Louise 'I won an Oscar once and yes, I'm still alive' Fletcher.
Poor old Louise Fletcher. Fair enough, you can't say she's fantastic in this, but by God does she deserve better than how Hollywood treated her. From Oscar winning Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest to the giant booze sodden heap of Exorcist 2: The Heretic(try the drinking game of downing a shot every time Burton slurs a line and you'll end up dead) through to roles in Brainstorm, Strange Invaders, Virtuosity,Breast Men and A Dennis The Menace Christmas, hers hasn't trod the most illustrious of Oscar fuelled career paths. And like Quint's shark in Jaws she's got dead eyes in Shadowzone, putting in a subtle to the point of sleep performance. I guess she'd entered her own parallel universe just to escape the script.
The potential for an alternate dream scape or universe is great (see the stunning series Fringe and even the much maligned Flatliners) and add an alien entity that feeds upon and makes real your nightmares and you should have the recipe for a hit but Shadowzone fumbles the ball so drastically by crawling along it's a real waste of everyone's talent or time. It's neither over the top enough to be 'so bad it's good' or so well written as to be quotable or admired. Just an unfortunate bland footnote in Full Moon's catalogue. Never has 85 mins lasted so long.
88 Film's Grindhouse 12: Shadowzone release features a cheap and cheerful disc – in keeping with the quality of the film. An old and tired looking 1.33:1 (4:3) with a transfer that at times looks to be straight from the VHS original – certainly no digital cleaning or colour correction going on here. It's not awful, but it does feel like part of a '5 shocking films on one dvd!' compilation in terms of compression.
The audio is a passable dolby digital 2.0 – bare bones again, and the film doesn't have enough oompf to make use of anything else. And as for the extras, it'd hardly a goody bag with one trailer for Shadowzone and ten for other Full Moon and Grindhouse releases which unfortunately make you wish you were watching anything else other than this. More care and attention seems to have been taken with the 10 trailers on offer in a fun little drive-in menu than the film itself.
Shadowzone really isn't an undiscovered classic, rather one that should have been taped over in the video vault long ago...