English-speaking fans of Italian genre fare primarily know George Eastman, a.k.a. Luigi Montefiore, as an actor who popped up in films as diverse as The Grim Reaper, 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead. However, it’s also worth noting that he has also enjoyed a sideline as a screenwriter that actually outlived his prolific acting career. He even dabbled in directing: Metamorphosis is probably the most-seen of his films in the U.S. It’s not what you would call good but it’s an interesting footnote to the dying days of shot-in-America Italian horror cheapies.
Metamorphosis tackles the mad scientist subgenre that lives between horror and science fiction, with significant debts to Altered States, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde and the 1986 version of The Fly. The protagonist is Peter Houseman (Gene Le Brock), a professor whose cellular regeneration experiments are in danger of being cut short when his college objects to his use of human tissue. Peter decides to use his latest formula on himself to produce some results that will save his funding. Soon, Peter is having weird gaps in his memory that are concurrent with a madman’s violent rampages — and he begins to experience physical changes that suggest he is experiencing the titular phenomenon.
Metamorphosis is an odd little beast: the plot has a few inventive touches, like Peter experiencing psychological change before the physical changes begin — complete with blackouts that he has to figure out. The use of Virginia as a setting also gives it a unique look.
However, Metamorphosis is also daft in that late ‘80s/early ‘90s Italian horror way: the stuff that works is outnumbered by silly elements like Peter wiggling on the floor snake-style as his transformation kicks in, rubbery/goofy-looking transformation makeup, a cheap yet bombastic synth score and an array of stilted performances from no-name American actors who don’t have credits outside these Italian flicks, including a truly wretched child actor. The finale also hits a distinctive blend of cheapness and unintentional hilarity with the final transformation and even throws in a laugh-out-loud “surprise twist” coda.
Thus, Metamorphosis is best left to addicts of Italian exploitation cinema who might find its weirdo kitsch sensibilities entertaining (they’ll be interested to see a cameo from Emanuelle series star Laura Gemser, who also served as costume designer here). It’s the kind of junky Italian fare that separates the hardcore completists from the rest of the cine-trash pack.
Blu-Ray Notes: Metamorphosis is being released by Scream Factory on August 25th as half of a double-bill blu ray with Beyond Darkness. Detail is a bit soft on the transfer and there is some dimness in the interior photography, though the latter seems to be a reflection of how it was shot. The 2.0 audio is a bit overmodulated in spots but listenable overall. The one extra for the film is a trailer… but you do get Beyond Darkness in full as part of the purchase price.