Italian schlock auteur Bruno Mattei has a reputation that rivals Ed Wood for eccentricity and aesthetic lunacy but no one can deny that he worked steadily. Between 1970 and his passing in 2007, he made a whopping 55 films. The ’80s was his golden era, a time when he worked steadily and got his demented b-movie quickies into theaters around the world. Italian producers loved him during this era because you could throw any premise and a threadbare budget at him and he’d get the job done on time.
Shocking Dark arrived at the end of his ’80s golden-schlock streak and it’s wild enough to be considered a fitting capper to his glory days. Simply put, this was an assignment from producers who wanted him to make a quickie that ripped off Aliens and The Terminator in one package. Mattei’s screenwriters during the late ’80s, Claudio Fragasso and Rosella Drudi, put together a scenario for this purpose and the results were, well… mind-altering in the best Mattei tradition.
Shocking Dark takes place in a futuristic Venice, Italy wracked by pollution. When a research facility run by the Tubular Corporation (!) is attacked by an unseen menace, a group of high-tech soldiers called the Mega Force (!!) are deployed to save the day. Along for the ride are scientist Sara (Haven Tyler) and Tubular’s corporate henchman Samuel Fuller (!!!) (Christopher Ahrens). They descend into the corporate science facility and have to contend with mutated monsters as well as corporate skullduggery and some surprise cyborg-ian nastiness.
The above synopsis can’t prepare you for what you experience in Shocking Dark. This isn’t a knock-off, it’s a smash-and-grab: the basic plot structure of Aliens is ripped off as well as key scenes and lines of dialogue, with a chaser of similar purloined elements tossed in from The Terminator to double the fun. All of this creative piracy is conducted on a pocket change budget, complete with the kind of monster suits and double-exposure visual FX you associate with ’50s sci-fi.
And that’s only the first layer of what’s going on. Next, you have to factor in the kind of celluloid angel dust that Mattei, Fragasso and Drudi regularly sprinkled on their collaborations. Dialogue that seldom resembles recognizable human speech patterns is compounded by performances that range from somnambulistic to manic. A tall girl in her midteens is passed off as a prepubescent child. Found locations being passed off as futuristic technology. Odd storytelling tics like having characters constantly shouting each other’s names (you could build a drinking game around this and you’d have alcohol poisoning before the halfway mark).
And then there’s the final aspect of Shocking Dark that makes it so surreal: despite the intellectual property pillaging and the aesthetic lunacy, it’s actually quite fun to watch. The thing people forget about Mattei was that he was technically proficient. Thus, he knew how to shoot and pace his work so it was close enough to a “real movie” to keep a reign on all the shameless and crazy elements.
Add in all the weirdness and you have a rollicking b-movie cocktail, complete with charming Humanoids From The Deep monsters, a legitimately fun performance from Geretta Geretta as a tough-mama marine and a daft yet totally charming happy ending. Simply put, if you’re looking for the next big “bad movie” sensation, check Shocking Dark out. It ranks up there with his better-known favorites as some of most entertaining gonzo trash to emerge from the Italian genre-movie mill.
Blu-Ray Notes: this was impossible to find in the U.S. beyond poor-looking bootlegs for years but Severin has come to the rescue with an excellent new blu-ray that boasts a fresh 2K transfer of the film. Even better, there are new interviews with Fragasso, Drudi and Geretta, a wacky trailer… and if you buy from the Severin store, you can get a limited edition slipcase featuring art for the film’s other release title, Terminator 2!