Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Day 6: Code red delivers some Strangeness
THE STRANGENESS (1980)
D. Melanie Ann Phillips
Code Red DVD
This little seen gem from the 80's can now finally get its due thanks to this special edition from CODE RED. The book NIGHTMARE USA from Stephen Thrower alerted fans to the existence of this monster mash, causing many of us to go on a frenzy looking for old VHS copies to check it out. Finally getting to see it is worth the wait. While it is not a classic, it is an incredibly fun throwback to 50's genre conventions, with an air of 80's low budget D.I.Y. inventiveness.
The story follows a group of miners-for-hire about to go into a long boarded up set of mines to look for rumored gold deposits for an unnamed corporation. Seems they want to re-open the place, if the price warrants it. Along for the ride is a busy body journalist and his sexy wife to chronicle the expedition, and a grizzled mining veteran who we are told is English but has a very Australian accent. As they make their way into the tunnels, they start to discovers remnants of former miners and other oddities pointing towards the fact that there is something very, very wrong in there. The journalist keeps telling them about the history of people disappearing in the caves. Add to that the American Indian legends surrounding the area and it all spells trouble. Naturally it is only a matter of time before a big stop motion monster starts slurping up the cast and spitting them out to eat later on.
The supplements to the is movie reveal that it was shot on a paltry $25,000 budget! Low even by today's ultra-low budget quickly standards. Take into consideration that this was shot on film (the norm for those days), had a giant monster (stop motion, which required special photography as well as a monster) and was 80% shot on sets, and the achievement here is simply astounding. The movie itself has a lot of pacing problems; to call it a slow burner is to be kind. Most of the action is located in the final third, with a lot of bickering and build up coming before hand. The acting is basically one-take community theater level, which the filmmakers all own up to, but is certainly no worse that dozens of other drive-in era movies of the time period. What really elevates the film is the cinematography. Printed too dark to even be seen on all previous video editions, this DVD is the first time the cinematography is clear enough to be appreciated for just how good it actually is. Often just lit by flares or lanterns, it is one creepy-ass looking film, made even more purposefully awkward by odd close-ups and cramped angles inside the caves. The film is quite claustrophobic thanks to the cinematography, which is mind blowing when revealed that it was almost all shot on one very cramped set. The score is also incredibly good, with a very John Carpenter ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK-like sound that lends a lot more production value to the film.
A word on the monster: though stop motion, the design on the thing is entirely unique, with it looking like a bulbous, upright, tentacled slug with a giant drooling vagina on its head. In 1980 when everyone was ripping off ALIEN and trying to do the humanoid version of HR Geiger's work, this was a nice alternative to that. And oddly enough pretty much the only suggestion of sexuality in the film!
CODE RED has had this on the books for a while and finally had to put it out themselves after BCI (their former distributor) went belly up. They are now doing this with all their releases (such as STUNT ROCK, THE WEEKEND MURDERS, NIGHT OF THE DRIBBLER, TRAPPED and the upcoming, long awaited MESSIA OF EVIL and PETS). they really are a company that have had to struggle to put out some of the most unusual and forgotten films of the grindhouse/exploitation era and now their releases are harder to find than ever. So make the effort and go get them while you can. Amazon, DVD Empire, DiabolikDVD and a few other places all carry them, but the print runs are small and will be collectors items almost immediately so it is worth your time to go for it
For some reason there is no trailer for this online. so here is a video CODE RED posted of an earthquake while they were working on extras for one of their DVD's.