Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
Context: Alien and Terminator are two of the most iconic Sci Fi franchises of all time and the two original films in each personal favourites. So I just had to check out a film that unashamedly rips off both of them. Shocking Dark aka Contaminator, which I was recently reminded of by WatchMojo’s Top 10 Shameless Action Movie Rip-Offs, is a 1989 Italian science fiction film directed by the late Bruno Mattei, who made a career of exploitation films in various genres. While it was promoted as a sequel to 1984’s The Terminator (its alternative titles include Terminator II and Terminator 2) it spends most of its time copying 1986’s Aliens (its other alternative titles were Aliens 2 and Aliennators, despite not featuring any actual aliens). But does this low budget copy of vastly superior films work on any level? With a ripped off SPOILER ALERT let’s dive in.
Review: From the jump I will give Mattei and company a point for coming up with an original premise, at least for most of the film. There’s no space marines fighting vicious aliens on an alien planet here. Instead we are in polluted future Venice where a scientist, soldiers and a representative of a mega corporation re investigating mysterious disappearances in the bowels of a large facility. In lieu of Xenomorphs we have humans mutated into reptile-like monsters that look like the unholy love child of Swamp Thing and Man-Thing.
If you’ve seen Aliens things start to get familiar very quickly with the characters. Our budget Ellen Ripley is researcher Sara (Haven Tyler). She even has her own Newt-like surrogate daughter with Dominica Coulson’s Samantha, though compared to Newt Sam is much more scream-y, much less resourceful and kinda grating. Al Matthews’ Sergeant Apone gets gender-swapped for Geretta Geretta as Koster, and we are even introduced to her chewing out subordinates just like Apone. And we get a two for one deal with Christopher Ahrens’ Samuel Fuller, who is both Paul Reiser’s traitorous company man Carter J. Burke from Aliens and Ian Holm’s secret android Ash from Alien. The other characters are bland, replaceable, stock soldiers who barely have one personality among them. Of note, they even copied the name of one of Aliens’ privates, Drake, so yeah, they were not hiding at all.
Tyler is actually halfway decent as Sara and there is a charm to Geretta’s scenery-chewing performance, but otherwise most of the acting and dialogue is as paltry as you would expect for this type of film. Ahrens’ performance is extremely flat and robotic, which makes sense when he is later revealed to be a cyborg or android or whatever, but I doubt all that thought went into it. I think he was just bad.
The design of the creatures isn’t the worst I’ve seen, and they wisely keep them mostly in shadow and darkness. The kills are surprisingly tame though, with barely any gore to be found, and the action is nothing to write home to momma about. The low budget shows the most in the production design, as you will see the same dark corridors over and over and then over again. When the film is not aping the chestburster scene and the facehugger scene from Aliens shot for shot we have characters getting predictably killed due to very dumb decisions. Like 80s slasher-level dumb decisions.
And the plot? That is the most head-scratching aspect of all. Apparently the above-mentioned mega corporation poisoned the waters of Venice so they could use it for their nefarious purposes including an experiment to create advanced humans which instead turned people psychopathic and also into mutated monsters (whew, that was a long sentence!). Yeah, so not the most well thought out plan. In the final act the film apparently got tired of unabashedly copying Aliens and decided to copy The Terminator instead, with Fuller filling in for the killer cyborg. Imagine a fan-made version of the T-800 stalking Sarah Connor and you have exactly what this looks like.
And then things really go bonkers when the facility’s self-destruct is initiated by Fuller. Instead of a last-minute save the film doubles down on Terminator by inexplicably introducing a time travel device, despite never mentioning anything about time travel before. I was like, “What the hell is happening here?” We are then “treated” to Ripley and Newt, sorry, Sarah and Samantha, running through the streets of then present-day Venice with Fuller hunting them down and bystanders ignoring their pleas for help. They eventually defeat Fuller and Sara pledges to save Venice from becoming an ecological wasteland. Well, Shocking Dark, threw everything else into the script, why not a shoehorn in an environmental message as well?
As a film on its own Shocking Dark is a steaming pile of crap that badly copies its source material. But it can be enjoyed from a so-bad-it’s-good unintentional comedy standpoint as you can laugh at the poor dialogue, stilted acting, daft scenes bordering on parody, cheesy effects and an all over the place plot. And while Italian cinema of that era has a reputation of shamelessly copying films, it is still amazing that a movie like Shocking Dark exists. It takes some cojones to watch a movie, redo it on the cheap and then market it as the sequel to said movie. Truly shocking.
Editor Jules’s Score: 3 out of 10 (Regular), 5 out of 10 (So Bad It’s Good)
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Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.