Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mutant Species (1995)

Written by: Patrick Francis, David A. Prior, William S. Vigil
Directed by: David A. Prior
Starring: Ted Prior, Powers Boothe, Wilford Brimley

I don't think anyone was pretending they didn't know they were ripping off Predator when, from the mid- to late 1990's it seemed like there was a new military-fights-a-monster-in-the-woods movie coming out every other week. However, I doubt anyone was as committed as veteran genre filmmaker David A. Prior, to the point that his original desired cast would have made it a borderline remake. When the project was pitched to the studio, he wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger as Lt. Hollinger (what they would have spent on his salary, they could have saved in makeup effects – it wouldn't take much to believably turn Arnold into a huge, lumpy monster...and that's just his politics), Jean-Claude Van Damme as Trotter, Michael Ironside as the evil Frost, Dee “The Mom In Every Monster Movie Ever” Wallace Stone as Carol-Anne, and Bill Duke as the leader of the Spec-Ops expendable meat who get mowed down in the third act!

These movies are like Motorhead records; they're all more or less the same and you either like them or you don't. Some are more metal, some are more rock and roll, but they're all fun. This movie is one of the more metal ones, if'n you ask me, and obviously you are, because otherwise why are you reading this page?

We begin with a team of soldiers being sent to clear up the crash site of a satellite somewhere in the woods of Alabama. Just before they get into the airplane that will drop them into the crash zone, because that's what they did in Predator (seriously, why didn't they just drive there, it's like an hour away), a shady government agent (are there any other kind?) named Frost hands Lt. Hollinger, the team's leader, a briefcase and whispers something top secret in his ear. We know he's up to no good, because even though we can't hear any of what's going on here, Frost a)is a government agent in a 90's monster movie, and b)his facial expression is shouting, “MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” like Doctor Doom after noticing Reed Richards leave his cell phone unattended and still logged into Facebook..

After listening to a boogie rock song (“American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad in this case) because that's what they did in Predator, the team drops in to find the crash site. Once it's been located, instead of simply burning or blowing it up, Hollinger suddenly commands everyone to keep their distance and breaks out his top secret briefcase, which is some kind of containment unit for the horrid strawberry jam that is leaking out of the canister the satellite was holding. Instead of cooperatively allowing itself to be scooped into its new container, the stuff squirts up Hollinger's hand and oozes into his bloodstream. Figuring there's not much to be done about it now, he orders his team to blow up the satellite, and then guns down the lot of them so no one blabs about the strawberry jam.

Now, these movies are not big on logic, I'll grant you, but this one is a real head scratcher. I'm sure there are all sorts of details that the writers got wrong because they were too lazy to research and assumed the audience wouldn't notice, like the military stuff, and in my case they were right. I don't know enough about the various branches of the armed services to know whether Hollinger should be a Lieutenant or not, or whether their uniforms are right or if they would even send Army rangers (if it's even realistic that that's what these dime store camouflage outfits are supposed to represent) out to recover a secret crashed satellite. But why in the hell would you dispose of your motile, semi-sentient strawberry jam monster DNA juice (and that's another thing – I love that these movies always assume that if you just stir up a bunch of random DNA from various predatory animals and inject it into someone, they'll turn into an unstoppable super monster instead of just getting an infection or something) by sticking in a satellite and shooting it into space!? Never mind that a space launch is about the least secretive thing you could possibly do, why put it in a satellite!? Just stick it in a missle and shoot it out of the atmosphere, or better yet, just THROW IT IN THE FUCKING FURNACE! It's not 345 Trioxin for Cthulhu's sake, it's just DNA suspended in strawberry jam! Also, it seems that all the secret government equipment in these movies is made out of old Ford Pinto parts, because it always crashes and explodes.

Anyway, Trotter, the second in command, survives the murder of his group, and Hollinger chases him through the forest. He corners Trotter, who manages to convince him of his humanity and Hollinger begs Trotter to shoot him, which he does. Trotter then finds his way to the home of Carole-Anne and her brother Jordie, a surprisingly useful duo who prove better than a whole team of heavily armed black ops at dealing with Hollinger when he finishes his gooey metamorphosis and comes looking for Trotter again.

Despite having these adorable, droopy whiskers (presumably meant to signify some sort of big cat in the creature's genetic makeup), the monster is pretty cool as these things go. It looks sort of like a cross between the melted dog from The Fly II and the fetus monster from The Suckling. When we get a good look at it for the first time, my six year old daughter said, “Wow, that monster is really realistic”, and Malorie just started laughing. It's no Stan Winston creation, but it looks like they put some effort into it. If its head wasn't so cartoonishly huge (presumably a practical consideration to house all the servos that animated its facial features) it would have been a lot more fearsome and a lot less cute.

A lot of what elevates the movie is the acting, though. No one is going to win any awards here, but there aren't any truly bad performances. At the worst, the secondary performances are workmanlike, but they get the job done. The real standout, though, is Hollinger before he gets monsterfied. There's a great moment when he's chasing Trotter through the woods, and his senses go into overdrive, hearing every little insect chirp and clatter as a deafening cacophony, and notices that his hands are getting all scabby and weird and his fingers are starting to fuse together and his bone structure is changing. Rather than revel in becoming a beast, or getting angry, or any of the other reactions you tend to see in these situations, he just lets out this mournful, terrified wail. He doesn't want to be a monster, he doesn't want to be the villain, at that moment he's just a scared man lost in the woods who knows he's doomed. Despite, or maybe because of, being found amongst the trappings of a cheap, derivative quickie DTV monster flick, it's a surprisingly punchy bit of true horror.

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