Saturday, January 11, 2014

Colony of the Dark (1995)

Written by: Tom Berna
Directed by: Tom Berna
Starring: David Rommel, Joan Dinco, Anna Zizzo

Well, I'm getting better about getting around to things. The last time I got a screener from El Santo, I think it was on my shelf for almost two years before I watched it. This time, I managed to keep it under 12 months! Pretty soon I'll finish all the movies still in the plastic wrap clogging up the shelves in the dining room and not have to justify further movie purchases to myself and my budget! No, I lie. That will never happen. Especially since I'll be hitting at least one Half Price Books and several used book and record stores in less than two weeks on the annual pilgrimage to Chicago for B-Fest. As bad as my ratio of unwatched movies is, you should see the piles and piles of books I have yet to read. Hopeless. In fact, it's kind of depressing, looking at all this lovely entertainment and thinking that my lifespan won't allow me to enjoy even a fraction of what I want to get to. So it's sure a good thing I waste that precious time watching someone's home movies!

There's not a great deal of story to this one, but what there is, is this: Jim is a scuzzball (who looks like a cross between Sam Neill and Bob Odenkirk) who works at a genetic engineering research facility. His wife Meredith works there too, on a project to allow amputees to regrow limbs. So far the project hasn't been entirely successful. Instead of regrowing their own limbs, the lab mice have developed strange growths that are, for all intents and purposes, separate organisms that develop a symbiotic relationship with their host – they act as the missing limb in return for the host feeding them. If you're sitting there, thinking to yourself, But that's really stupid and makes no sense, you're not alone. Meredith discovers that Jim has been having an affair with his secretary, and throws a jar of symbiont juice in his face, which turns him into a monster that must kill and eat people in order to survive. That's it. In more capable hands, this could have been a really cool movie. It practically cries out for David Cronenberg to have made it around 1987.

The rest of the movie is nothing but a series of setups to see Jim's modular monster limbs spring away from his body and devour victims in gory special effects set pieces. Where we really hit a wall here, is that this movie was made for about $.75, and only $.26 of that was budgeted for FX, so what we're left with is a bunch of special effects set pieces that are lit and shot so that they don't actually show the effects. It's sort of like watching an audiobook. The effects are only limited to how good your imagination can make them!

Eventually, Jim may or may not have eaten Jenny the secretary. Like I said, when there wasn't enough natural or ambient light, this flick was apparently lit with a pen light. This causes her sister Suzanne to become suspicious of him, and lure him to her house for supper so she can shoot him. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what was supposed to have been going on. Imagine her surprise when he splits into several pieces and all his pieces attack her! This is where the movie finally manages to shine a little. The effects are about what you'd expect from an amateur low-budget movie, but they're very imaginative. His legs become squid creatures, one arm falls off and sprouts a little bug creature that hauls it around, his head pops off and grows little midget arms and legs to waddle around on, and the fingers of his other arm each come off and sprout eyes and stingers and bat wings!

Given a lot more money and much better equipment, I have a feeling the movie would have been, if not exactly a classic, at least a fun and memorable creature feature. The hurdles it has to overcome are clearly ones in place because of budget and equipment, not creativity on the filmmaker's part. Hell, just four years after this, Tom Berna made the cult documentary Wisconsin Death Trip. Yes, I know I said the movie was made for $.75, but Berna managed to make it look like it was made for $1.25. Last week I was bitching about how David DeCoteau made a 35mm movie look like it was shot with a cheap camcorder. With a miniscule fraction of the resources, Tom Berna managed to make a movie shot with a cheap camcorder look like it was shot on 8mm film that had been fished out of a truck stop toilet. Especially in the world of micro-budget horror movies, a small triumph is a triumph nonetheless.

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