Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Project: Metalbeast (1995)

Written by: Alessandro de Gaetano, Timothy E. Sabo, Roger Steinmann
Directed by: Alessandro de Gaetano
Starring: Kim Delaney, Barry Bostwick, Kane Hodder

Kane Hodder has probably chased more Final Girls than any other single figure in horror history, but even for him, tonight's movie is a unique role. Usually he's wearing a mask and carrying a knife or similar sharp implement. Plenty of other stuntmen can claim that, however. But I guarantee you no one else gets to put, “steel-skinned werewolf” on their CV. Yes, I said steel-skinned werewolf. I was about thirteen when I saw this movie for the first time, and I must have been exactly the audience Gaetano, Sabo and Steinmann were playing to, because I thought that was just about the most badass thing ever. And you know what? Thanks to a very cool monster design, the Metalbeast really does hold up to the inevitably high expectations the phrase, “steel-skinned werewolf” conjures up. I can only imagine that the very concept of, “steel-skinned werewolf” was the starting point for this whole project. I doubt they had a gub'mint makes werewolf super soldiers movie in the works for months and then one day, one of them came running into the room, feverishly retyping pages of script and adding it as an afterthought. No, I imagine one day Gaetano was brushing his teeth or taking a shower, or maybe just having an especially boring day at work (one of those times is usually when I get all my best ideas, anyway), and suddenly he got a gleam in his eye and a big grin on his face, and just couldn't wait til he got to tell his friends about the totally fucking boss monster he just dreamed up. Maybe he even found a piece of paper and drew some preliminary sketches, all the while bouncing up and down in his chair and giggling. Hell, that's basically how I reacted after seeing the movie, and I know if I had been the one to think of it that's how I would have behaved. I realize that from an objective standpoint, this movie sucks, like if I look at it out of the corner of my eye I can see it as most other people would see it. But when I view it straight-on, the rose colored glasses of how cool I thought it was as a kid obscure reality and I can't help but still love it. Ok, I'll settle down now. On to the movie.

The year is 1974, and somewhere in the Carpathian mountains a two-man special ops squad is carried across a lake by a boatman in a small rowboat. Their mission is to gather samples of werewolf blood, which we're told by a hold-the-stupid-audience's-hand scrawl that is rendered completely unnecessary by the werewolf that attacks the grunt about thirty seconds later, and is then shot to death by Dr. Butler, who proceeds to take several blood samples before heading back to the States.

Unwilling to wait for the lab results on the various tests that need to be run on the blood before they can use it for the eleventy thousandth super soldier project we've seen in these kinds of movies, and against project leader Colonel Miller's orders, Butler takes the last of the blood from the lab and shoots himself up with wolf juice. After all, once he's turned, they'll have all the blood samples they want, right?

With his senses heightened, he scents the blood from a cut one of the lab girls sustained after breaking a piece of glassware while working late. He heads down to the lab, where he corners the lone girl and pushes her behind a shelf. We don't see what happens, but it's very strongly implied from the way she staggers to the phone, in shock and covered in blood, that he wolfed out while raping her. Fucking ick. Thanks, movie. It's considerably more unpleasant when you think for a minute about how dogs mate.

You see, male canines have this thing at the base of their milkbones called the bulbus glandis. It's a big wad of erectile tissue that swells up once penetration has occurred, locking the penis inside the vagina to help insure fertilization by preventing semen leakage. The unfortunate couple can be stuck this way anywhere from five to twenty minutes (Funny story: One time our female chihuahua/dachshund mix, who hasn't been fixed, got impregnated by a hilariously old and toothless chihuahua/yorkie/pomeranian who we assumed was so ancient as to be impotent. They were in the back yard with the rest of the dogs when we heard some barking and snarling, and when we went to let them in, Trillian came tearing ass into the house dragging poor Bane along behind her by his dick!). Once the “tying”, or “knotting”, as it's called, happens, the male dog will swing a leg over the female's back and they'll stand ass-to-ass after ejaculation to make a better seal. Now all I can imagine is the poor lab girl lying flat on her face, wolf-Butler sitting grumpily on her butt waiting for his were-boner to go away so he can leave.

Eventually, Miller corners him and puts three silver bullets in his chest. After ordering a security official (whose painfully fake mustache screams, “REMEMBER, THIS IS 1974!” because nothing else in this segment aside from Barry Bostwick's dyed hair suggests it doesn't take place at the same time as the rest of the movie) to clean up the mess, Miller goes down into the basement, where Butler's body is stored in a huge cryogenic freezer.

Jump forward twenty years, and the top secret black ops werewolf soldier base has become a civilian science lab working on skin grafts and other cutting edge medical technology, except the lab is governed by a military presence, led by a general. not think about it too much. Anyway, Dr. Anna de Carlo, who we know is a super-pure-at-heart good girl and our heroine because the introductory pan across her work space shows several humanitarian award plaques and a teddy bear, is currently working on a new artificial skin substitute called bioferrin. It's a mixture of organic tissue cultures and an extremely durable and flexible metal alloy, because why the hell not? Problem is, every sample batch they've made so far only keeps the texture of skin for a day or two before it hardens into an iron-hard mass. Serious bummer for anyone who needs a skin transplant and winds up being encased in a metal shell. Unless, you know, you happened to also be a werewolf.

Miller has exactly the same thought, and so one day he shows up and takes over the operation, stating that they'll be moving the project ahead to working on human subjects. Cadavers, of course, and one very specific cadaver in particular. One that happens to have spent the last twenty years frozen in the basement. In a cryo tube powered by 1970's technology. So you can imagine the power drain those things cause. And no one wondered how a lab staffed by like ten people was somehow using up enough energy each month to power a city? No one is very happy about working on a mystery stiff with no paper work – who knows what kinds of disease the thing might still have lurking in it? – but Miller insists, and only after they have Butler half covered in bioferrin do they notice and remove the three silver bullets lodged in his chest. Uh oh. Good thing the general has a huge silver coin collection and one of the men just happens to have the equipment and know how to whip up some silver anti-tank bullets for the rocket launcher.

Barry Bostwick definitely gives the best performance of the movie, gleefully sinking his teeth into the role of the slimy military villain. The man's been in a lot of crap, but he's a pro and fun to watch. The rest of the cast mostly avoid hurting anyone's feelings, and Kim Delaney manages to give her awful dialogue (again, Bostwick is the only one who got any fun lines) an undeserved amount of effort, and really sells one of cinema's most unpleasant foot traumas (an explosion drives a piece of rebar into the outside top of her foot and out through the inside of the arch – gah).

The movie does have an interesting structure though. It's really three short movies in one. The opening segment, with the werewolf super soldier program, really seems like it should be a whole movie in its own right, but just when it gets going, BANG! It's over, and we move on to an admittedly really lousy pastiche of a pure research science fiction movie like Andromeda Strain, but stupid. Then just when that's actually starting to get interesting, we get the stalk-and-slash we were expecting to come after Butler shot up with werewolf blood. It does tend to drag a little when all you really want is some monster mayhem, but I think it was a smart move on the filmmakers' part, because by the time we do finally get some Metalbeast action, we've been waiting for it for so long it just enhances the excitement, like waiting to open your Christmas presents til after lunch.

The Metalbeast itself is obviously the heart of the movie, and man is it ever worth the wait. It's one of my favorite cinematic werewolves. Yes, there have been better werewolf movies, but in paw-to-paw combat this thing would kick any of their asses. It's not shiny metal, it doesn't look like a robot, which I realize is what the name and the concept suggest. Instead, its skin is all gnarled black and bronze, with tufts of fur here and there, and a big mane of quills that, in a great bit of detail, makes a metallic rattling with every step the monster takes. Glowing red eyes and extendo-claws (because why not) complete the badassery. I couldn't tell you how many pictures I drew of this thing when I was a kid. The concept and look of the creature really appeal to my imagination and sense of aesthetic. On the one hand, it's such a cool idea, I would love to see what a more talented crew with a bigger budget could do with it. On the other hand, today that would probably mean a bunch of shitty CGI, and it makes me glad that this is the movie we got. After all, we could be living in a world where there are no movies where Asshole from Rocky Horror Picture Show creates a steel-skinned werewolf played by Jason Voorhees, and that would be a poor world indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Had to check this out after reading your review, and you're right, the metalbeast is fantastic--like a cyborg werewolf.

    Thanks, I love finding cool movie monsters.

    --Doug Hudson