Friday, September 9, 2016

Transformations (1988)

Written by: Mitch Brian
Directed by: Jay Kamen
Lisa Langlois as Miranda
Rex Smith as Wolf Shadduck
Patrick Macnee as Father Cristopher
Christopher Neame as Calihan

On June 5, 1981, the CDC published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing several cases of a rare lung infection called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in otherwise healthy young gay men. The men also had other uncommon infections as well. The evidence led officials to believe something had caused the men's immune systems to shut down. It wasn't until September of 1982 that the disease, until then referred to as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, became known as AIDS. By December of that year, an infant was found to have contracted the disease through a blood transfusion and it became clear that the problem was not isolated in the gay community.

By 1988, the global battle against this nightmare disease was in full swing. U.S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop launched the first coordinated HIV/AIDS education campaign by mailing more than a hundred million copies of a booklet called Understanding Aids to American households, while the FDA announced that it would allow the importation of small amounts of some unapproved drugs for people with HIV/AIDS. World AIDS Day was designated by the World Health Organization and supported by the UN.

Not one to shirk his duty as an advocate for major world issues and humanitarian crises (he was, after all, the leading [and only] activist brave enough to tackle the issue of people's toys coming to life and killing their owners), Charles Band joined the fight by commissioning a script for a cheap, shitty space AIDS movie to be shot in Italy for what would barely be enough money to buy a decent house in many parts of the country.

Wolf Shadduck is a space trucker, flying a hold full of cargo from Dafuqknows to Nunnayobiznis when...something happens. It's a little hard to figure out on first watch, because the movie was re-edited and completed by a third party releasing company many years after shooting had wrapped when the IRS seized Empire Pictures' assets for back taxes owed and the company went bankrupt. The company spliced in some space ship footage borrowed from Roger Corman, and extended many of the scenes to pad the movie out to 84 minutes. We see what appears to be another ship approaching, and then a shot inside the ship of a slime-covered creature in a tattered uniform walking somewhere with great purpose, implying that the second ship is heading for Wolf's ship, piloted by a monster, with the intention of boarding him. It then appears to him as a very 80's looking woman, who proceeds to boink him silly, turning briefly back into a monster while riding him but his eyes are closed so he doesn't notice.

What actually happened is that the company who finished the movie cared even less about it than the Empire Pictures producers did, and couldn't be bothered to make sure the spaceship footage matched. There is only ever one ship, and the shots of the stalking slime-glopola monster is duplicated from a scene at the end of the movie just so the audience gets a monster right off the bat, because otherwise there's no monster until the last five minutes. We will find out later that things are, in fact, a whole lot sillier than we previously suspected.

Wolf's autopilot brings him down on a prison planet where the prisoners serve their time working a colossal strip-mining operation, overseen by a minimal staff backed up by a force of genetically engineered synthetic soldiers who serve as guards. A large staff isn't required because the massive equipment used to essentially peel an entire planet like an onion gives off such an intense electromagnetic field that any ship entering the atmosphere while it's operating will short out and crash. Supply ships are scheduled to arrive during maintenance shutdowns so they can make planetfall safely. Notice I said his ship brought him down, not landed him gently.

The crash has left Wolf with some fairly serious injuries. He regains consciousness in the infirmary under the care of Miranda, the sole medical professional on the entire planet (and really, she's not even a professional – she was born to one of the prisoners despite them all being sterilized, so the colony's real doctor took her in and raised her and taught her all he knew before dying). Before long, he's wandering around outside the infirmary against strict orders and hate-fucking prostitutes to death at the behest of the space AIDS lurking inside his festering space scrotum, at the same time that a supply ship has entered orbit for a scheduled shutdown and a small band of prisoners are planning to escape by stealing Wolf's ship.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Father Christopher, the prison chaplain, has seen something like this spreading sickness before. He encountered it on a space station he worked on decades ago, and it nearly cost him his life and his faith. You see, Wolf wasn't infected by a creature boarding his ship, as the confusingly edited opening scenes suggest. It was no space creature at all. It was, in fact, a literal demon from literal hell; a succubus intent on destroying the souls of everyone on the planet by spreading its perversity and covering everyone in pus. Kidnapping Wolf and stranding yourself in space with him is starting to look like sort of a poor decision now, huh, wannabe escapees?

According to director Jay Kamen, who seems to consider the production of this movie the worst experience of his entire life, the version of the movie available on video today bears almost no resemblance to his final cut of the movie, which was presumably destroyed when the Charles Band's Empire ended as most empires do; with the tax collectors knocking on the door. Clocking in at an already lean 84 minutes, it's a good ten minutes longer than his version (which also included a fucking musical number!) because they extended the end of almost every scene by a few seconds just to pad the movie out further. It's something that I didn't really notice until the second watch with his amusingly bewildered commentary track, but once you know what to look for it's obvious where the sloppy edits were made. Despite the fact that neither Kamen or his moderator like horror or science fiction movies or know anything about them, that commentary is worth listening to for all the gems he has to tell about the production, like how Band somehow finagled to rent Dino de Laurentiis's studio for the shoot at such a low price that Dino became enraged at how little money he was getting and completely gutted the heating and air conditioning systems before turning the building over to Band.

The performances range from perfectly profession and competent in the face of the ridiculous material (Langlois, Macnee), to what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking (mostly the dubbing crew hired to complete the Italian actors' unfinished dialog), and the effects lifted from Corman are nifty. When we finally do get the monster payoff at the end (in one of the most egregious cases of, “That doesn't look like the poster!” in film history), it looks like the FX crew somehow got a mold of the creature mask from Blood Freak and covered it in KY jelly and scraps of lunch meat.

Despite the movie gods doing their very best to smite this flick from the hearts and minds of men, here it is almost thirty years later, looking quite smashing in high definition for all its impoverishments. It's cheap and sleazy and dumb, and there's a lot of fun to be had with it. Oh, and if you were wondering, the cure for being turned into a turkey monster sex demon from outer space is being shot in the face with a flamethrower. And true love. Look, just go watch the movie.

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