Hooptober 2022 #22: Shocking Dark (1989)

In the fine tradition of Italian knockoffs such as Starcrash and Contamination, comes Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark. Knockoff is generous though. An acquaintance described this film as one clearly written by a 12 year old which isn’t far off. Only if it was an ambitious 12 year old that only watched James Cameron’s pre-Abyss films. Basically, what you get is a near complete Aliens (and occasional Terminator) ripoff that’s a blast to watch.

Venice in the year 20XX is now a toxic wasteland after a mysterious accident. Workers in the tunnels of a reclamation project keep getting attacked. A group of soldiers called, and I’m not making this up, Megaforce go in there on behalf of the Tubular Corporation. Again, not making these names up. Then again, Elon Musk named his drilling operation the Boring Company so maybe it’s not totally off . Anyways, this group attempts to reach Tubular’s central processing plant in an effort to solve what’s happening. However, creatures attack and pick off the soldiers as they do so.

If all of this seems like a rip off of James Cameron’s Aliens, it absolutely is. Like many Italian films of the era, this film had multiple titles. What were two of them? That would be Terminator II and Aliens 2. Not Alien 3, mind you, Aliens 2. Director Bruno Mattei and screenwriters Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi (best known for Troll 2) shamelessly steal from Cameron’s second and third films. Shady corporation covers up mistake? Check. Company sends corporate stooge? Check. Tough as nails female lead? Check. Child survivor of previous tenants? Check. Gooey monsters protect territory? You got it. Killer unstoppable robot? It shows up eventually! Mattei whole sale lifts scenes and sequences from Aliens down to the staging and camera movements. Is it homage or plagiarism? Frankly, in the era of folks picking up movies based on VHS box art, did it matter?

Bruno Mattei makes the film with the confidence that someone will want to watch this. His thought process must have something along the lines of “There’s no sequel to Terminator or Aliens. What if I made a movie that was both movies? But also I billed it as sequel?” While it wholesale lifts scenes and dialogue from Aliens, it truly is both movies. The creatures in this are people infected by what today would be nanobots. Don’t forget though since it’s also an alien knockoff, they still look like monsters. There is a killer cyborg that eventually gets revealed. The film recycles the plot beats without including things like character motivations, theme, and logic. The script is written with total 12 year old energy.

It should go without saying none of this is filmed with the precision of a Cameron film. There’s both very little flair and very little budget. The hardcore military folks of Megaforce run around in costumes that are part sci-fi outfits and part karate gi. Most of the film is just people running around in tunnels with undisguised shotguns and rifles. Mattei makes no attempts to disguise the film is shot at an abandoned power plant. At all times, you are aware you are watching a constructed thing.

Yet like all Italian knockoffs. you buy into all of this. You watch something like Shocking Dark because of the absurdity of it. Craft is secondary to whatever weirdness you’re about to experience. The actors spew out nonsense dialogue in the most wooden fashion that attempts to inject environmental themes and talk of corporate malfeasance into the film. The plot does not take left turns but instead goes off the map with twists that seem out nowhere. You go with it. You came into this movie knowing it’s a knockoff and now you want to see how it all pays off.

It won’t surprise you Shocking Dark isn’t a sequel to either Terminator or Aliens. The film blatantly rips off the later and takes a few elements from the former. Still watching those pieces configured into a film that ends in a way that makes no sense is entertaining. Truly, it’s a film made by a man with an idea, and a means to make that a cinematic reality. Sometimes folks want to watch that reality.

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