Great Bad Movies: "Shocking Dark," AKA "Terminator 2"
"Shocking Dark" (1989)
AKA "Terminator 2," "Alienators," "Contaminator"
Directed by: Bruno Mattei (as "Vincent Dawn")
Starring: Haven Tyler, Geretta Giancarlo Field, Christopher Ahrens, Domenica Coulson
**WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW**
The Italian exploitation film industry was never known for originality. Whatever trend was hot in Hollywood at any given time (horror movies, westerns, spy movies, science fiction, etc., etc.), Italy's movie studios were quick to cash in with a steady flow of low budget knock offs. During the late '80s, prolific schlock director Bruno Mattei took the art of Spaghetti Plagiarism to a whole new level. His movies weren't just imitations of popular hits, they were pretty much low-budget remakes. His 1988 epic Robowar was essentially Predator, with a malfunctioning military robot in place of the title creature and Reb Brown in place of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Other than that, it was the same movie, done on one-twentieth of the budget. For his next film, Shocking Dark, Bruno (directing under his Americanized alias of "Vincent Dawn," from a script by frequent collaborator Claudio Fragasso of Troll 2 infamy) further upped the insanity ante by borrowing from not one, but TWO then-current sci-fi hits -- Aliens and The Terminator. To top it all off, the movie was actually released as Terminator 2 in some parts of the world with lax copyright laws, a full two years before James Cameron's legit Terminator sequel made its way to the multiplex. If nothing else, you've got to admire Mr. Mattei for having the sheer balls to pull off a scam like that!
Like many Italian sci-fi knock-offs, Shocking Dark sets its action on Earth rather than in outer space, to reduce special effects costs. It kicks off with stock footage of happy tourists and pigeons frolicking in the streets of Venice, while a grim-voiced narrator informs us that this was "before the year 2000." Sometime after that, the water in Venice's famous canals apparently became so toxic that the city had to be evacuated. Now a deserted ruin, its only residents are scientists from the Tubular Corporation, who labor in a network of laboratories beneath the city trying to reverse the pollution.
The ball gets rolling when some stern faced guys in Flash Gordon uniforms receive a video transmission from inside the city. They watch in horror as a group of Tubular Corp. employees scream for help before they're mauled by some unseen threat. Obviously something has gone horribly wrong in the laboratory tunnels. Who you gonna call to investigate? Mega-Force!
Send in ...the Mega-Force!
"Mega-Force" is a tough-as-nails military unit led by a loud mouthed lady soldier named Koster, played by Italian z-movie regular Geretta Geretta (the lady so nice they named her twice, also of Mattei's epic Rats: Night of Terror). Their mission: reach the laboratory that sent the distress call, and bring back any survivors. Coming along for the ride are scientist Dr. Sarah Drumbull (Haven Tyler), and the musclebound, vaguely sinister Samuel Fuller (Christopher Ahrens), a representative of the Tubular Corporation.
...by this point, if you've seen Aliens at least once, this is probably starting to sound familiar. Venice is obviously Planetoid LV-426, and the "Mega-Force" troopers are modeled after the Colonial Marines, with Koster as the tough chick Vasquez. Sarah is this movie's Ellen Ripley (she even looks a bit like a young Sigourney Weaver), and Fuller would be Burke, the corporate creep played in Aliens by Paul Reiser.
...but wait, it gets even better. The Mega-Force wanders around the maze of steamy, darkened corridors for a while, eventually discovering a terrified young girl -- the lone survivor of whatever's occurred down there. The troops find out that her name is "Samantha," and in case you haven't figured it out already, she's this movie's version of "Newt" (she even sets off Ripley's -- I mean, Sarah's -- protective maternal instincts in the same way). Newt was played by a pre-teen girl in Aliens, but actress Domenica Coulson appears to be close to legal drinking age, so Samantha's child like mannerisms and the near-instant mother/daughter bonding between her and Sarah starts bordering on creepy pretty quickly
Samantha also continues the fine Italian-horror tradition of creating child characters who are so irritating that you actually WANT something terrible to happen to them. Once the monsters make their appearance and start putting Samantha in constant peril, her dialogue pretty much consists of repeatedly screeching "SARAH! SARAH! SAAAAA-RAAAAAAH! SAAAAAAAA-RAAAHHHHH!" for the rest of the movie.
Bang! Pow! Splat! Ouch!
Anyone hoping to see rubbery approximations of Giger's Alien monsters in Shocking Dark will be disappointed. They're shown mostly as close-ups of slimy, opening jaws, or claw-covered hands reaching from off screen to grab unlucky Mega-Forcers. I've seen this movie twice now, and I'm still not sure if the creatures are supposed to be the mutated remnants of the laboratory scientists, or some sort of fishy abominations caused by the water pollution, but whatever they are, they make short work of the Mega-Force troops, usually by hurling them over railings to their deaths until no one is left but Sarah and Samantha. The lab complex's self destruct function has been activated by this point (complete with the oh-so-helpful computer voice that informs them -- and the audience -- that there are thirty minutes to reach safety, twenty minutes to reach safefy, and so on)... but their escape is complicated the reappearance of Fuller, who (pause for a deep breath) reveals that he's a "replicant" sent by the Corporation to make sure its industrial secrets stay secret. Therefore, he can not allow any witnesses to escape...
... sooooo, yeah, after copying Aliens for its first hour, Shocking Dark turns into the final reel of The Terminator for its last 30 minutes, as the Fuller-minator pursues Sarah and Samantha through even MORE steam-filled tunnels as the clock ticks away, until a final twist ending that I will not reveal here except to say that it provides the perfect cherry on top of this utterly WTF Sundae.
Summing It Up
For obvious legal reasons, Shocking Dark aka Terminator 2 was never released in the United States back in 1989. If it had, I'm sure the owners of the Alien and Terminator franchises would've joined forces and sued it out of existence. Thus, American B-Movie fans had to settle for poor quality bootlegs for many years, until specialty DVD labels and streaming services like Amazon finally dragged it out of bad-movie obscurity.
I was not terribly surprised to learn that Shocking Dark was the lone screen credit for actresses Haven "Sarah" Tyler and Dominica "Samantha" Coulson -- neither of them ever made another film. Bruno Mattei, on the other hand, continued to crank out schlock till his death in 2007.
Fans of the Aliens and/or Terminator sagas who have a high tolerance for Z-Movie cheese should definitely check out Shocking Dark, preferably with an ample supply of cheap beer at your side. You may hate it, you may love it, but I guarantee you will never forget it!
© 2019 Keith Abt