Italian genre cinema from the 70’s and 80’s cannot be explained. There are no words in any langue that can accurately sum up what movies from that era are. Try as we might, those films just aren’t capable of being transferred to mere words. They have to be experienced visually, and even then you may be left confused. 1989’s Shocking Dark is one that will definitely leave you scratching your head. You’ll have a great time, no doubt, but when it’s all done you’ll simply ask, “what?”
The film takes place in a future where the city of Venice is known as a “dead city.” The air and water contain toxic level so high that the once thriving city is no longer unable to sustain life. Needless to say, things aren’t great for The Floating City. Venice being inhabitable really has nothing to do with the plot. At least I don’t think it does, but it’s hard to say because after learning that Venice has been destroyed the plot details get very shaky. Underneath the city, there is some sort of control center run by an evil corporation that was supposed to help the city but ended purposely polluting it. And for some reason, a team of badasses must go find that control center and they have to do so while avoiding mutated creatures.
An easier way to figure out the plot to this film is to watch The Terminator and Aliens and then sort of mash the two up into one “story.” That’s Shocking Dark and I’m pretty sure that Claudio Fragasso wrote the script by taking that very approach. The film never received a release in the US, but in Europe, it was marketed as Terminator 2 with the film’s original poster being a direct ripoff of the classic poster for The Terminator. And in Fraggasso’s defense, this film did beat James Cameron’s sequel by a handful of years. On the other hand, this film ripped off Aliens and then sold itself as a sequel to Terminator. Confused yet? Because you should be.
The team assembled is a carbon copy of the squad from Aliens, but the like the bench unit. The best of this bunch is Geretta Geretta who plays Koster. She’s Shocking Dark’s version of Vasquez and the film isn’t going for a very subtle hint either. It’s pretty incredible. At one point Koster says, “Alright you bunch of pussies, I’m back and I’m kicking ass!” The film also offers up their own version of Bishop. That’s fun.
Those mutated creatures I mentioned, they’re like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I guess the creatures were created from the pollution? The movie never tells us and it really doesn’t matter. The creature looks pretty cool. Yeah, it’s cheap and gives off giant trash bag vibes, but it’s a fun practical creature and that’s always a bonus.
Despite the film making it a point to show you that it is opening in Venice, most of the movie takes place underground. Similar to the creature design, the set feels cheap but also cool. There’s a low-budget horror charm with this type of set that just can’t be replicated today.
Shocking Dark doesn’t have much of a plot, at least not of the coherent variety, and it rips off movies that are much better. It also features lots and lots of shouting and some of the most hysterical line readings in the history of cinema. And there’s plenty of cheap, fun gore — it is a Bruno Mattei film after all. If this movie is for you, you’ll know it and you’ll love it. If it’s not for you, I guess you’ll know that too.
The new Severin Blu-ray of Shocking Dark looks awesome. It’s a new 2K scan from the director’s negative and while there are some scratches and spots throughout, it’s an otherwise pleasant-looking presentation. A lot of the film takes place in dark, underground locations, but the handful of scenes that are in brighter labs really offer some vivid colors that pop. I’m continuously impressed that movies of this ilk are receiving this sort of Blu-ray treatment. As far as special features this release has a couple of goodies. There is an interview with Fragasso and co-writer Rosella Drudi that is wonderful. Fragasso and Drudi don’t seem to love their films as much as the fans do, though they do appreciate the fans, and they speak on them quite candidly. Drudi openly admits to straight stealing from Aliens. A second interview is included with Geretta where she talks a bit about her Portland upbringing and then dives into her career working in Italian horror films. Anyone that has seen a film with Geretta before knows how wonderful she is and will definitely get a kick out of this interview. Rounding out the bonus features are an alternate Italian title sequence and a trailer for the film.
Shocking Dark is great, specifically because it’s the sort of movie that only could have been made during this time period in Italy. Modern rip-offs happen all the time with places like The Asylum, but they’re not nearly the same. They lack the fun factor and practical effects that make movies like Shocking Dark such a hoot. Luckily, companies like Severin keep pumping these bad boys out often enough that we don’t need anything new.
Shocking Dark is now available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.