Where most nightmares end The Strangeness begins...
Year of Release: 1985
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 92 minutes (1:32)
Director: Melanie Ann Phillips
Dan Lunham ... Geoff Calvert
Terri Berland ... Cindy Flanders
Rolf Theison ... Myron Hemmings
Keith Hurt ... Morgan
Mark Sawicki ... Dan Flanders
Chris Huntley ... Tony Ruggles
Diane Borcyckowski ... Angela Platt
An abandoned mine stands as an eerie tomb for twenty miners who dared to strip away her golden treasure.
Now, more than a century after the mysterious and grizzly murders, a group of explorers take on a death defying expedition to raise THE STRANGENESS monster and free the cave from its evil grasp.
The Strangeness, remindin' all the closeted, aspiring special effects guys out there that your big coming out party prolly won't surprise many people after you've designed a stop-motion Lovecraft critter that devours people with its strategically placed forehead vagina. One look at that goobey-monster an you know the guy who made it's still kinda on the fence about his spelunking habits. Not that there's anything *wrong* with that, I'm just sayin' - there's a good chance your thunder's long since been stolen.
An speakin' of things that'll chew ya up an spitcha out - the next time Blaine Schwartzberg offers me $20 for "an hour's work," somebody remind me to junk punch 'im. I don't mean to perpetuate the stereotype or anything, but my personal safety's worth *at least* $35. I guess if I'm bein' honest, the guy didn't exactly ask for the job to be done in the dead of winter, but Billy Hilliard an I really needed the money. See, Blaine needed somebody to hook 'im up with some local river critters to stick in this ridiculous half-mile long fish tank they installed around the interior perimeter of The Rural Mural so the patrons can watch the fish while waitin' for their "food," ya know, for the ambiance, or something. Honestly, it's a great gimmick, I just think the cost makes it ridiculous. But anyway, that's not the point. The point is he needed some fish to stick in this thing, so Billy an I figured - what the heck, Outhouse Creek's super low right now, so why not bust up the ice an net some fish, it'll be a cinch, an all things considered it was. Not a whole lotta *variety* in Outhouse Creek, species wise, but I ain't gettin' anywhere near Lake Gunkamucka after what happened with Crudfin a few weeks ago. Mostly just carp in Outhouse Creek, but we also captured some shiners, several partially frozen crawdads, an a few mud cats that were more'n a little P.O.'d about bein' dug outta their burrows. Spent about two hours out there (Blaine's a pretty sharp guy, but he's not much for settin' a reasonable timetable), filled 7 or 8 buckets with fish an were about to leave, when we notice this really nice 4-point buck walkin' on the ice up above the shallow area we were workin' an next thing you know the ice gives way an he falls through like an anorexic teenager through an outhouse toilet. Well, the water's only 5' deep there, but that's still too far down for a deer to touch bottom, an we couldn't just leave 'im there like that, so Billy grabbed some rope out of his truck, handed it to me, an shoved me in the general direction of the flounderin' buck.
"Why me?!" I howled, "you're five times stronger'n I am!"
"Yuh, an five thimeth heavier thoo, dumbath. I'll buth through ow' there," he smugly pointed out. He wasn't wrong, but that wasn't much consolation.
"Jus' thie 'im up, I'll pull 'im ow'," he prodded.
"Fine," I grunted, an crept out slow as I could while the poor bastard thrashed around like a harpooned halibut. Course, my approach only ramped up his freakout by a factor of ten, but I did eventually get the rope around both horns an signaled Billy to give 'im a yank.
Funny thing though, an I guess sometimes in moments of crisis you forget stuff that'd be obvious any other time, but the deer're sheddin' their horns right now, so when Billy jerked the rope both horns come clean outta their sockets an went flyin' straight at his head at the speed of light, forcin' 'im to hit the deck or be impaled. Unfortunately, when he hit the dirt he ended up rollin' down the embankment an onto the ice, which cracked like a midget's rib cage under a Vader Bomb, an while he managed to roll off just in time to avoid an ice bath, *I* was out in the middle next to the deer, an needless to say, I took a swim. A NINE degree swim, with a panic-stricken, hooved animal two feet behind me. You'd be surprised how fast you can move when you're in imminent danger of becomin' a hickcicle, particularly when a drownin' animal's right behind you makin' for the freshly accessible bank. In the end, both deer an man got out alive, though only one of us with all his 2000 parts intact. Spent the next six hours parked in front of the stove, but hey: TEN big ones! - what a deal! That goddamned shyster.
That aquarium's gonna be a hell of a sight once we're able to get some less disgustin' lookin' fish in there, but I'll be damned if I'm goin' on another fish-findin' expedition before summer. Sides, it's not like the yuppies'll know the difference. Sorry if that went on a little long, but frankly I needed the padding anyway, cause if you've ever watched The Strangeness you're already aware that the cinematographer forgot to take the lens cap off for about half the run time, so my ramblin' should balance out in the end. We're basically doin' that Boogens deal again - where there's a mine monster skitterin' around underground tryin' to chew the limbs offa Mr. Johanson's 3rd string community theater troupe, only these guys forgot to bring a light to film with. I'm not gonna lie to ya, nobody under the age of 35's gonna be able to survive this thing, but I'll try to keep everyone entertained as best I can, startin' off with three things I learned watchin' these well-intentioned people make jackasses of themselves. First, no expedition into a pitch black cave is complete without a still photographer. Second, if you're ever in a mine and can't spot the canary, it's probably you. An third, after a solid hour of not bein' able to see a damn thing, not only do you not question a long abandoned mine's fully functional electrical system - you *embrace* it.
Somethin' else though, an I don't mean to tell anybody how to make their movie or anything, but this's one of those flicks where I find it much easier to sympathize with the monster than the people. Monster's just doin' his thing, mindin' his own business, content to be alone, when all the sudden a gaggle of mallrats come bustin' into his digs as though he's been sulkin' for millennia just *hoping* some loud, obnoxious, shallow socialites'd stop by to help 'im get out of his shell. Extroverts literally cannot *fathom* a world where somebody chooses to be alone, cause if THEY were ever left alone with their thoughts for more'n about two minutes they'd die of loneliness.
"Awwww, don't be like that, Oozey! You've gotta get outta this depressing hole and have some fun!" they might say - like he's more likely to suffer at the altar of insecurity now that they've insulted his pad or somethin'. I'ma just come right out an say this: all you "oh come on!" people out there DESERVE to be eaten by what/whomever bears the brunt of your insufferable nagging. An man oh man are they stubborn; monster in the movie causes an avalanche on one gal, eats two others, but do these people even consider turnin' back an leavin'? Not a chance - they're hell bent on makin' this beastie into one of *them*. They won't be satisfied until a newer, hipper, socially unaware version of itself comes crawlin' out of an outer space vegetable pod, cause so long as they're met with resistance, they're scared shitless that *they* might be the ones acting out of turn. It's like that line from 1984: "we do not merely destroy our enemies, we *change* them," cause to them, you're an unconscionable anomaly threatening the sanctity of their perfect union, just for wantin' to sit at home an watch reruns of Lost in Space all weekend instead of endin' up on Youtube doin' somethin' that costs ya your job. I really see no other choice but to turn these people into lunch meat before they succeed at mutatin' us into a species of Applebee's-patronizing mediocritites, it's really the only way to put an end to their tyranny. Just keep tellin' yourselves: it's *them*, or *you*, an when the time comes, strike a blow for all the homebodies out there an show these people that we and our quiet time are not to be trifled with. You just look 'em right square in the eye an say: "I am NOT going to the club with you clingy saps, an if you can't handle that you'll just hafta cry into the lap of the nearest available stranger after a meaningless casual encounter you convinced yourself was necessary to get said cretins to let you hang around for another five minutes." If that don't work, you may be forced to say somethin' hurtful.
The movie begins with a couple out hikin', after midnight, out in the moonlight, lookin' for an old mine shaft they've been paid to reopen with a coupla free market permits (that's dynamite for all you freedom haters out there), only when they crawl inside to set the charges the place starts shakin' like a wet dog at a pool party, an next thing you know they both get slurped an burped by somethin' big an cantankerous hidin' in the dark. Probably not the creature's finest moment, but you'd be pretty dang hangry too if you'd been waitin' that long for your takeout to show up. About a week later, two guys (Geoff an Tony) drive on out to the mine an meet up with this weenie corporate tool (Hemmings) an his incongruous crew; consisting of Morgan (the old British tunnel rat), Dan (an aspiring writer who woulda gone into radio except he's got a voice like Eddie Deezen), Cindy (Dan's foxy wife who's obviously got some kinda freaky dork fetish), an Angela (the geologist brought on board to inspect the papier mache tunnels for any sign of valuable plaster deposits). So pretty quick the group lights a fire an starts speculatin' about why the mine shut down in the first place, only Hemmings hasta break it up before Morgan starts scarin' everybody half to death with old Star Trek plots about burnt lasagna monsters scuttlin' around in the dark tryin' to protect clutches of oversized novelty Whoppers, an ends up sendin' everyone to bed without their exposition ration. The next mornin' Morgan leads the expedition to the mine entrance (which is a pretty charitable description, cause I'm pretty sure I've stepped in badger holes bigger'n this thing) an everyone shimmies down a rope like acrophobic pole dancers, until the last guy's climbin' down an the line suddenly snaps like a wet towel against a frat pledge's hiney. The rope's obviously been cut, but Hemmings don't wanna hear anything about it cause it was prolly just pinched between a coupla rocks or something, an plus it was a good friend of his an only had one day left until retirement, so he'd appreciate it if they could just drop the subject entirely. Then they find the gear vacated by the couple in the openin' sequence who've since been processed into creature crap, which turns out to be another false flag planted by Enviro-socialists tryin' to protect the habitat of the endangered subterranean chasm skink, an Hemmings orders 'em to move their minimum wage hinders before he revokes their smokin' privileges. Eventually Angela finds a good spot to chisel out some samples, so everybody just kinda wanders off an does their own thing until this big nasty guy that looks like the Cthulhu sushi platter at Sumo Joe's Hibachi Hut gets the drop on Angela an starts frackin' the tunnel wall until she ends up the base layer of groupie sediment in a Rolling Stones stratum.
Geoff thinks they should just hang out until corporate sends somebody to find 'em, only that's not gonna work because they're on what's known as a "clandestine" operation, where no official records are kept so the company won't be held responsible in the event of subordinate sundering. You'd think everyone could agree that it's a small price to pay to keep America great, but Geoff's so P.O.'d when he finds out that he ends up mashin' in Hemmings' mustache with his agricultural college ring until Dan starts flashin' back to his parents havin' a screamin' argument durin' his 8th birthday party an gets so triggered that he makes Geoff apologize. Then they run into a barricade erected by the few survivin' miners who hadn't yet been turned into Klondike bars by the monster, complete with inscription sayin' somethin' about their havin' delved too deeply an greedily an accidentally awakenin' the Bowelrog. Naturally, they move it outta the way an head down deeper into the shaft, finally catchin' a break when they discover the decades-old lighting system in perfect workin' order, which in turn helps 'em identify the remains of the girl from the openin' scene strewn across the cave lookin' like a tub of goulash that went bad in the freezer, givin' 'em a glimpse of their own destinies as the future fertilizer of America. Then everyone beds down for the night except Dan who stays up analyzin' the mine blueprint for escape routes an ends up crawlin' headfirst into Mucus Allen's livin' room, where he's subsequently dredged an stripped of his gore deposits. Not surprisingly, Cindy gets a tad hysterical an needs to be slapped around a little bit before she can get it together, an once that's taken care of Geoff sends Morgan to look for a way out while he goes crawlin' through the puddle formerly known as Dan, until he finds a gooey femur an decides this bullstuff's above his pay grade. Meanwhile, Morgan's sneakin' around like a ninja hobo until he accidentally singes off a patch of chest hair an drops his flare down an access shaft where he gets bangered'n mashed by the crotchtopus creature. Tony tries rescuin' Morgan but Oozie Smith crushes 'im under an avalanche of agate, an in the meantime Hemmings's come down with a terminal case of gold fever an started hallucinatin' claim jumpers behind every support beam, forcin' 'im to abscond with Cindy while Geoff blubbers helplessly about what he's gonna tell Tony's mama. I'm plum tuckered out from tryin' to make this mess sound interestin', so I'm afraid this's about as deep as we're gonna get into this one.
Alrighty... cripes, that one was a little tough to get through. I mean, the premise is good enough to keep you waitin' around hopin' something'll eventually happen, but if you're thinking about watchin' this one, do be advised that you've got a long wait comin' before it gets going. A lotta folks like to compare The Strangeness to The Boogens, and they're not wrong in that comparison, but good grief is there ever a drastic difference in production/entertainment value between the two. I'll go to bat for The Boogens any day of the week, but if I'm the defense attorney for The Strangeness, there's a good chance it ends up in the gas chamber. All things considered, Strangeness is a little better than you'd expect for a flick made on a $25,000 budget, but when you hafta make that excuse for it, you're essentially acknowledging defeat in the process. To their credit, no one among the crew seems to have been aware of The Boogens when they made their movie, and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity, but it's almost an insult even to mention them in the same sentence. The biggest failing of Strangeness is that, quite simply - for the first hour it violates the #1 rule of Horror cinema, which states that a flick can be absolutely anything, except boring. I don't think I've ever taken fewer notes for a 90 minute movie than I took for this one and as you can see, even a guy as windy as I managed to easily contain the plot summary to two paragraphs. Hell, even if there *was* anything goin' on you'd never know it, because the movie's so dang dark that it's impossible to see what's happenin' for a significant portion of its runtime. I mean, technically, for all we know the movie's rife with amazing special effects and plot twists, but they just happen to take place in a pitch black environment where no one can see them. I really dunno what else to say about it, there's just so little actual content that you run out of commentary pretty quickly - a ramshackle crew of utterly incohesive people wander around a mine for an hour and a half being picked off in uninspired ways by a bizarrely sculpted gut-bucket beast with a twat for a noggin. I mean, what the heck's a guy supposed to do with that?
Maybe it'll sound better if we break it down into smaller pieces... ya know, like zoomin' in close enough that the majority of the turd gets framed out of the shot so's all you can see is that one glorious kernel of corn, standing triumphant against a sea of... actually, that's gross, forget I said that. The plot, if this does indeed constitute a plot, is just fine if you stand back far enough. Thing is, an important part of evaluating the plot is judging its ability to keep the audience engaged, and this flick fails *hard* in that regard. Hard enough that questions like why the heck would anybody on an unauthorized business venture invite a JOURNALIST along for the trip, and why the mine's electrical system still works after all this time seem almost inconsequential. We Horror fans are almost always gonna be suckers for the "monster in the mine" routine, but this script is absolutely rife with faulty reasoning and padding. The acting is a little better than you'd expect given the budgetary constraints (that doesn't mean it's good, because it isn't, but you may very well expect everyone to be objectively terrible, and that's not the case), but what brings it down is just how pitiful the human antagonist is. Rolf Theison is easily the weakest member of the cast, and yet they saw fit to cast him as the heel. It might have worked out better had Theison swapped roles with Chris Huntley, as that big ole beard would've lent at least a hint of tough guy cred, but either way, Theison isn't the least bit menacing, and it hurts the movie. Keith Hurt (who plays the crusty old British tunnel rat) gives the best performance, but even so, the dialog is so insipid that it's impossible for any one cast member to truly stand out from the rest. I will say this for them though, the characters are easy enough to keep straight. A lotta times in these low budget numbers, that's not the case.
One guy in the entire cast managed to snag another role in a genre flick, Mark Sawicki, who went on to have a little bit part in Steel and Lace, after which he transitioned almost exclusively to special effects work, and has done pretty well in that arena. Only 3 cast members *ever* acted again, and just about everybody on the crew had multiple jobs, including Melanie Phillips (who directed, co-produced, co-wrote, co-composed, and edited), Chris Huntley (acted, co-produced, co-wrote, co-composed, worked in the sound department, and did visual effects), and Mark Sawicki (acted, co-produced, and also worked in the effects department). To give you an idea of just how small the production crew was, the flick has a "special thanks to" section at the end of the movie, and that list of names has more different people in it than the credited production staff. The list of "thanks" credits is actually comprised of friends, classmates, and family members of the primary crew who worked for free when they were able so, if nothing else, you'd have to say that everyone must have been having fun.
It's really tough to say which aspect of the movie is actually the worst, but the special effects have to be given serious consideration. Personally, I'd say the plot is the worst, simply because it's one of the few aspects that can still come across well regardless of a movie's budget. That said, the stop-motion animation of the cave critter is laughable, even before considering its outlandish design. Chris Huntley, the guy who made it, claims not to have noticed the monster's resemblance to a vagina at the time, and I'm certainly not gonna call the man a liar, but there's absolutely no missing it, and that oversight easily becomes the flick's greatest asset as far as entertainment value. Still looks like crap, but it's really funny to watch. Not much else to mention other than a coupla piles of goo with red food coloring sprinkled in, but the movie's so dark that they're difficult to judge. Definitely not all that impressive, but once you've seen the monster you're not likely to even remember any of the other effects.
The shooting locations and sets provide a boost to the film's overall quality, with many of the underground shots rising close to the level of the set design on The Boogens. At one point during the filming, the crew was able to gain access to a fairgrounds display that had been previously constructed to resemble an 1880s gold mine, and these scenes come across pretty well. The rest of the interiors were built and filmed inside the director's grandparents' garage, and while they're not as good as the shots filmed in the display they were able to rent, they're better than you'd expect for the budget. One downside to having the two noticeably different sets is that it's impossible to ever get a grasp on where anybody is in relation to anyone else, but for the level of funding they had, I think they did pretty well in this regard. The opening sequence was actually filmed at a real mine some time after principal photography had wrapped (they decided later on that they needed a "teaser" shot that typically comes before the credits), and fortunately for the crew, nobody went very far into that particular mine, because according to the director, a few months later some actual miners went further inside to find out if it was worth reopening, and subsequently died from exposure to toxic gas. Isn't that just a happy little note to end the review on? The soundtrack consists primarily of a synth composition that bears a striking stylistic resemblance to several John Carpenter films (particularly The Thing and Halloween III), and is actually damn good most of the time. It's ominous, tense, and surprisingly catchy, particularly the tracks that play during the opening credits and the sequence where the group first enters the mine. The IMDB claims that the soundtrack was added later by the distributor, and I have no idea one way or the other whether that's true, but I can say unequivocally that it's the best thing about the movie. Overall, it's not passable based upon production or entertainment value, but it's got such a promising premise that I don't expect my condemnation to dissuade anyone from watching it. I read all the same bad reviews and gave it a shot anyway, just as you probably will, and that's your prerogative, but I've gotta say - the bad reviews are accurate. Flick just moves way too slowly to recover once the action does finally start, unfortunately. Skip it and check out The Boogens instead.