Year Of Release: 1990
Running Time: 88 minutes
DVD Released By: Full Moon Features
Directed By: J.S. Cardone
Writing Credits: J.S. Cardone
Starring: Louise Fletcher, James Hong,
Miguel A. Núñez Jr., David Beecroft
1. On The Dark Side Of Dreams, A New Terror Takes Shape.
2. In Alien, No One Could Hear You Scream. In The Shadowzone, That's All You Can Hear.
Review Date: 3.29.08 (updated 1.1.10)
Shadow's Title: "Sleepzone"
Buy This Film From Amazon
Captain Hickock – This guy works for NASA and comes to the Project Shadowzone facility in order to investigate a death among the test subjects. He doesn’t come across as a hard ass by any means, but just a regular Joe wanting to find out the truth so he can move on to his next assignment.
Dr. Van Fleet – The leader of Project Shadowzone and like many movie scientists, he doesn’t seem to ponder the costs of what he is doing, charging forward with little regard for the possible consequences. He is not the least bit excited about Captain Hickock’s arrival, wanting him to leave ASAP.
Dr. Erhart – Van Fleet’s assistant. She defends everything he does and thinks he can do no wrong. Somehow it gives her the right to henpeck the poor bastard, reminding him to eat, sleep and no doubt how many times to wipe when he takes a crap (one up, one down and once to polish).
Dr. Kidwell – This is another scientist working at Project Shadowzone. Kinda hot. What her area of expertise may be is never revealed. Then again, the same could be said of everyone else. However, she does form an attachment to some of the lab animals, Bingo the monkey in particular.
Wiley – It seems damn near every movie like this had one black guy in the cast…hence the B-Movie stereotype of the token black character. In this movie Wiley here fills that role and like all those that came before him, he doesn’t do any better job at surviving the film than his predecessors did.
Tommy Shivers – Any time a group of people is trapped somewhere in isolation with a monster on the loose, there will always be one that begins to loose his grip on reality. Often they are a first class chickenshit to begin with, so the dangerous situation just amplifies their unstable personalities. In this film that would be this dork.
Mrs. Cutter – Mrs. Cutter here is the one who prepares all the meals for the Project Shadowzone personnel and I have to wonder if she is really all that discerning of a cook since she looks like she’d be willing to eat damn near anything. We learn that she once ran a whorehouse. Now that is scary.
Jenna – Volunteer test subject in Project Shadowzone. She has not been there very long, having replaced the poor schmuck that died. She spends the entire film completely naked and doesn’t utter a word until the very end. Constantly nude and quiet? Talk about the perfect woman!
James – This is the other volunteer test subject in Project Shadowzone. There really isn’t that much known about him. We can surmise that he must have had a really crappy life if he was willing to volunteer for a program that would require him to spend so much time asleep.
Jon Doe – The unwanted alien visitor from another dimension, who the Project Shadowzone personnel dub John Doe. Like many illegal aliens, he goes on the run as soon as he gets here. However, unlike most of those immigrants, he actually manages to learn English at one point.
Plot Hold your cursor over an image for
a pop-up caption
We start this movie up by looking at the bottom of a chain link fence at night. I don’t know about you, but I’m already hooked. Nothing grabs my attention faster than a thick gauge of wire, tight mesh and some sleek protective coatings. Yeah right. There seems to be a healthy breeze this evening, as all sorts of light trash, loose weeds and dust can be seen blowing around. After we see the movie title, the camera pans to the right and we now get a look at a sign affixed to the fence. It reads:
So Uncle Sam owns Jackass Flats? The name sure fits! Just one question…it says “proving grounds,” so is this where government bureaucrats are sent to prove that they are jackasses? Is there a way for other officials to measure their jackass quotient? Are there special jackass training sessions and seminars, to help further expand their jackass potential? Just wondering. So we continue to pan along the fence and listen to the sounds of the desolate wind, all while the credits are unfolding. Further down the fence we see another sign that simply says Keep Out and then finally a third one that proclaims that Trespassers Will Be Shot. We’ve also panned up some and re-focused the camera on the landscape beyond the fence, where we see a simple dirt road in what appears to be a rocky ravine.
Hmmm…wait a second. I recognize that area! Why, it’s Bronson Canyon in Southern California, the spot where a million movies have been shot! Ok, maybe not a million, but a shitload…and many of them cheap ass B-Movies from decades past. I’d recognize that place anywhere. It is kind of odd seeing it in color, as most times I have seen it, it was in black and white. Also, not seeing Ro-Man or the Blood Beast or the Monster From Green Hell running around is odd. Those critters and this location go together like fat on Rosie.
So now a helicopter comes buzzing into view further down the canyon. Gradually it comes in for a landing and sets down a short ways from the fence, where we see that it is not a very big craft, only large enough to hold a pilot and one passenger. That one passenger then drops a bag to the ground and disembarks. Retrieving his bag, he walks off, allowing the helicopter to lift off once again. As it flies away, the camera zooms in for a close up and we see that this recently arrived newcomer is Captain Hickock.
A honking horn draws his attention and he turns to see a small GMC pick-up truck. He runs over and jumps in through the passenger door. The driver, a man by the name of Tommy Shivers, tells Hickock that he was not expected until the following day. Oh, I bet that annoyed everyone. Don’t you just hate early people? I know women especially hate it when their men are early, or as they call it, premature. Although in turn, we men get terrified when women are late. We like to call that life being over. Anyway, Shivers introduces himself and then apologizes to Hickock for having to ferry him to his destination in this manner. Apparently, the winds are too strong “down in the canyon” for a helicopter to safely land there. Shivers then puts the truck into gear and gets it moving.
As they drive, Shivers theorizes that something must be “up,” as that could be the only reason why Hickock was sent to check up on this “mess.” Hickock shakes his head and explains that it’s standard procedure in light of deaths. Shivers then says that he is glad the other man is there regardless of the reason. When Hickock asks why, Shivers just says that in his opinion, Van Fleet and the other “eggheads” have been “down in the hole” for far too long.
The truck now enters a cave, where Shivers stops and the pair of them get out. Shivers leads Hickock through a door and into an elevator. Activating the controls, Shivers sends them on their way downward. As they stand there, you can see a small window set into the wall behind them. Through this window can be see the chiseled rock wall of the elevator shaft passing by as the lift descends. I get the distinct impression that the lift never moved and that behind that wall, some crewmembers rotated a mock-up of a rock surface past the window in order to impart the illusion of downward movement. The elevator shakes quite a bit as it descends, but Shivers assures Hickock that it will hold together and successfully make the descent.
The elevator finally stops, depositing them in an underground complex. Shivers explains that the place dates back to the fifties, when his father was a maintenance engineer along with two thousand other people who worked down here. However, the place closed in the early 60’s and has been falling apart ever since then. Um…“maintenance engineer?” Isn’t that just a grandiose name for janitor? So over two thousand people once worked here? Then why is there no parking lot? When Shivers brings Hickock to the installation, he parks in a cave that looks like it would hold another four or five vehicles, tops. Where did all those people park back in the 50’s? Did Shivers park in a cave that was the equivalent of the service entrance?
Shivers leads Hickock down a hall and stops at control pad on the wall. He presses the button, but nothing happens, eliciting a barrage of foul language from him. A new voice welcomes Captain Hickock to Project Shadowzone. The Captain looks up to see Doctor Erhart entering through a nearby door. She somewhat testily tells Shivers to get the Captain’s bag, then introduces herself as Doctor Van Fleet’s assistant. She then reaches over to the button that had given Shivers so much trouble, and presses it. Whatever it is supposed to so, it does it, as we hear a door open. She then looks at Hickock and asks him if he is hungry.
The next thing we know, the Captain, Shivers and Erhart are sitting at a table in what appears to be a galley. The two men are picking at plates of food while the Doctor goes over some paperwork. She expresses her hope that the food is ok, but Hickock just says that it is “fine.” Then she apologizes for Dr. Van Fleet being unable to join them, but explains that he and the others are working late tonight. The good Captain now says then when they are done eating, he would like to meet the others as well as see “the body.” This last bit stops Shivers in mid bite. He looks at Erhart, but she just replies, “of course.”
Erhart now inquires into how long the Captain’s investigation will take. He asks her why she wonders this, so she goes on to say that Dr. Van Fleet is at a critical phase in whatever it is they are doing, and would like to start the testing back up. So far, there hasn’t been a single clue as to what is going on in this ancient underground facility. Are these guys breeding giant guinea pigs? Are they trying to perfect the world’s best BBQ sauce? How about a project that aims to put an end to vending machines that steal your money? Now there is a project worth funding! Anyway, Hickock says that the length of his stay depends on what he finds during his investigation. When he says this, Shivers looks at Erhart with a weird look, as if to say. “Yeah now all the dirty little secrets around here are going to come out!” She just looks right back at him with a look that says, “Quit smiling or I’ll staple your balls to your shorts.” Naturally, his smirk vanishes and he looks back at his plate of food
Apparently discovering that his plate is empty – or deciding that whatever was on it was not worth ingesting – Shivers calls out to someone named Cutter, asking what there is for dessert. A fat broad now stomps into the room, places a covered platter down before Shivers and says, “Bon Appetit.” Then she lifts the cover, revealing a huge rat that has been caught in a trap. The creature seems to have lost a fair bit of blood, which has pooled conveniently near the body. Quite expectedly, Shivers is not overly enthused at the sight. Cutter says that there is his dessert and follows it up by calling him a “lazy hillbilly dipshit.” She reminds him again that for two weeks now, she has been after him to seal up some old air vents in the kitchen, so the rats can no longer get in. He says that he’ll do it, but he has other things to do as well. She tells him that he has twenty-four hours “or else.” When he asks what the “or else” means, she just says that after that time period has elapsed, he had better be careful what he eats. With that, Cutter stomps off.
Erhart now apologizes to Hickock for Mrs. Cutter’s behavior. She explains that the cook once ran a whorehouse in a neighboring county and thinks the experience has left her a little “bent.” Shivers chimes in and says that Cutter is a “psycho sonofabitch.” I want to know how having “whorehouse madam” on one’s resume helps in procuring a government job, even if it is as a cook? I just hope for the love of all that is holy that none of the ladies that worked in that place looked anything like Cutter. I can feel myself going sterile just thinking about it.
Now we see Erhart leading Hickock through some corridors. She is explaining that everything beyond a certain point has damage sustained in an earthquake. He then asks how long she has worked with Dr. Van Fleet. She tells him that it has been five years, and before that she was her husband’s assistant. She then adds that her husband is dead. Hickock says, “I’m sorry.” Then Erhart replies, “Oh, don’t be. I’m not.” HAHAHAHA.
They now enter some type of lab, where a few animals are kept in cages. We see a monkey, a rabbit and a…well, a monkey and a rabbit. Another woman enters and apologizes for all the noise the animals are making, and explains that they have not been fed yet. Erhart introduces this new gal to Hickock as Dr. Kidwell and then tells the other Doctor that the Captain is the “NASA man” they have been expecting. The monkey in the cage (who is named Bingo) behind her reaches out at this point and touches her shoulder, prompting Erhart to move away with a “hey don’t,” directed at the animal. She even jerks her arm away as if the monkey just smeared poo on her lab coat. I seriously thought the woman was going to reach in and strangle the poor critter. She just looks that mean!
Erhart tells Kidwell that Hickock has come to see “the body.” This prompts the two women to share and odd look, as if letting the Captain view the corpse in question is an undesirable thing. Oblivious to the look between the two doctors, Hickock asks if the animals are used in the tests. Kidwell says that they were in the early stages, before the Human testing had begun. Erhart adds that now they have just become expensive pets. Kidwell reveals that she has a tendency to get attached to her lab animals, proving this by opening the cage and allowing Bingo the monkey to jump out and perch on her shoulder. Erhart then looks at her and says “the body?” by way of reminder.
Now we see a different room. A scale hangs from the ceiling and in it is one big pile of bloody guts. Sinks close by are covered in blood. Ah, it all reminds me of the time I worked as a meat cutter…that lasted all of one day. Anyway, Kidwell leads Hickock and Erhart into this room where the Captain gets his first look at the body which keeps getting referenced. It must be in pretty bad shape, as he visibly recoils from the sight. Smiling ever so slightly at the Captain’s discomfort, Erhart asks him if he is ok. Then we get to see the body.
Stretched out on a table is the body of a man. The top of his head and skull have been removed in order to have easy access to the brain, which is quite visible. His ribcage has been cracked and spread open, revealing a large gap in the middle of his chest and a liberal amount of blood covers the rest of the body. Erhart and Kidwell approach the table, flanking it and looking at the dead guy. Whether Kidwell put him down or he jumped down all on his own, Bingo the monkey is now standing on the corner of the table. This whole time I keep expecting him to reach over and grab a big piece of brain and then run off eating it.
Hickock asks who cleared the autopsy and Erhart says that he (the corpse) signed a release, which is standard practice with all their test subjects. The Captain asks who this poor bastard was and Erhart says that he was just some guy who answered their ad. She thinks he had a job in security at a Las Vegas casino. Kidwell chimes in and says that it is her opinion that the guy died of a stroke brought on by a cerebral hemorrhage, though she won’t know for certain until the results of some tests are finalized.
Just then, Bingo the monkey does exactly what I was expecting him to do: he takes one of his little monkey hands and pushes on the dead guy’s head. This causes a small bit of blood to splatter on Erhart’s white smock. Naturally, she is somewhat annoyed. Kidwell apologizes then chastises the monkey. Returning to the topic at hand, Hickock asks what “caused it” and I am not sure if he is referring to the stroke or the cerebral hemorrhaging…or the monkey suddenly becoming a corpse-slapping nuisance. Kidwell babbles something about preexisting conditions.
The phone on the wall buzzes right about now and Erhart answers it. While she is occupied with that, Hickock asks if this man’s death was related to the project. Before Kidwell can say anything, Erhart tells whoever is on the other end of the line that they will all be right there, then looks at the Captain and tells him that there is nothing to indicate the death was project related. Yeah…and Godzilla’s propensity for attacking Tokyo has nothing to do with the fact that his films are made in Japan. Erhart informs the other two that Dr. Van Fleet is expecting them, as that was him on the phone just now. Erhart then walks out, followed by Hickock. Kidwell stays behind, no doubt to let her monkey abuse the corpse some more.
Erhart leads Hickock to a control room where a man named Wiley is busy working at a computer. The room is filled with some truly archaic pieces of equipment, including a couple of those old reel-to-reel computer banks that were state of the art in the Mesozoic era. The control room also has a large glass window that looks into an adjacent chamber, though we cannot see what is in there yet. Erhart introduces Hickock to Wiley, the latter welcoming the former “to hell.” Then he speaks into the headset he is wearing, telling the person on the other end that he is in fact NOT talking to them.
A quick cutaway shows a man in the adjoining room, where two people – a man and a woman – are contained in a pair of clear containers that look similar to the sleeping tubes used by the marines in Aliens. Indeed, the two of them appear to be fast asleep. Each of these two are also naked, and while I really don’t need to see the guy’s schlong, it’s obvious that the woman has been endowed by nature with quite a rack. Standing over them is Dr. Van Fleet, who is monitoring them as they snooze. Wiley speaks into his headset and says that the sleeping beauties are moving out of REM and into the first level. Then he relays a message to Erhart and Hickock that Van Fleet wants to see them.
Erhart now takes the captain to the door leading to the lab. She hands him a pair of goggles and tells him to put them on, adding that they use ultraviolet light to keep bacteria from growing inside the lab. She then pushes the button to open the door, but nothing happens. Then she bangs on the door and it finally slides to the side. Wow, nothing works around this place! Everything requires a blow from a fist in order to get it to work. My dad would be right at home! Cautioning Hickock to not touch anything within the lab, Erhart leads him through the door. In order to enter the lab, they have to make their way through an airlock chamber, waiting for one door to close before the next will open.
Once inside, Dr. Jonathan Van Fleet approaches and introduces himself. HOLD THE PHONE! Van Fleet? Van Fleet? With a last name like that, I was expecting this guy to be from the Netherlands or something. Far from being Dutch, this guy is oriental! I guess old Daddy Van Fleet really got around back in his day, in order for his kid to look like this. Then again, with a name like that, it sounds like he was in the navy, the merchant marines or something, so visiting the far east and knocking up some local broad might not have been totally impossible. Then again, maybe the Doc here was adopted. Anyway, Van Fleet apologizes for not meeting the captain himself, but says that the death of the test subject has really thrown things into disarray.
Erhart now excuses herself so the two boys can talk, but reminds Hickock not to take up too much of Van Fleet’s time, as it is getting late and the doctor needs his rest. WTF? Is Erhart the self appointed nag in this place? Is it her job to remind everyone to eat, to sleep and wipe their butts? No wonder her husband died…he was praying for sweet death to take him away from his miserable life of constant berating and nagging.
With Erhart gone, Van Fleet tells Hickock that the woman can be a bit overbearing at times, but is the best assistant he has ever had. It is his opinion that in order to lighten up, all Erhart needs is to get laid. Of course, he doesn’t come right and say that, but makes a little gesture with his hand to denote a pumping action. Still, the assertion is made that the woman is need of a little pickle tickle and let me just chime in at this point and exclaim, “Don’t look at me!” Naturally, Hickock laughs at this notion, which is no doubt why Van Fleet said it: in order to share a “guy” moment with the Captain and get him on his side.
The two men now turn their attention to the naked woman asleep in one of the nearby tube/capsule/container thingies. Yowza! What a pair on that girl! Van Fleet calls her his sleepy beauty and says that her name is Jenna. She is a relatively new volunteer at the project, having arrived just a few days previously as a replacement for “poor Mr. Hawkins” (or Harkness). I’m guessing that Van Fleet is referring to the dude that is currently laid out on the autopsy table with is heart and brain visible for all to see. Anyway, the camera gets in several good shots of the naked Jenna as she sleeps in her tube/capsule/container thingie. Of course, all we really get to see at this point are bare boobies, but I’ll take that for now!
After Hickock nearly drools all over the tube/capsule/container thingie’s glass cover, Van Fleet takes him over to see the other sleeper, a man by the name of James. The Doctor reveals that James has been there for about six months. Um…a quick off ramp: what are these volunteers getting paid? It had better be some major bucks! They have to sleep their lives away and apparently, could die while asleep. Now, I love sleep as much as the next guy, maybe even more so. However, I don’t want to sleep for six months! Hell, there are movies and TV shows I want to see, books I want to read, food I want to eat, people I want to annoy with my website and …uh…er…ignore that last one, will ya? My point is, these folks had better be compensated handsomely for basically giving up a portion of their life. Conversely, how bad does one’s life had to suck, when going to sleep for months on end and thereby missing out on everything, seems like a good idea?
Captain Hickock now notes that the two sleepers look dead, having obviously missed the breathing motions made by Jenna. Then again I was looking at her chest, so it was easy for me to spot. Van Fleet explains to the Captain that the test subjects are in an extended deep sleep, the result of severing the cortex from the lower brain stem. At this, Hickock bristles, thinking that Van Fleet and his gang have actually cut the brain stems on these folks, but the good doctor explains that the process is done by way of electronics, and that it is all safe. In fact, these two are unable to even wake up unless that connection was re-made. Van Fleets further expounds on the subject and says that back in the 40’s, scientists actually cut the brain stems on animals but after all these decades, they have finally perfected a away to accomplish the same goal without leaving the test subject brain dead.
With that, Van Fleet bends over and retrieves some gizmo that he hands over to Hickock. This thing looks exactly like the headrests being employed by the two sleepers. It seems that this doohickey is the contraption that electronically severs the brain stem. Hickock now asks if these thingamabobs could have been responsible for the recent death, but Van Fleet calls that idea “impossible.” He says there are no signs whatsoever pointing to any damage to the brain or tissue caused by his doodad. The dead guy simply had a cerebral hemorrhage and ceased living. It happens thousands of times every day, according to Van Fleet. It will be happening quite soon to me if this movie doesn’t pick up the pace.
Van Fleet now proposes they continue things in the morning, as it is late and he is fatigued. Hickock agrees, then asks if he can take a look at the computer analysis from the night the test subject died. Van Fleet seems to think about it for a couple seconds, even going so far as to look at Wiley through the big, clear window. Then he agrees to let Hickock see it, saying that he will have Wiley punch it up for him. With that he is off to bed.
While Hickock lingers in the lab, Van Fleet heads to the control room, where he asks Wiley if he was listening to the conversation with Captain. Hickock. Wiley answers in the affirmative, then wonders if it is a good idea letting Hickock see the information in question. Van Fleet figures that none of it will make any sense to the captain. Besides, he does not wish Hickock to sense any reluctance on his part or on the part of his staff.
Heading back to the kitchen/galley, we see quite the collection of dirty dishes. There are plates still half covered with food, nasty looking coffee cups and a general lack of cleanliness about the place. Along comes a big rat, checking out all the goodies laid out on the counter top. As the rodent sniffs at the rotting food I cannot help but hear “A Veritable Smorgasbord” in my head, sung by Templeton the Rat from the 1973 animated version of Charlotte's Web. I suppose this scene was included only as a way to remind us that fat Mrs. Cutter has rats to deal with in her kitchen.
After a quick shot of a hallway with one partially collapsed wall (no doubt from the earthquake mentioned earlier by Shivers), we see Captain Hickock asleep in bed. Although he is lying under a blanket, the bed is littered with numerous computer printouts, which almost form another layer to his bedding. Not only can they offer little in the way of warmth, they’re from an old dot matrix printer! Yikes. As Hickock stirs in his sleep, a hand reaches out of the darkness and covers his face, preventing him from speaking. The hand belongs to Shivers and he quietly tells the Captain that he is going to take him to something that he needs to see.
Now we see Shivers leading Hickock up some stairs, the Captain still clad only in underwear and a T-shirt. Shivers then removes a covering from the wall and climbs into the air duct system, telling Hickock to follow him, which the other man does after a brief hesitation. They crawl through the duct for a ways, Shivers in the front. Then we see Hickock approach a vent that opens up into the morgue area. How he got around Shivers to a forward position is never explained.
In the morgue he sees the dead guy that was laid out there earlier. On a nearby table is the naked form of Jenna the volunteer, who still seems to be asleep. Doctor Kidwell is present, but seems preoccupied with the dead guy, but Doctors Van Fleet and Erhart are busy with Jenna. What makes this scene really creepy is what Van Fleet is wearing. He seems to be wearing a large, dark rubber apron – like what one would find in a slaughterhouse – and not much else. Erhart is also wearing an outfit that shows off more skin, which in her case, is not a desirable thing by any means. The two of them are standing on either side of the table holding Jenna, and Van Fleet is making a motion with his hand, tracing an imaginary line down the middle of the sleeping gal’s chest. It’s clear that he is telling Erhart where to make a surgical incision. Erhart nods, then Van Fleet retrieves a scalpel from a tray and goes to work. A few seconds later, Doctor Erhart pulls a beating heart from the young woman’s body. Then smiling, the doctor looks right up through the vent cover at Hickock and asks him if he is hungry.
And with that, Hickock wakes up from his nightmare. He bolts upright and looks around briefly, then realizing that it was just a bad dream, he lies back down and laughs softly to himself. I don’t know exactly what it was in that dream that made it a nightmare; Shivers grabbing him in his sleep, Van Fleet in his rubber outfit, the extraction of a beating heart from a living person or Erhart’s more revealing attire…or all of it.
The sun is now seen rising in the West. Not that it does our cast much good in their underground facility. We get a couple of brief views of the desert, then an odd shot that first shows us a snake in the sand (looks like a big geranium) and then pans downward, through the layers of soil, to the corridors hidden below. Van Fleet and Erhart are walking down one of those hallways, the former quite upset at the presence of Captain Hickock. It seems Erhart was the one who reported the death of the volunteer, so Van Fleet is blaming her for the current investigation. He tells her to relax and that he will “handle it.” I presume he means the current situation and that last bit is not a crude reference to peeing.
In the lab, Dr. Kidwell is working at a gizmo sitting between the two tube/capsule/container thingies that hold the sleeping volunteers. Sadly for us guys (uh…straight guys), the one closest to the camera is the one with the dude, and since these sleepers are naked, we are exposed to this dork’s….well, dork. In the control room, Hickock is going over stuff with Wiley when Van Fleet enters and wonders what the problem may be.
Hickock says there is no problem, adding that he just wants to see the test that was run on the night the dead guy cashed in his chips. Van Fleet says that it is not advisable, and when Hickock wonders if that means the test is dangerous, Erhart now appears and says that it has nothing to do with the test. It’s just that the subjects have been in the “eggs” (I guess I can quit calling them tube/capsule/container thingies) for almost seventy-two hours and that is the maximum amount of time they like to keep them there. I’ve got to tell you, at this very moment (8:38 PM on a Friday) I am so ******* ************* tired from a long week at work, that a seventy-two hour nap sounds like absolute nirvana.
Captain Hickock now fires back, saying that according to the readout, it only takes five minutes to reach the EDS level the subject was at when he died. EDS? Erectile Dysfunction Syndrome? Yikes! That can kill you now? Where’s Bob Dole when you need him! Maybe it stands for Explosive Diarrhea Seizure? Damn, now that would really be a crappy way to die…literally! While we wait for someone to explain what EDS stands for, Erhart tries to dissuade Hickock, by saying that he doesn’t understand. The Captain then reminds her (and this is done only for our sakes, as she must already be aware of what he is about to say) that this project in long term deep sleep is of great interest to the space program, but with this recent death, their financing is in trouble of being yanked out from under them. Van Fleet, a little more edge in his voice, says again that the death had nothing to do with the tests they have been running. However, Hickock tells him that unless that can be proven, he is going to recommend that the entire project be suspended, pending further investigation.
Erhart is about to come unglued at the mere thought and starts babbling about throwing away years worth of work, but Van Fleet interrupts her and says that if Hickock wants proof, then he will have it. Looking at Wiley, Van Fleet tells him to bring the male subject to “level 31.” For his part, Wiley does not look thrilled at the idea, making me wonder if Level 31 is not some hip and trendy gay bar, but the Doctor tells him to do it. Wiley begins working at his computer and I have to wonder about what kind of operating system he is running. It seems every task is accomplished by use of the keyboard and not a mouse. We can hear him hit about a million buttons, but never do we hear the “click” of a mouse. Hickock now asks if he can watch the subject up close. “Whatever it takes,” says Van Fleet. With that, the Captain heads for the lab. Once he has left the room, Erhart tells Van Fleet that what he is doing is very dangerous, but he feels that they have no other choice.
Hickock enters the lab, where Kidwell informs him that the EDS level of the subject is displayed on a nearby machine. In the control room, Wiley continues to hit buttons on his keyboard as if he was playing an online Yeti game or something. His computer screen shows the current EDS level for the subject. Each numerical level is further divided by letters (1A, 1B, etc), so the desired level thirty one is in actuality about seven hundred and eighty levels up from zero. Erhart wonders aloud how far they can take it. Van Fleet orders Wiley to program the EDS level to hold at thirty-one, which “should be” safe. Should be? I don’t like hearing those words from a doctor. What would you rather be told: Take these pills and that nasty rash will go away, or take these pills and that nasty rash should go away? Yeah, I thought so. The medical world is no place for ambiguity!
Extended Deep Sleep! That is what EDS stands for! Hickock is in the lab with Kidwell and she is explaining how they have seen involuntary REM in deep sleep and now in EDS as well. The counter Hickock is watching finally stops at level 31A. He then borrows Kidwell’s headpiece so he can talk with Van Fleet in the control room. He tells the Doctor that according to the test results he read earlier, the deceased test subject had been taken to level 31F. The Captain’s meaning is clear: he wants the Doctor to duplicate the test exactly. Van Fleet tries to pass off the sub-levels as inconsequential, but Hickock is insistent.
In the control room, Wiley tears off his headpiece and tells Van Fleet that they “can’t.” I take that to mean that the tests they are running did in fact have something to do with the dead guy. In fact, I’m thinking the poor bastard died as a direct result of something that happened to him at EDS level 31F. Erhart says that what happened before could happen again, only worse this time. Pondering the situation, Van Fleet asks Wiley how long the dead guy had been at level 31F before they lost control. “Thirty five, forty seconds,” is the reply. Figuring that as long as they wrap things up before that much time has elapsed, Van Fleet tells Hickock, “31F it is.”
So Wiley taps another hundred keys or so and the sleeping guy is taken to EDS level 31F. Van Fleet motions for Kidwell to join them in the control room. She excuses herself and leaves Hickock, who is leaning over the “egg” holding the sleeping, naked dude. The seconds tick by, but the Captain shows no sign of losing interest, maintaining his vigil over the test subject. This has everyone in the control room on the verge of crapping in their pants. Kidwell enters and states that last time the subject died due to an accident, but if another death ensues from this stunt, it would be murder since they have intentionally brought it about. Erhart tells her to not start up with that again, then Van Fleet tells them both to shut the hell up.
Hickock circles the egg, watching the man inside. This unfortunately gives us an even better look at the guy’s wedding tackle, something I personally don’t need to see. The snoozing guy’s face begins to twitch slightly and in the control room, Kidwell announces a rise in his heart rate, but Van Fleet dismisses it as nothing with which to be concerned. Finally, with the time limit about to expire, Hickock thanks the Doctor for indulging him and leaves the lab. Van Fleet quickly instructs Wiley to bring the test subject back to normal, which of course requires about a thousand buttons to be pushed. Everything looks to be just fine.
WRONG! We see the test subject and the veins (and/or arteries) begin to bulge under his skin like his blood pressure just went up by a five hundred percent. Wiley notices on his monitor that something is wrong and profoundly announces, “oh, shit!” Van Fleet asks what is wrong and Wiley replies with “We’re interfacing again.” Van Fleet tells him to terminate it, but the technician cannot, as something is overriding the program. Then, like he was playing some text adventure like Zork, Wiley types a question into the computer: what is the origin of the override? The answer: John Doe.
Erhart wants to know what it means. Van Fleet suddenly gets all cryptic and says that “it’s coming out of the darkness.” They all stare through the big window and into the lab for a few more seconds, each person no doubt wondering what the f*ck kind of drugs Van Fleet is on. Then suddenly an alarm begins to sound. This is caused by the test subject’s heart rate increasing at an alarming rate.
This is the moment when Captain Hickock re-enters the control room. He wants to know what is going on, but Wiley is too busy pushing buttons like mad and bringing up vector graphic-driven images on his monitor to explain. Erhart won’t explain because she is busy yelling at Wiley to do something, like dump the memory and terminate the whole thing. Van Fleet chimes in and states that such a move cannot be done, as the program is bullet proof. I take that last statement to mean that the program would withstand any effort to hack it or circumvent it electronically and not that it would deflect actual projectiles from a gun. Hickock joins them by the work station and again demands to know what is transpiring.
Now for some reason, the entire complex begins to shake. A pipe ruptures, spilling some thick yellow stuff all over the place. Who knows what it is. Various machines are beginning to spark and then we see the test subject. One of his throbbing veins bursts, spraying blood all over the inside of his container. Alas, things rapidly get even worse when just a few seconds later, the poor bastard’s entire head explodes. This coincides with other explosions in the lab, which shatter the glass window between it and the control room, forcing an emergency bulkhead to drop into place. The power goes out and emergency lighting kicks in, which is of course, only emitted from red light bulbs. Is that a rule or something, that only red can be used foor emergency lights?
In the kitchen, Mrs. Cutter lights a candle and wonders aloud what the scientists are up to now. Elsewhere, Shivers emerges from a doorway, in the process of zipping up his pants and buckling his belt. Either he was taking a crap or he was playing with himself. Or both.
Back in the control room, everyone is stretched out on the floor, having obviously been thrown there during the final explosions/shaking/whatever. An alarm or emergency klaxon of some type is wailing nonstop. Wiley jumps up and checks on the computer (which involves about three sentences worth of buttons being pushed on the keyboard) and announces that the back-up power is online, so the computer is safe. Hickock now inquires into Jenna’s (the female test subject with the big boobs) status. Wiley queries the computer with this typed-in question:
Status: Eggs Benedict?
His answer is equally ineggsplicable:
Egg Foo Young…All Systems Traumatized.
Huh? Why all the egg references? Wiley announces that Jenna’s egg is online but she is in trouble. Van Fleet says that he and Kidwell will go in to check on her. Wiley tells them to "dress for it” as the ammonia lines have ruptured. Aha! That’s what the yellow crap was in that broken pipeline! Captain Hickock says that he will be going with them, so the three now head for the airlock that links the control room with the lab.
Elsewhere, Shivers is throwing a switch, which seems to return some of the normal lighting as well as kill the alarm that has been blaring.
In the control room, Wiley gets a call from Van Fleet over his headpiece. The Doctor says that they are suited up and ready to enter the lab. Wiley advises caution, as the room is filled with lethal toxins. Van Fleet asks about the girl. Erhart, standing next to Wiley, now speaks and says that the girl is stable, but there is a problem with the unit. It seems they cannot modulate the levels in any dream mode, which basically means that they cannot wake her up. Van Fleet then says something about using a portable doohickey to do something until Wiley can work out the bug in he unit. With that, Van Fleet, Kidwell and Captain Hickock enter the lab, all of them now wearing full containment suits.
The lab is dark, light coming from just a few sources, Jenna’s container (I just cannot call them “eggs”) being one of them. Lots of smoke fills the air and while Kidwell moves off to get the LSS (the portable doohickey), Van Fleet and Hickock shine their lights over Jenna’s nude form again, taking the opportunity to ogle under the guise of checking to see if she is okay. They relay this back to Erhart and Wiley, the former seemingly in a good mood at the news. I guess she does not yet realize that James suffered a fatal migraine. She and Van Fleet trade some more technical talk and the latter thinks the trouble is at the control room’s end. He asks if the monitors are working, but they are not...it seems the video circuit was blown in all the commotion.
Wiley then gets an idea and begins pushing buttons like mad. Then he monkeys around with some other equipment and says he is going to try the heat sensors. He flips a switch and a graphic comes up on his computer screen that represents the lab. On it are four heat sources: Jenna asleep in her container and then Van Fleet, Kidwell and Captain Hickock. Wiley then watches as they move Jenna’s container into the airlock. As he looks on, he notices something odd on the screen and calls it to Erhart’s attention. It seems to be a fifth heat source. He asks the computer to identify the life form and it tells him that it is John Doe. This information elicits another profound statement from him: “shit.”
Van Fleet wants to know what the problem is, so Erhart tells him that John Doe has come to visit. Hickock asks who John Doe is, but Van Fleet just shuts the door to the airlock, where the Captain and Kidwell had moved Jenna’s container. This leaves Van Fleet alone in the lab with this John Doe visitor. He asks Wiley over the radio where it is. Wiley tells him that it is about twenty meters away from his current position, over by the oxygen racks. He should easily see it. However, Van Fleet cannot see it and in fact, sees nothing out of the ordinary. The doctor decides to get closer, but Erhart thinks he should wait until they can analyze the situation. A sensible precaution, right? Do you think Van Fleet listens to her? Oh, hell no.
He rhetorically asks why wait for the inevitable. Indeed! We should all proceed to the nearest oven and place our heads inside. After all, why wait for the inevitability of death? In the airlock, Hickock is about to suffer cardiac arrest. He wants to know who this John Doe is. Naturally, no one is forthcoming with an answer for him. Consequently, he is getting just a wee bit on the pissed off side. Seriously, he looks like he is about ready to start cracking skulls.
Van Fleet continues to get closer to John Doe, at one point getting startled by some venting steam. Eventually he is close enough to “kiss it on the lips” according to Wiley. Erhart tells him that he is practically on top of it, but he still cannot see anything. As he turns and scans the smoky room with his flashlight, something changes. His facial expression turns to one of horror and he mumbles, “Madam Pip” out loud. Then he spins and looks behind him. There, facing away from him is a human figure of a woman. It quickly turns in his direction, revealing a face that is best described as bursting with tumors. She looks like she fell out of the fugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. The monstrous figure then leaps at Van Fleet with arms outstretched. The last we hear of the good old Doc is some high-pitched screaming rarely heard from a man who has not been kicked in the balls. There are also the sounds of a brief struggle and then…silence.
Hickock and Kidwell now rejoin Erhart and Wiley in the control room. Shivers is also a recent arrival, entering in time to hear Van Fleet’s last few seconds. Then something begins banging on the other side of the emergency bulkhead that dropped down to replace the shattered window. “That is John Doe,” Wiley says, a definite sense of fear in his voice.
The next thing you know, everyone except Wiley is gathered in the galley, and they seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can shout the loudest. Hickock finally tells everyone to shut up, allowing Erhart to explain what she knows. She says that by taking test subjects beyond the normal levels of dream state sleep, they discovered that the subconscious acts like a radio tuner. She goes on to say that Van Fleet had proven that the brain wakes itself on occasion as part of a defense mechanism. Kidwell now chimes in and says that by breaking down the natural boundaries of the Sleep State they discovered that a parallel dimension exists and that the human brain is capable of perceiving it.
Erhart now adds more, saying how communication was the first stage. The test subjects interfaced with John Doe – a life form from this parallel dimension – and the computer acted as interpreter. Hickock then asks how this thing got to their world and Erhart admits that she does not know. Shivers butts in and wonders if the captain is actually buying “this shit.” In fact, Erhart has had to tell Shivers to shut up a time or two already, as he has been interrupting. It is apparent when looking at him and taking into consideration his body language, that poor Shivers is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. He’s about as calm as a class 5 hurricane.
Mrs. Cutter now decides to add her two cents to the conversation by firmly announcing her intention to “get the fuck out of here.” Alas, Shivers has bad news for her: the only way to the top is sealed shut and he cannot get it opened. It seems the old equipment put in place to detect radioactivity and shut the place down to prevent it from escaping has been activated. Realizing what this means, Hickock asks if their new visitor is radioactive, but Erhart just says it is very minimal. As long as the extradimensional guest is there, so are they. The comm lines are brought up next, but the ones leading to the outside world are down. So basically, they’re all boned. About now Wiley buzzes them over the intercom and advises them to return to the lab.
Jumping to the control room, Wiley is explaining that whatever was in the lab is now gone. The mysterious John Doe from another dimension is footloose and fancy free it would seem. Erhart doesn’t believe it, as the floors, the walls and ceiling of the lab are solid lead. There is no way out. Shivers speaks up and says that there is a water drain that they had him install in the past. It leads to the main water system. Hickock is unsure that a creature big enough to put dents in the emergency bulkhead could somehow squeeze into a water drain. Wiley then grabs a printout and says that he had the computer analyze the organism’s chemical structure. He hands it to Erhart, who looks it over and notices that the thing’s mass/density ratio changed. In simple terms, the creature can alter its shape and size at will.
Erhart seems impressed by this information, but Shivers, sinking further and further into panicked dementia by the minute, wants to know how they are going to kill it. Erhart says that they won’t, but Wiley thinks they had better do so. For now they are safe from the creature, as the airlocks are vacuum-sealed, but unless they get the main transformer back online, they will run out of air in a few hours. This news manages to get Shivers even more unnerved, and right now he is about as jumpy as a porcupine on his wedding night. Hickock is aghast that they don’t have contact with the outside on a daily basis. Erhart confirms that they are completely isolated, which is the way the late Doctor Van Fleet wanted things.
Hickock asks Shivers if they can cut through the main airlock, but Mr. Chickenshit says that it’s made of eight inches of lead and steel. I guess that means they’d need nothing short of a lightsaber in order to cut it. The Captain now sees no other alternative: they will have to fix the transformer. If he doesn’t contact his superiors by the following day, they will send someone to check up on him. All they have to do is hold out until then. Alas, Shivers claims to know nothing about fixing a transformer and refuses to venture out into the complex.
So it is decided that Hickock and Wiley will go work on the transformer, while Shivers and Kidwell will go to the kitchen and bring back Mrs. Cutter, along with some food. Erhart will remain behind to monitor and work on the surviving “egg.” There is some technical mumbo jumbo exchanged but it all boils down to this: they cannot wake Jenna until the computer problem is addressed, and the temporary fixes they are using won’t last much longer. No power = no computers.
We see Kidwell and Shivers heading toward the kitchen, the latter having retrieved a shotgun from somewhere and busily loading it with shells. Kidwell points out that he is more likely to blow his foot off than anything else. Meanwhile, Hickock and Wiley are descending some stairs, no doubt heading to the main transformer. In the control room, Erhart scrutinizes a printout she has laid out on the floor. As she goes over it, there is the clear sound of yelling in the distance. She looks around but sees nothing.
Back with Kidwell and Shivers, they are making their way cautiously along when Kidwell hears the sound, too. She thinks it may be the monkey screeching and wants to go look for it. She leaves Shivers alone, telling him to meet her back in the kitchen. Below somewhere, Wiley and Hickock are also moving slowly through the corridors when the Captain hears the same sound. He looks behind him but there is nothing there. The two continue on into a darkened room where the main transformer awaits them.
We see Erhart replacing some gear on Jenna’s “egg” then we jump to Kidwell walking through the room where the test animals are kept. Some of the cats seem to be afraid of something. Kidwell gets on the intercom and calls to Shivers, who is in the kitchen with Cutter. The two are loading up food on a cart. Shivers doesn’t want to answer the call, figuring it will just be trouble, but Cutter goes ahead and responds. Kidwell tells her that Bingo the monkey has gotten out of his cage and may be heading that way. She wants Shivers to look for him. Cutter promises to relay this to Mr. Chickenshit. He doesn’t want to go look for the monkey, citing the need to help Cutter with the food, but Cutter says that she can handle it. She sends an unhappy Shivers off to search for the monkey, telling him to meet her at the elevator.
Now we see Kidwell walking down a hall with her flashlight, looking for Bingo the monkey. She calls out to him, but hears nothing. Elsewhere, Shivers is also making his way through some area of the facility that have fallen into disrepair, clutching his shotgun as if he were a junkie and the weapon fired crack fixes.
Back with Hickock and Wiley, the Captain asks the technician how it looks. Wiley replies that there are several circuits that will need re-wiring. Then he gets shocked and hurts his hand. Hickock says he will do the re-wiring, and all Wiley need do is talk him through the procedure.
In the kitchen, Cutter is adding food to the cart, and singing to herself. She seems entirely too happy for the situation everyone finds themselves in. As she walks around, she hears a quick snapping sound and brief squeak. Knowing that one of her rat traps has worked, she mutters something about getting the “little bastard” and then reaches into a heating vent and pulls out a dead rodent in a trap. Seeing that the deceased rat did not manage to get the cheese used as bait, she opens the trap, lets the corpse fall to the floor, then resets it. Reaching and leaning into the duct once again, she goes to place the trap back where it was.
SNAP! We hear the trap snap shut and then hear a squeaking sound. Cutter, who had previously placed an apple in her mouth in order to free both hands, struggles to pull her arm from the duct, but something is preventing her. She tries to scream, but only produces some muffled moans. She continues to pull, the sounds of tearing and ripping now filling the air. Blood begins spraying out of the duct, covering her face, She finally spits out the apple and lets loose with a scream. Just then a giant rat’s head comes busting through the wall in slow motion. It seems Mrs. Cutter just fell victim to the revenge of the rodent. I just want to know one thing: since the giant rat is breaking through the wall a few feet away from Cutter, then what exactly is Cutter struggling with? What has a hold of her arm?
In the control room, Erhart gets on the intercom and wants to know what is going on out there. After there is no reply, she activates the comm again and asks if anyone can hear her. She calls to Kidwell and Wiley by name, but again there is no response.
Kidwell is still looking for her monkey. As she passes one room, a skittering sound draws her attention, so she enters. The room is used for storage and is filled with lots of boxes and large crates all stacked atop one another. She hears something from behind one large stack and calls to Bingo. Then she begins climbing the stack of boxes and gets up rather high, so that when standing on the top crate, she is about eye level with some overheard piping. Using her flashlight, she sees the source of the sounds: a rat running along one of the pipes. This startles her and she loses her balance, falling to the ground below and landing hard on her back. She slowly picks herself up and after hearing a loud squeak, spies Bingo the money sitting on a nearby box. She calls to him and he runs over into her arms.
At the transformer, Hickock has completed the re-wiring and asks Wiley what needs to be done next. There is no reply. Hickock turns to look, but the other man has vanished. He pans around the room with his flashlight, but Wiley has apparently exited out the wide open door. Hickock climbs down the ladder from where he was working and BOO!! There is Wiley, who startles him. It seems Wiley just went off to take a leak. With the re-wiring complete, Wiley says they need to now open the circuit. He walks over to a switch, flips it and the power comes back on. Alas, their celebration is short lived, as within seconds the lights go back out. Wiley theorizes that the circuit won’t hold the current, and this time no amount of re-wiring is going to solve the problem.
Returning to Kidwell and Bingo the monkey, she has brought the little beast back to the room with the other animals. She drops him on a table and then hits the comm button, calling to Shivers. No reply. However, Erhart responds and asks what is going on. Kidwell explains how Bingo got loose and she went looking for him. Erhart then asks where everyone is. Kidwell is not sure, saying that she is trying to round up Shivers and Cutter so they can all regroup. About now Shivers breaks in, saying he is in the kitchen but that he cannot find Cutter, who was supposed to meet him at the elevator. Kidwell tells him that she found Bingo, so he is to meet her at the lab on the way back. This confuses Shivers, who claims that Bingo the monkey is with him in the kitchen at this very moment, “stuffing his ugly mouth with grapes.”
Kidwell say that is impossible, then turns to look at the monkey she has with her. What greets her is what is best described as a monkey that has been run over by about ten big rig trucks. The horrible thing screeches and leaps at her. In the kitchen, Shivers hears her screams over the intercom while Erhart can make them out from her position in the control room. Shivers calls to Kidwell, but it is apparent the poor woman has met a horrible demise. Backing away from the intercom, Shivers now comes across the small section of hallway where Cutter’s body is laid out, one arm missing and blood everywhere.
That is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. After everything else that has transpired, poor Shivers cannot take any more and his tenuous grip on sanity pretty much vanishes. He lets loose with a horrified scream that even Hickock and Wiley can hear, then goes running off down a hallway, wailing like a banshee the entire way. He races to the elevator and frantically pushes the button, but the door fails to open. He hits the control with the butt of the shotgun, loosening it and sending sparks into the air. I’m guessing he just unintentionally made sure the elevator is out for the rest of the film. Not that he cares, as he runs off in a new direction at this point.
Below him somewhere on another level, Hickock and Wiley can hear his screaming as they are trying to run upstairs and find out what the hell is going on. They call to him repeatedly, but of course, there is no answer. By now, Shivers has stopped running and is standing in the middle of a hallway, looking around, shaking and generally coming off as a man who has already soiled his undies out of fear.
Meanwhile, Hickock and Wiley continue to look for him. They find their way into what looks like a lab or infirmary. Wiley accidentally knocks over a shelf, causing a loud crash and making himself jump. Hickock quiets him down and says that he hears something. Not far off there is a skittering sound, like something small running across a tile floor. As they investigate, Wiley wonders why they are even searching for Shivers, since the other man has a shotgun and they are only armed with a light. They poke around some more and suddenly from out of the darkness comes…Bingo the monkey. Both men jump and then laugh as the animal runs off down the hall.
Shivers is still standing in the middle of that dark hallway, gripping his shotgun tighter than a drowning man grasping at a life preserver. His nervous shaking makes it likely that he will discharge the weapon out of sheer fright. With each passing second he grows more and more unsettled, until finally, a drop of water falls from a pipe overhead and lands on the back of his hand. And with that, he looses it completely. He begins turning one way and then another, firing his shotgun in every direction. Of course, all he is managing to do is put holes in the walls, but that doesn’t stop him from expending every shell in the gun. Watch the first shot carefully and you’ll notice that the wall explodes from the impact before the flash from the shotgun barrel can be seen. He squeezes off at least eighteen shots in this scene without reloading. I counted eighteen discharges, but the pump-action on the gun could be heard more times than that. I know little about guns, but even I know that those must be the tiniest shells on Earth if he managed to stuff eighteen of them into the gun’s magazine (the most I have heard of is ten). Nevemind buckshot or birdshot…I think those were Mouseshot!
Hickock and Wiley hear all the racket and come running, but they are too late. Once Shivers has fired his last shell, something comes hurtling out of the darkness at him in a POV shot. He screams some more, but when the other two men arrive on the scene shortly thereafter, all they find is what is left of Shivers…which isn’t much. A thick coating of blood covers the walls, floor and ceiling. Some tattered remnants of clothing remain, as well as his eyeglasses. There is also a small bit of guts sliding down the wall, but for the most part, Shivers looks like someone tossed him in a blender and hit Purée.
Now staring off into the darkness that lies beyond the big puddle that is Shivers, Wiley plays the flashlight back and forth over the area, as if he has caught a glimpse of something. Hickock realizes that the creature that just reduced Shivers to paste is lurking within that darkness. He tells Wiley to run and the two men haul ass back the way they came. They race to the elevator, where Wiley tries repeatedly pushing the button, unaware that Shivers pretty much broke it a few minutes earlier. The technician then runs to a switch box about ten feet away and says that he will try to bypass it. He tells Hickock to keep trying the button.
Eventually Wiley crosses the right two wires and Hickock gets the door open. The Captain enters the lift while Wiley ties off the wires. He heads toward the lift but the wires spark and the doors begin to close again. Both men struggle to keep them open but Wiley is unable to get inside. Hickock can see him through the glass window set in the door and within seconds it is apparent that Wiley’s attention is drawn by something down the corridor, which the Captain cannot see. Whatever it is, it has Wiley absolutely terrified and he begins pounding on the door even harder and pleading with Hickock to open it. I’m guessing the shape changing monster took the form of Sally Struthers in a dominatrix outfit. That would certainly make me crap my drawers if I saw it coming my way.
Unfortunately, Hickock cannot get the door open and Wiley is jerked away from the door, as if something grabbed him and yanked really, really hard. There is an agonized scream and then the window is sprayed with blood. Wow, the cast of this movie is diminishing fast! Not wanting to wait around to see if he has visitors, Hickock pops open the door in the ceiling, climbs up into the elevator shaft and uses the service ladder to further ascend. He eventually makes his way into the air ducts and crawls his way out into the corridors once again.
We return now to Erhart in the control room. She is just sitting around, waiting for everyone to return, unaware than most of them have met sticky ends. A loud banging breaks the silence. She approaches the door and puts her ear to it. Silence. Then she touches it with her hand. BANG! Throwing caution to the wind, she presses the control that opens the door. It swings open to reveal Captain Hickock on the other side, using a fire extinguisher to bang on the door. He tells her to close and lock the door, adding that Shivers and Wiley won’t be coming back when she asks about them. She informs him that Kidwell won’t be joining them either, though she doesn’t know about Cutter.
Now Erhart asks Hickock if he saw their guest from another dimension. He shakes his head no. Then she begins going on about how remarkable it is, playing back a recording of Kidwell’s last moments with a monkey impersonator. The recorded screams are too much for Hickock and he demands Erhart shut it off. She does and then consults a computer print out. She explains how their thoughts shape the monster. Kidwell was looking for a lab monkey. That was the image in her mind when she encountered the creature. Then she references the name Van Fleet called out before he went screaming to his death: Madam Pip. Erhart remembers reading about her in Van Fleet’s psychological profile. Madam Pip was a carnival geek that scared the crap out of him when he was a kid. The creature took this form, triggered by the image in Van Fleet’s mind, which itself was brought on by his fear.
Hickock is getting disgusted by her admiration for the creature and tells her to shut up, reminding her that it just slaughtered five people. She just calls that the law of nature. Wow, what a heartfelt and caring woman. Again, I am beginning to realize just why her husband died. She continues to blather on about how this life form is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Suddenly we are saved from her impending speech by the power returning and the lights coming back on. Several shots show us rooms throughout the installation and the various electronic gadgets that flare to life once again, whether they be radios, toasters or computer screens like the one in the control room. The one now showing line after line of computer code. Erhart says that it represents a random search for access to the source code, which means someone is trying to gain entry into the project. Seconds later computer banks come to life, revealing that whoever this someone is, they have accomplished their task.
Erhart now tries to access project Shadowzone herself, but is told by the computer that she cannot, due to a program override. Next she queries the computer on the source of this override and is subsequently told that it is John Doe. Erhart announces to no one in particular that “it’ has interfaced with the computer again. Hickock looks at another monitor, the one showing the heat sensor data, and sees that John Doe has returned to the lab. He wonders what it wants, but Erhart does not know. She decides to ask it and types this question into the computer. Her response is line of line of binary code and then the words Indigenous Dimension Re-Entry. So in a nutshell, it wants to return to the realm whence it came. The E.T. phone/go home equation. Next She asks it why it wants to go home. Personally I think it misses its mother’s home cooking, but it replies with Organism’s Physiology Unadaptable. Nearing Termination.
The news that the creature is dying makes Hickock jump and shout “yes!” as if his team just won the Superbowl. The Doctor thinks he shouldn’t get too excited, as it will probably outlive them. He points out that they have air again, now that the power has returned. She now makes it clear to him that John Doe is the one responsible for that, and that it means it is offering to make them a deal. It needs their help to return home and that help comes in the form of Jenna the sleeping, hot naked chick. She would need to be brought to EDS level 31F in order for the connection to the other dimension to be made. Knowing how that affected the last person (oh, he of the exploding head), Hickock is not too thrilled with the idea. I think he just wants Jenna to live cuz he has already seen her naked and wants so badly to hit it, the thought of doing so is the only thing keeping the blood flowing between his brain and…other places.
The Captain volunteers to take Jenna’s place, but Erhart says that it won’t work. He would need at least a few hours in REM sleep before he could be induced into EDS, and they just don’t have that kind of time. On the other hand, Jenna is already there. The Doc thinks they can open and close the dimensional door before any harm comes to her. Besides, as she points out, if they do not attempt to do so, they’ll all be dead in a couple of hours. Hickock wants to know how they can trust the creature, so Erhart starts typing away at the computer again. She asks it if they can trust it and it replies with a very pragmatic, “You have no choice.” What is funny to note is that each previous time John Doe responded to them, the reply appeared in binary code first before being translated into English by the computer. This time, the asnwer came straight in English. I guess this John Doe is learning the local lingo. That’s more than I can say about most of California’s “immigrants.”
Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.
The next thing we know, Hickock is suited up again in a hazmat suit and is in the airlock with Jenna’s egg-container. In the control room, Erhart says that she is going to try and clear up the air in the lab. The Captain wants to know how he is supposed to gain entry, since Van Fleet had locked the airlock from the other side. She tells him that there is safety release that he can use. She promises to keep an eye on their guest. If he does anything funny, she’ll warn the Captain.
So Hickock opens the airlock door. Then all the toxic crap in the air is vented from the room. This is achieved visually by just playing in reverse some footage of smoke being blown into the room. The air now safe to breathe, Hickock removes his helmet. He looks into the lab and informs Erhart that he cannot "see it.” Studying the heat sensor output, she says that the creature has reduced its mass/density ratio to an unrecognizable size.
Captain Hickock pushes Jenna’s container back into the lab, allowing us a nice look at her naked body as she is rolled past the camera. Yowza! Once he has her back in the lab, Erhart walks him through the process of hooking her egg-container-thingie back up to the main system. After he hooks some hoses and cables back up, he looks around with his flashlight. There on the floor is a big red spot where Van Fleet met his end. Hickock says that he cannot see the creature, but he can sure feel it. Erhart sees on her screen that the creature is on the move and tells the Captain to vacate the area post haste. The computer graphic shows the little white blob that represents John Doe moving steadily down a short corridor, approaching a turn that will take it into the main lab where Hickock is at. The Captain is hesitant about leaving the girl, but Erhart reminds him that the creature needs her and will not harm her, so he finally gets wise and leaves the room.
He rejoins Erhart in the control room, where they monitor the proceedings. Soon enough Jenna has reached EDS level 31A. Erhart decides to try something, spouting off some pseudo scientific talk. Don’t ask me what it means, I don’t know. Gradually EDS level 31F is reached. After about thirty seconds, something sparks on her container and her heart rate begins to rise. At this point, I think hers is the only one doing so, the audience having fallen asleep by now. That is, those who aren’t taking a bathroom break. More sparks follow, then another rise in her heart rate. Her veins begin to bulge like her male counterpart before he went all expodey. Then her heart rate really starts to shoot up. Erhart decides to cut her loose from the system and enters the appropriate commands into her computer.
Within the lab, a bright light starts to shine. The heat sensor readout shows a new heat source forming at one end of the room. Erhart says that Jenna is “doing it herself.” I guess that means that unaided by the computer programming, the sleeping chick is opening a doorway to another dimension. Her veins are still throbbing and her heart rate still climbing, prompting Hickock to ask how long she can take it all. Erhart does not know. The lab is now not only brightly lit from the new dimensional doorway, but subject to the strong winds created by the portal. Either that or the creature is farting up a storm. Whatever the case, loose papers are being thrown about.
The monitor shows John Doe’s heat source moving towards Jenna’s container. Then we get a POV shot as the creature approaches the container holding the naked girl. In the control room, Hickock quietly urges the creature to use its doorway home and piss off. Back in the lab, we see a grotesque hand reach out and touch the glass of Jenna’s container. This appendage looks like it belongs to Freddy Krueger, as it looks withered and burned. Then we see a close-up of the creature’s face. I would use the words bowel movement to describe how it looks, whereas I would use the words lopsided and retarded to describe its facial expression. After a few seconds of ogling the naked chick (why not? Every other guy in the film has done so), John Doe walks towards the dimensional doorway.
Long about now, Erhart decides it is time she took leave of her senses and she announces that she has to “see this up close.” Hickock follows her into the lab, where the bright light is almost blinding. The illumination is coming from the newly opened dimensional portal, which looks like a column of light. Looking around, Erhart picks up a piece of what looks like broken pipe off the floor. She then approaches the column of light and extends the pipe into it. The length of pipe slowly vanishes into the light as she pushes it inwards. Then it leaps out of her grasp, swallowed by the portal as if someone on the other side had yanked it from her hand.
She stands there staring at the light while Hickock looks at Jenna in her container. He sees her bulging veins and shouts that something is wrong with her. He looks up but he is alone in the room. Erhart has vanished. A few seconds later she emerges from the column of light, evidently having stepped through to the other side. Her hands seem to be glowing with power. She looks at the Captain and yells, “there’s thousands of them!” Her words are cut short by the pipe she just pushed into the gateway a few seconds earlier. It has now been brought back through by John Doe and used to impale Erhart through the back and out her chest. She bleeds some from the mouth, but doesn’t utter another sound until she dies an instant later.
The shitty-looking (and I mean that literally, the thing looks like it is comprised of a series of turds stacked atop one another into a vague humanoid form) John Doe now grasps the Doctor from behind, and using the pipe lodged in her body as a handle, pulls her back into the portal. Apparently these people don’t like visitors who drop in unannounced and then just as quickly leave. They want her back.
Captain Hickock now races back through the airlock and into the control room. He tries accessing the computer via the keyboard, but nothing happens. In the lab, arcs of blue energy are now leaping out from the column of light to impact around the room. Getting nowhere with the standard approach, Hickock now runs out into the hall, breaks the glass on a wall-mounted container holding an axe, and returns with it to the control room. There he goes all Lizzy Borden on the computer equipment, reducing it all to junk within seconds. One swing produces a small explosion, which knocks him unconscious to the floor. Watch carefully and you’ll see him with the axe in his hand one second, and then an instant later when he is thrown backwards, his hands are empty. The axe is not on the floor either, it just vanishes. Fade out…
What? Did you think that was the end? Well, we still have a wee bit more to go. Sometime later the Captain wakes up, though it cannot have been much later, as the small fires are still burning and various pieces of equipment are still sparking. He heads back into the lab, but before he can get there he hears a female voice calling out to Doctor Erhart. It is Jenna. She is awake and wants out of her container, no doubt having to pee really, really bad after such a long nap.
Hickock comes up from behind and knock on the glass. She turns to see him and then tries to cover up her nakedness. Good grief. She had to have climbed into that thing while naked, so she must have known people were going to see her naked. Why is she so modest all of sudden? Hickock has been ogling her naked body since he arrived, though she does not know that. Still, she should have expected something like it to happen.
The Captain now opens her container. She sits up, sees the colossal mess strewn around her and asks him what happened. “It’s a long story,” he replies.
Freeze frame. Roll credits. Fade out.
The idea of a small group of people trapped in an isolated locale and confronted with a killer on the loose has long been a staple of both film and print mediums. The list of examples is entirely too long to mention here with any sense of completeness, but the most notable example is And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (you can look up the book’s original, decidedly non-politically correct name on your own) published in 1939. In that story, ten people are trapped on an island with a killer hidden among the group, murdering them one by one. The book was so successful that the basic premise has become something of a cliché in mystery books and movies in the decades since its initial release. Film projects used this same groundwork for their stories and many a thriller or mystery (many of which were based on stories by mystery writers such as Agatha Christie) graced the silver screen in Hollywood’s early years.
Naturally, genre movies would prove to be no exception to this practice, only now the killers in these films often took the form of an alien monster from beyond the stars. The Thing from Another World (1951) is the most well-known example, though later years saw numerous films with a similar theme, either set on Earth, adrift on a rocket ship amongst the stars or on some strange world far from our own. Despite the abundance of such films, two stand out from the crowd for the impact they would have on a later film: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and Planet of the Vampires (1965). Though very different from one another, their influence can clearly be seen in the 1979 film, Alien, released by 20th Century Fox. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film tells the tale of a small group of people trapped on board a space ship along with a highly aggressive alien life form. A financial and critical success, the film would become a cultural icon and in turn influence a new wave of film and moviemakers for years to come. Indeed, some assert that nearly every horror film made in the years since Alien, has ripped it off to some extent.
As the 1980’s rolled on, obvious Alien clones not only could be found at the local multiplex (which was sadly replacing the aged and dying drive-in theater circuit), but were starting to appear in the burgeoning home video field in growing numbers. Titles like Inseminoid (1981), Galaxy of Terror (1981), Forbidden World (1982), John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing (1982) and Creature (1985) as well as James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), the kick-ass sequel to Ridley Scott’s original, enthralled an entirely new generation of monster-loving kids, yours truly among them. By the early 90’s, the trend had pretty much run its course, but that never stopped filmmakers from jumping on the bandwagon before, why should it have been different then? Thus, Shadowzone was unleashed upon viewing audiences.
The roots of this film lay in the now long-defunct Empire Pictures, which was a small-scale theatrical distribution company formed by Charles Band in 1983. The son of director-producer Albert Band, Charles had been producing films since the early/mid 70’s and decided to set up the studio in Rome, Italy. There the company thrived for a number of years, turning out a number of low-budget horror and fantasy films such as modest hits Ghoulies (1985) and Re-Animator (1985), as well as others like Trancers (1985), From Beyond (1986), Troll (1986), Dolls (1987) and Robot Jox (1990). The studio began to falter in 1989 due to financial problems and soon folded up shop.
After the demise of Empire Pictures, Charles Band then relocated back to the United States and opened Full Moon Productions, again specializing in low-budgeted horror, science fiction and fantasy films. Band’s goal was to instill in each film the look and feel of a larger production without the prohibitive costs involved. Striking deals with Paramount Pictures and Pioneer Home Entertainment, Full Moon began producing and advertising their films for the growing direct-to-video market. The first film on the Full Moon slate was Puppet Master (1989) which turned out to be a big hit for the studio and would go one to spawn numerous sequels. Shadowzone was the second film produced under the Full Moon banner, which has gone through various name changes itself over the years (Full Moon Productions, Full Moon Entertainment, Full Moon Studios, Full Moon Pictures, Full Moon Features), but despite a few low points, Band and the company are still in the business of producing cheap genre flicks for the home video market. The epitome, in my opinion, of modern B-Movie filmmaking.
There is no getting around the fact that this film is a low budget attempt at cashing in on Alien’s earlier success. Truthfully, I have no problem with that. The more the merrier is my attitude. However, because of the inevitable comparisons, many people might be prone to judge this film too harshly because it can never measure up to the film it tries to emulate. Instead, the movie really needs to be analyzed on its own merits, taking into account its low budget pedigree. The film can be fun when in the proper frame of mind for it, but I would never go so far as to call it a classic by any means.
First we have Captain Hickock, the NASA guy who has come to investigate the recent death at Project Shadowzone. He is supposed to be our lead protagonist, but this guy has all the presence of a fart in a hurricane. We can presume he is a by the book kind of guy, as he seems determined to get to the bottom of things, even threatening to have the place shut down if the staff does not cooperate to his satisfaction. Yet, despite this hard ass attitude, he doesn’t come off as overly gruff or distant. He can laugh and joke with the others, which in turn does not make him seem overly authoritative. In the end, he just comes off as a bored officer who didn’t want the job he was given and though determined to see it done right, isn’t that invested in things. Then again, maybe that was how he was supposed to be. Who knows.
Then we have the three scientists, who seem to share a little more with standard B-movie scientists. The leader, Van Fleet, wants to charge ahead with his experiments, so he’d like to see Hickock leave as soon as possible. Erhart is a total kiss-ass, defending Van Fleet and agreeing with everything he says, while Kidwell seems to be the more morally centered of the bunch. She is the only one who doesn’t like the idea of what they are doing and says so. Not that the other two bother to listen to her. Van Fleet is hardly even in the film and barely has the time to come off as a somewhat arrogant, foolhardy scientist. What drives him is something completely left unknown. Kidwell doesn’t last much longer, but at least her good looks and apparent concern for others (including animals, which is what makes her the most endearing character of the entire lot) makes her death more regrettable. Then there is Erhart, who could make an Eskimo seem blazingly warm by way of comparison. She is cold towards everyone and doesn’t seem overly concerned that a killer alien is on the loose. In fact, she seems to have developed an admiration for the creature, fulfilling another B-movie role: the apologist. Her attitude towards the alien is annoying, but at least she doesn’t get proactive in hindering the others from killing it. Of course, all of them suffer the fate of fools who tamper with things that they do not understand.
The rest of the gang doesn’t fare any better. Wiley is the cool, hip computer technician. He is portrayed as knowledgeable and capable, but the situation the film puts him in pretty much makes him powerless to really help. Aside from a few expository moments, he doesn’t get all that much to do either. Mrs. Cutter is big and abrasive. There really isn’t that much more we need to know about her, other than the fact that she is battling rats in her kitchen. Shivers the maintenance guy is the most obvious stereotype: the cringing chickenshit. We can see this trait from the very beginning when he tells Hickock that he is glad the Captain in there. As the film progresses and the situation gets worse, Shivers gradually sinks lower and lower into full on cowardly paranoia. Living up to his potential, he wigs out, runs around screaming, wastes precious resources and then gets taken out rather messily. As for anyone else in the film (the sleeping test subjects), forget them.
None of these folks show the slightest bit of growth over the film. Then again, the plot moves so fast that none of them really get a chance to do much of anything except establish their presence, demonstrate their personality and then die screaming. Thus, the acting required for these roles doesn’t need to be of Shakespearean quality. Barely adequate is what I would call it. While not as painful as other Full Moon projects or as outright wretched as something from Troma, every scene and performance often seems more like a subdued rehearsal rather than the real thing.
Now let’s consider the gore and make-up work in the film. The dead body laid out on the autopsy table, splayed open and exposed for all to see, along with the pile of guts in a nearby scale look pretty good. At least until we get close and Bingo the monkey slaps an obviously rubber head. Later, the exploding head suffered by test subject James looks decent, though that may because it is only on the screen for a split second. However, the moments when the facial veins and/or arteries belonging a test subject begin to bulge outward don’t look quite as good, as the camera has to get close for the effect to be seen and the false heads are quite apparent, though they far surpass efforts I have seen in other films. The best make-up job is reserved for Madam Pip, which looks pretty good and creepy. I have a feeling that a large portion of the make-up budget went to that creation. In spite of another split-second screen time, a freeze frame reveals it to be pretty good. It’s a pity that it didn’t get more time on screen . Grade: B
Finally we come to the creature FX. In all cases, it doesn’t really live up to the make-up and visual FX work. The first example is the giant rat that kills Cutter. Once again, only a fleeting glimpse is shown as it breaks through a wall. In fact, with all the debris from the wall, it is rather hard to even determine that it is a rat. All we get to see is the vague form of a head and some big rat ears that would put Mickey Mouse’s to shame. All in all, not really great looking. Next up is the crazy monkey thing that attacks Kidwell. As usual, there is only the briefest shot of the creature as it jumps at the doomed scientist. Even then we can see that while it is designed and crafted well, it doesn’t exactly look alive, but rather stiff…like an undead monkey. Speaking of stiff, we come to the last monster seen in the movie, the alien in its natural form. This one gets more screen time than all the others combined and the pity is, that doesn’t help at all. The monster looks like a bipedal, ambulating pile of shit. It’s too thin to have been designed as a suit and is instead a stiff life-sized puppet or marionette. So not only does it look like living poop, but also it moves like a week old turd than has been lying in the sun. So the grade for this aspect is a C-.
it’s all over and one reflects on the film, the only thing that
seems worth remembering is the idea of the movie itself, because the
actual film was lacking in thrills and chills…even though it hit
all (ok, most) the requisite spots. The characters are all rather flat
and underdeveloped, in most cases existing solely to up the body count.
The FX work is good, bad and crappy, and the music is so subdued
you might not even notice it. Overall, this is a movie that is a mild
diversion at best. While it is playing out you’ll be drawn to
the screen, but once it is over and some time has elapsed, you’ll
be hard pressed to remember much beyond the basics. In other words,
watch this film when you have some time to kill and are just looking
to waste away an hour and a half. It’s the very definition of
disposable entertainment. Yet for all its flaws, a good time can still
be had with it.
Aliens – The otherworldly visitor here is from another dimension, not a different planet, but I still think that qualifies for this icon. Either way, it still did not own a green card.
Extreme Violence – People meet some rather messy ends in this film. While we don’t see much of their deaths on screen, we often see the big, sticky messes that are left behind.
Gore – Since the violence is mostly offscreen, all we get is some spraying blood and the remains of a dead body. The worst of it is a brief shot of a exploding head.
Gunplay - This icon is present for only one reason: Tommy Shivers' total spaz attack while carrying a shotgun and the subsequent shots fired. Not that they did him any good.
Haunted Houses – The darkened chambers and corridors of the underground complex facility where Project Shadowzone is being undertaken make for an eerie atmosphere at times.
Monsters – Not all aliens are monsters, but this one qualifies for its habit of tearing to pieces everyone it meets, and the way it looks like a walking pile of shit in its natural state.
Nudity – Two people get naked in this flick, but only one is a hot chick. While we get shots of big bare boobs and even some bush, we also get subjected to shots of the frank and beans.
Science – Project Shadowzone discovers that certain levels of deep sleep open doorways to parallel dimensions (and cause a severe case of the munchies upon awakening).
Technology – All sorts of electronic doodads and computers here, needed to help open doorways to other dimensions. Still, not a single computer mouse in the whole place.
Underground Hijinks – Everyone is trapped in a large underground complex. While appearing to be in the world’s crappiest office building, they're actually far below ground.
Deaths actually shown: 3
Exploding heads: 1
Characters who spend majority of film asleep: 2
Viewers who spend majority of film asleep: Plenty
Times Erhart applies lip balm: 6
Shotgun shells fired by Shivers without reloading: 18
Bare Boobs: 2
Exposed Schlongs: 1
Different types of animals seen: 5
Times Cutter looks right into camera: 8
Possible product placement brands seen: 14
Mins - There’s a first, spanked by a monkey.
Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time Jenna’s bare boobs are shown, take a drink (and yell Woo Hoo!).
for larger image
Erhart fondly recalls her husband.
“So how long have you been working with Doctor Van Fleet?”
Shadow’s comment: And before the poor bastard died, she no doubt uttered those three very important words to him: sign the will!
Reactions to the imminent arrival of John Doe.
“Son of a bitch!”
Shadow’s comment: Is that anything like coming out of the closet?
Cutter gets straight to the point.
Cutter: “I’m getting’ the fuck outta here!”
Shadow’s comment: You and me both, sister!
||This Film &
I remember stumbling across this film late one night in the early 90’s. I was flicking through the channels and found it on one of the pay cable networks, HBO or Showtime. Ever since seeing the original Alien and reading its novelization by Alan Dean Foster, I was a sucker for films about people in an isolated location pitted against some horrible monster. So this film was right up my alley. I came into the film towards the beginning, when Doctor Van Fleet and his crew are showing Captain Hickock how they ran their previous experiment. Of course, things quickly go to hell after that when their visitor from another dimension arrives. I can recall how I loved the suspense of having one person in the room with the monster, but unable to see it, while others were tracking it from another room. I also remember how disappointed I was when the beast encountered by Van Fleet looked like a carnival freak. At the time, the whole notion of a creature that could change shape depending on what a person was thinking wasn’t overly appealing to me. I wanted my monsters to retain the same form throughout the entire film. I was also less than thrilled with how several characters met their ends without ever showing what the monster looked like to them. In truth, that aspect still disappoints me, but oh, well. I may have caught the film in part or in its entirety a time or two after that, but it quickly disappeared and I forgot all about it. Then a few years back I saw it referenced online and I remembered watching it. I also came to the realization that it was a Full Moon film. Of course, back in the 90’s, I saw a slew of Full Moon projects on cable, but never really bothered to learn much about the company. It was only in more recent years, when recalling my viewing experiences of the previous decade, that I learned more about Charles Band and his various companies. When I procured the Full Moon Classics Volume one DVD set last year, this was the first film of the bunch that I watched. After a decade and a half, I find I am more forgiving of its shortcomings, having learned all about the studio and its low budget approach to making genre films. The lack of money is apparent in many areas, but the producers still pulled off one of Full Moon’s better efforts, in my opinion.
Shadow's rating: Six Tombstones