Oct 4, 2011

Scared To Death (1981)

Director: William Malone
Screenplay: William Malone, from a story by Robert Short and William Malone
Producer: Rand Marlis
Music: Tom Chase, Ardell Hake
Cinematography: Patrick Prince
Special Effects: Tom Russo
Lone Star Pictures International; 93 min; color

John Stinson (Ted Lonergan), Diana Davidson (Jennifer Stanton), Jonathan David Moses (Detective Lou Capell), Toni Jannotta (Sherry Carpenter), Walker Edmiston (Police Chief Dennis Warren), Pamela Bowman (Janie Richter), Michael Muscat (Howard Tindall), Freddie Dawson (Virgil Watson)

Someone or something is going around killing the local hardhats, roller skaters, and party girls who won't go to see a Maria "Oos-pens-kya" movie, and Detective Lou Capell is clueless over the identity of the culprit. He recruits the help of his ex-partner, former detective-turned-hack-novelist Ted Lonergan to solve the crimes, but he steadfastly refuses.... until his new girlfriend Jennifer is jeopardized by this menace.

Scared To Death has the novelty value of being an Alien rip-off that takes place on the planet Earth. Not only is our creature earthbound, but it's man made. The Syngenor (SYNthetic GENetic ORganism) lurks around LA's sewer system, coming to ground when it needs to feast upon human spinal fluid, thus causing brain tumors in its victims, which therefore tips off brainy Sherry Carpenter (who's bespectacled, spunky and in need of an acting lesson) as to the true culprit, and accompanies the police to track down the monster.

Writer-director Malone's maiden effort sounds and looks quite good for a measly $74,000 production.  The bluish cinematography sets the mood, and the creature (designed by the director, admittedly inspired by Giger's Alien creation) is well done.  Although the movie is derivative of the horror movie clich├ęs that one found in slasher films of the time (where cars don't start, and women undress in front of open windows), it is however an old-fashioned movie at heart, with a minimum of gore or onscreen violence.  Even though the monster looks really cool, Malone wisely shows little of it until the climax, to sustain our quest for the unknown.  For all of these reasons, this movie likely stood apart from most of the slashers and the gashers of its day, which is why it has become a mini-favourite among genre fans.  With the one exception of the lady who plays Sherry, the performances are quite good for such an inexpensive monster movie.  In fact, the budding romance between Ted and Jennifer is quite cute and touching. (Trivia note: the hero was originally going to be played by Rick Springfield, who dropped out at the last minute.  Based on the evidence of Hard To Hold, this may not have been a bad thing.)

However, despite the interesting human relationships, this film has less to offer as it veers towards a standard cat-and-mouse climax.  Still, it is an entertaining flick all the same, and one wouldn't have gone wrong picking this up as a 99 cent rental back in the days of the mom and pop video stores; as such it is a pleasant throwback to when CSI's didn't wear disposable gloves when touching the mysterious ooze around the victims.

(In 1990, a sequel, Syngenor was released.  Retromedia released Scared to Death on DVD with the subtitle Syngenor to tie it with that film.)

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