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Monday, May 31, 2010

Scared To Death (1981) review


John Stinson (Ted Lonergan), Diana Davidson (Jennifer Stanton), Toni Jannotta (Sherry Carpenter)

Directed by William Malone

The short version: William Malone's maiden monster movie is nothing overly special, but does have some good qualities and a nicely constructed, if derivative monster. A few moments of suspense, a decent score (also derivative) and a good lead performance add up to a minor footnote in 80's creature features.

Something living beneath the streets of LA is killing civilians when night falls. It is soon discovered that a Syngenor, a dangerous creature grown in a lab has escaped and survives off of the spinal fluid of its prey. Growing at a rapid rate, an ex-cop and a female scientist familiar with the creature hunt it down before it can claim anymore victims.

The early 1980's were rife with horror movies. If it wasn't slashers, it was monsters either from outer space, or man made creations. SCARED TO DEATH (made in 1979, but not released till '81) falls into the latter camp despite a title that would lead one to believe it was a stalk-and-slash movie. In a way, the film acts along those lines, but substitutes a masked killer for a guy in an impressive full body monster costume.

I remember first seeing it on Commander USA's Groovie Movies in the late 80's then buying the Video Treasures tape (in LP mode;remember those?) not long after. Seeing it again now in widescreen, it's a decent time waster punctuated by a few good scenes, but it's not as memorable as I remembered it being. Interestingly, pop singer/actor, Rick Springfield was set to headline the movie but backed out twice (and both times the night before filming was to begin!!) citing he would miss too many acting classes if he did the film(??)

There's quite a lot of stalking sequences and a couple of them contain some genuine suspense. One of the best involves a pretty blonde attempting to get her car started. Once it starts, it won't go anywhere. In the background, you can see something standing up behind her car. The music swells and this sets into motion the buildup to just exactly when the monster will strike. Another choice sequence is when the two protagonists discover the monsters nest in the sewer. It's asexual and ready to reproduce. Various victims are found only for the creature to make a surprise appearance and chase the two interlopers out of its domain.

The acting is what is to be expected in a picture such as this and some of the characterizations are nicely drawn. The creature design is quite ornate and reminiscent of something straight out of an H.R. Giger painting. Comparisons to ALIEN (1979) are unavoidable in terms of the look of the monster with its whole bio mechanoid design. You only see the monster at night, which adds to the effectiveness of the thing. The ending is also well done.

The movie was popular enough to gain a sequel in 1990 under the title, SYNGENOR. That film utilized the now tired plot of the military wanting to use a monstrous creation as a field weapon. There's plentiful squishy effects work and multiple monsters as well as a wacky co-starring role by David (Dr. Hill) Gale. In SCARED TO DEATH, the monster is incredibly strong and gets destroyed in an inventive fashion. For the sequel, the creatures are killed by running water of all things. The name of the beast stands for Synthesized Genetic Organism.

The musical score is successful in overshadowing the films meager budget, but is occasionally derivative not only of cues from ALIEN, but also PSYCHO (1960). Director, Malone went on to helm the superior creature feature, and even more ALIEN inspired, CREATURE aka TITAN FIND (1985). His maiden monster movie and subsequent outer space terror film attracted the attention of the makers of the TALES FROM THE CRYPT cable series and Malone took the reigns for two episodes and also directed the remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999).

It's not a genre classic, but less demanding viewers including fans of such low budget monster films like SLITHIS (1978) and C.H.U.D. (1984) will find a handful of cheap thrills in this drive in obscurity.

This review is representative of the Retromedia DVD


Tower Farm said...

Awww...Video Treasures tape...that tugged at my heartstrings! Though I've seen bits of this & seen the VHS/DVD in stores, strangely I've never sat through the whole thing. Looks awesome though -- I'll give it a try!

venoms5 said...

It's an okay movie, nothing overly special, but better than some of the other similar movies from around the same time. The sequel has some choice low budget action and gore, too.

Unknown said...

SYNGENOR was passable enough to make me want to see this one, which do you prefer of the two V?

venoms5 said...

This one has the better suspense and direction. SYNGENOR takes the win for dumbass fun factor, though.

Unknown said...

Nice, theres something to be said for dubassedness, Ill be sure to grab this one at some point to check it out yo

venoms5 said...

It's worth at least one look. Much better than the similar SLITHIS (1978) which just hit DVD.

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