Apr 10, 2019


Italian horror director Bruno Mattei, who died in 2007, once said, “I don’t think any of my movies are good.” Having seen just a handful of them, I’m…starting to believe him. If he were being fair, however, he should have added, “but they’re entertaining as hell.”

My introduction to Mattei was thanks to a little ditty called Cruel Jaws, a killer shark flick that was actually released in some foreign territories as Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws. Not only is it a beat-for-beat rip-off of Jaws (with some mobsters thrown in for good measure), it also brazenly lifts footage from the entire Jaws series, mostly shots of explosions, sharks, and exploding sharks. The degree of plagiarism going on was so absurd that Universal, rights holders of the Jaws series, issued a cease and desist the minute producers began testing the waters for a U.S. release. (A few years ago, Shout Factory very prematurely announced they would be releasing the title on Blu-ray, but anyone aware of Cruel Jaws’ litigation history predicted the distributor would inevitably walk back that announcement. They did.) For the freakishly curious, Cruel Jaws can be watched in its entirety on Youtube. (Bring your laughing face.)

Then came Rats: Nights of Terror, in which a group of punks surviving in a post-apocalyptic world fell victim to…rats. It was quite the night(s) of terror.

Finally, Mattei put his mark on the zombie sub-genre with Hell of the Living Dead, which I did see at one point and remember absolutely nothing about. It was probably pretty good!

Shocking Dark, my latest immersion in the world of Bruno Mattei…might be a new favorite. As its synopsis suggests, and which isn’t an exaggeration, Shocking Dark honestly looks like a $50 remake of Aliens, right down to the lifting of different characters and their very different traits.

Naturally there’s a Ripley (though she’s called Sarah — as in The Terminator’s Sarah Connor), along with a Newt, who recites a bit of Aliens dialogue with, “My mom told me monsters weren’t real – she was wrong.”

There’s a Hicks and a Hudson. There’s also a Vasquez:

Most importantly (spoiler), there’s a hybrid of Burke, Bishop…and the T-800 from The Terminator:

Sadly, however, there is no Jonesy:

Shocking Dark was even marketed as "Terminator 2" (this would be three years before Terminator 2: Judgment Day actually existed), going as far as to use this poster:

There’s shameless, and then there’s shameless, and then there’s that.

Shocking Dark is hysterical right off the bat, and once the hysteria dwindles a bit as the viewer becomes acclimated to its histrionics, the more and more familiar beats of the plot solidify and offer a different kind of enjoyment. Your mileage will vary, but your reaction will likely transition from “I can’t believe how stupid this is!” to “I can’t believe how shameless this is!”

The budget on this thing was probably less than half a Maserati. Most of the action takes place in a “tunnel below the canals of Rome” which looks suspiciously like the basement of a power plant, with a brief finale that unfolds on the city's streets where the film finally goes full-on Terminator. It should come as no surprise that the special effects are also terrible, with the alien looking nowhere near like the Xenomorph from the Alien series. By now it should be assumed that the acting in films of this caliber are quite poor, but for Shocking Dark it bears repeating. Yeesh.

If I were to offer any kind of accolades, it would be the decision to take the Bishop-inspired android and turn him into a carbon copy Terminator. Granted, this is all predicated on the understanding that a couple of screenwriters were forced to rip off two of the biggest sci-fi/action flicks of all time, but let’s be honest: if Shocking Dark were a piece of fan fiction on an Alien message board, it would be commended for its cleverness in tying another popular James Cameron character into the conflict. Yes, Shocking Dark steals, but it steals cleverly.

Severin's spiffy Blu-ray includes the following special features: "Terminator in Venice – An Interview with Co-Director / Co-Screenwriters Claudio Fragasso and Co-Screenwriter Rossella Drudi," "Once Upon A Time in Italy – An Interview With Actress Geretta Geretta," and Alternate Italian Titles.

Look, Shocking Dark is a terrible movie and actually kind of racist, but I can’t deny it was a hell of a good time. A prerequisite for enjoyment of Shocking Dark is an appreciation for trash cinema. You should know this before getting yourself into trouble. And if you’re constantly bored and sad like I am, here’s a fun double-feature idea for you: Aliens, and Shocking Dark. Back to back, their similarities will be far more prevalent, and hence, far more entertaining (though Aliens will be suddenly severely lacking “Arnold Schwarzenegger”).

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