Friday, June 3, 2011

Sci-Fried Theater: TRANSFORMATIONS (1988)

Charles Band seemed to have the right idea in the 1980s with his Empire Pictures.  He was cranking out low budget genre films by the dozen and even started dabbling in higher budgets (like Stuart Gordon’s ambitious ROBOT JOX) toward the end of the decade.  He even bought a huge studio in Rome to serve all of the 40 productions he boldly announced in 1986/87.  Seems he had all the right moves.  Well, except for one thing.  He forgot to pay his bills.

The financial cracks started forming in 1988 and, by October 1988, the Empire hadn’t stuck back but been struck down and Band had already moved on to Bandcompany (soon to become Full Moon).  Caught in bankruptcy limbo were 5 Empire productions that were in various states of post-production.  Titles included the aforementioned JOX (eventually released by Triumph theatrically and Columbia on video), David Schmoeller’s CATACOMBS (released as CURSE IV: THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE by Columbia/Epic in 1993), SPELLCASTER with Adam Ant (released in 1992 by Columbia), the Band directed anthology PULSE POUNDERS (still unreleased) and the sci-fi slimer TRANSFORMATIONS.

I can still remember finding this one on a Starmaker VHS in a K-Mart sometime in 1991. Naturally, the cover (see pic above) was designed solely to get a 15-year-old like me into a Pavlov state.  I mean, a fly-bat-mantis-demon-man with a snake coming out of his exposed ribcage?  *drools*  Well, we’ll get this right out of the way and state that TRANSFORMATIONS features nothing as cool as the cover art.  Lesson learned, I think.

The film centers on intergalactic smuggler Wolfgang “Call me Wolf” Shadduk (Rex Smith), who manages to have a dream of being raped by a succubus in the film’s first six minutes.  It must have been one helluva lay as it knocks his ass out and his ship crash lands on a prison mining colony.  He is nursed back to health by friendly doctor Miranda (Lisa Langlois) and told not to socialize with the free-to-roam prisoners.  Do you think he listens?  No, and soon he is picking up chicks at the prison planet’s dive bar.  This is bad news because the succubus infected him with some kind of virus.  You know that a STD strain is deadly when you can get it in your dreams.  Soon everyone is getting blisters and Father Christopher (Patrick Macnee) feels it is the second coming of the plague.

Man, what does it say about a film when the only thing I can remember from my first viewing of it 20 years ago were the sharp angles in Father Christopher’s space church and that the final “monster vs. girl” fight takes place in a place with some cargo nets?  Yes, TRANSFORMATIONS is completely forgettable, low budget stuff.  It shows the Band had his head on straight in that they reuse some of the sets from ROBOT JOX, a practice every studio should do. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is completely budget starved.  You’ll laugh when you see the same hallway used over and over during a chase scene.  And there is a score that is completely out of place.  It was probably added later and sounds like stock music from a 1950s b-gangster flick.  Also, I love that they decided to use Italians as the prisoner extras.  Of course, they would have to shooting in Italy, but they seemed to have grabbed the most stereotypical looking Italian guys on the block. Italian horror fans will probably notice the director of photography was Sergio Salvati (THE BEYOND), but his resources appear to have been extremely limited.

Finally, I love that a film called TRANSFORMATIONS only has one semi-full onscreen transformation.  Even worse, the final monster, which you barely get to see, looks exactly like that fried chicken head that made the news a few years ago (see pic).  First you cheat me on fly-bat-mantis-demon-man with the snake chest and now this? Shame on you, Mr. Band.  One thing I do find interesting about the film is the prison planet setting as that echoes the later ALIEN 3 (1992). This shot in 1987 and David Twohy – who introduced the prison planet idea initially into the ALIEN franchise – delivered his first draft for that sequel in 1989.  So somebody was checking this bad boy out. Because no one would ever, ever say, “What about a movie where a planet is used as a prison?”  Sadly, ALIEN 3 lacked the naked dream monster angle.  And a snake coming out a ribcage (chest-bursters don’t count).  Damn it, I’m still pissed.

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