Full Moon Empire is back from a parallel dimension for a film that's one part Alien, one part The Thing, and one part From Beyond. The result is a mishmash of tone and focus, but still rather enjoyable and one of the more adult films in the Full Moon library (which means it's got a lot of nudity, y'all!). Shadowzone moves slowly, I'm assuming to build up tension (which is sort of does), but picks up substantially in the last half hour. It could even be considered boring until the action starts up, but a talented cast (with the exception of its personality vacuum of a leading man) and some well done effects keep it from being too much of a chore. Sadly, the film doesn't give enough attention to its strongest aspect in the actual monster, only giving it minimal screen time while giving far too much to the weaker members of the cast. I would say that this is one of the better made films I've covered for this column in that it feels unique from the rest, but it can't quite live up to the excellent box art or the ideas it borrowed from much better films.
Shadowzone begins with Captain Hickock (David Beecroft, which sounds like a made up name) as he arrives at a secret underground research lab for NASA. He has been sent to investigate the death of a volunteer test subject in research being done involving hypersleep (called Project Shadowzone). He is brought to the bunker by maintenance man Shivers (Frederick Flynn), whose character is basically “fidgety redneck guy” there to say things like “Oh, shieet!” and “What the Hell you talkin' 'bout?”. The dude is complicated and riveting, is what I'm trying to say. Once underground in the compound we meet the research team, composed with the likes of Lo Pan, Nurse Ratched, and Juwanna Mann...ok, ok the likes of Dr. Van Fleet (James Hong), Dr. Erhardt (Louise Fletcher), and Wiley (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.). But I guarantee you that Science quivered in its lab coat when I presented that team up! We learn of their experiments involving manually controlling the levels of sleep in the human brain to successfully keep people in stasis for NASA missions. One of the naked people in the cryotubes suffered from an aneurysm and brought on the investigation. The Captain makes them recreate the experiment, bringing to light what they actually discovered.
It turns out that when they bring the subjects to a specific EDS state, they open a portal to a parallel dimension. This time though, a creature comes through the portal and they spend the rest of the film trying to understand and get rid of it before it kills them all. You see, this thing can change its molecular structure and can tap into your mind to become whatever you're thinking about...and then kill your face. When we first glimpse the creature, it takes the form of what looks like a mutated prom queen, which makes no fucking sense until much later when we find out it was a sideshow woman that scared the shit out of the guy from Blade Runner when he was a kid. We then see it take the form of a giant rat, which sadly isn't as cool as it sounds because it only gets a split second of screen time following one of the lesser deaths in the film. Next it becomes a fucked up monkey...oh yeah, did I mention that there is a cute little monkey in the movie? There's a cute little monkey in the movie, which the monster of course takes the shape of, and then we have a mutated monkey kill. The finale shows the creature's actual form, which looks like a cheaper version of the final state of Brundlefly. Man, this movie is “borrowing” ideas from all over the place!
The effects are very reminiscent of The Thing, just without the focus or attention to detail that make those effects stand out so wonderfully to this day. There's no real inbetween forms or showing any of the creature's transformations, just quick reveal cuts that make it hard to even see what the creature has become. Seriously, I had to rewind and pause each time just to try and appreciate them. The different forms are actually done well and grotesquely scary, but the all too brief cuts never give them a chance to shine. With the characters being nothing more than monster fodder for the most part, there's no strong center to give your focus to. It's hard to root for the characters because they're pretty bland (though Fletcher and Hong do some good work here) and it's hard to root for the monster because we never really get the chance to see or understand it. The reopening of the portal and the final kill make for a much better finale and give a glimpse of what the film should have been all along. But thankfully, the film ends with Captain Potato leering awkwardly at the naked female test subject, who has no idea what the hell has happened. He seems smitten and like the whole ordeal has brought them closer together. She seems scared, confused, and cold, wondering who this guy is and why he won't stop looking at her or hand her some clothes. So...at least there's that.
Shadowzone has a few of the usual Full Moon touches, including a really ominous Richard Band score (and possibly one of my favorites so far). It differs in that it is written and directed by one guy, instead of multiple members of the usual Full Moon gang from that period, or based on an “original idea” by Charles Band. J.S. Cardone only worked on one other film for Band, doing one of the segments in 1984's The Dungeonmaster, but is probably better known for writing some of the recent horror remakes like The Stepfather and Prom Night. I think seeing one of these early 90s Full Moon films done by a different crew was a breath of fresh air. I really like a lot of their output from around this time, but many of these films can start to blend together in terms of creative talent, look, and ideas. Shadowzone at least has a unique feel compared to other films I've covered from that time and works with a few interesting ideas, even if they are “borrowed” from other Sci-Fi and Horror properties. It's definitely uneven and never reaches the potential of what they tried to dig into, but I still had a lot of fun with it and view it as one of the more enjoyable offerings from this period.
When you cross into the Shadowzone, you find a world of underrepresented creatures and underdeveloped stereotypes. You find the knowing fear of certain death, without the tension or inventiveness to make it great. It's an intriguing world of fleeting fun, but in the end you're just left naked and cold, with no idea of what you've just gone through. And there's a vaguely charming potato by your side, giving you a look that induces a slight feeling of comfort and frightening disgust simultaneously. And you don't know if what you've seen is a cheap exercise in horror fan films, or just a gin soaked dream. That's Shadowzone and it's available to rent on Amazon. Join me next time as I close out the Trancers series and bring this column full (moon) circle, with nowhere to go but up, baby!