Review: Shadowzone (Grindhouse #12) / Cert: 18 / Director: J.S. Cardone / Screenplay: J.S. Cardone / Starring: Louise Fletcher, James Hong, David Beecroft / Release Date: Out Now
One of a bunch of recent releases from cult movie distributor 88 Films, this little-known offering by writer/director J.S. Cardone is a pleasant surprise. The setting is an old plutonium mine that has been turned into a underground laboratory run by shady Doctor Van Fleet (Hong). Captain Hickock (Beecroft), a NASA guy, has come to investigate the death of a human test subject. He discovers that the laboratory has being doing experiments into extended deep sleep, and that some of the test subjects have been interfacing with an unknown entity from another dimension. But then the entity comes a-calling, an arrival which triggers the facility's antiquated defence systems, and they all find themselves trapped inside the mine with just a short time before the power runs out.
Okay, not a wholly original plotline then, but the way in which Cardone handles it is pleasurably creepy and unexpectedly clever. – a bit like The Thing, but with a downbeat, Nigel Kneale-ish sensibility. The milieu is attractively rusty and rickety, the characters complex and flawed, and the script poses credible conundrums for the characters to worry about, springing some well-judged scare gags along the way.
It's also extremely well cast. Hong is as watchably OTT as ever as the untrustworthy Van Fleet. As Hickcock, Beecroft may not be a name to conjure with (he did stints on Falcon Crest and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman) but he looks like Channing Tatum and makes for a decent furrow-browed lead. But what gives the whole film a real lift is an excellent performance from Louise (Nurse Ratched) Fletcher in a key role as Van Fleet's morally compromised but well-intentioned second in command – she's so good it makes you weep with frustration that she wasn't better appreciated by Hollywood.
The monster FX are a little under-powered, and this contributes to the slight slackening in tension in the final act. Overall, though, this is an intelligent and well-craft piece of cult SF that is long overdue for rediscovery. The DVD appears to have been sourced from a video, with a 4:3 ratio, a bit of wobble and very muted colours, but the effect is attractively ethereal and in keeping with the cult movie vibe of the whole affair.