Scared to Death (1980)

Scared to Death (1980)

They wanted to create a new form of human life…They failed.

An ex-cop, now working as a novelist, is called out of his retirement to help solve a series of puzzling murders which seem to be the work of a serial killer but are in fact being carried out by a Syngenor – a synthesised genetic organism.

 

A schlocky low grade flick which has clearly been studying Alien quite a lot, Scared to Death doesn’t work on many levels, if any. Coming in the midst of the straight-to-video low budget rubber monster revolution, Scared to Death is director William Malone’s first crack at bringing monstrous mayhem to life (he would later go on to direct Creature, an even more blatant cash-in but more successful cheese with the remake of House of Haunted Hill) and it seems like he built up a story solely around the novelty value of one huge creature which feeds on human spinal fluid.

But credit to Malone, he really wanted to make this film and apparently sold his car, loads of belongings and mortgaged his house! He constructed the suit himself and shot the film in four weeks for a total cost of $74,000. Talk about commitment. Unfortunately for him, the film never managed to gain the sort of low budget notoriety as The Evil Dead, The Blair Witch Project or more recently, £50 zombie film Colin. Though it did make a profit, almost no one has heard of it. That’s for a very good reason mind you – it’s not that good.

A perfect example of the old school men-in-rubber-suits school of effects, Scared to Death at least has some charm when delivering up a gooey, green-eyed killing machine. In the few occasions that you do get a glimpse of it, given that its scenes are virtually pitch-black, the creature doesn’t look too bad, if a little similar to H. R. Giger’s infamous alien creature. Maybe the director should have a little bit more faith in his monster instead of relegating it to the side lines. But the creature walks far too slowly which leads you to question just how it manages to kill so many people. It doesn’t receive much screen time either and whilst the momentary shots of it aren’t too bad, they’re too few and far between to make any sort of impression.

That’s about where the positives end. As I touched on earlier, the idea was obviously to build a monster and then come up with some sort of story to showcase it. But the end script is a mess, resulting in a film which serves no real purpose other than to offer up some monster attacks on partially lit sets. All of the greatest build up in the world (not that Scared to Death offers any) can be ruined if you can’t actually see what is going on. Any sort of pay-off that the individual stalking scenes have here is shrouded in darkness or simply not shown as the camera cuts away elsewhere. The production values are also low, given the budget this is understandable, but it gives the film a shoddy look, not helped by the fact that everything is so dark.

Plus it’s dull. The promise of monster action is a false one as you’re cheated out of getting anything gory or half-way exciting. Unfortunately for the audience, most of the running time is taken up by a bunch of really bad actors that have little to business being around a film set, let alone acting in one. “Feed them to the Syngenor” you’ll be shouting by the end of it and thankfully, quite a few of them are (just not enough).

 

The dramatic story behind Scared to Death is much more interesting than the dreary and uneventful end product. I’m not sure whether the final film was worth all of the risks that Malone took to get it made – I guess it was since he directed a succession of bigger budgeted horror films. Someone also filmed a sequel, Syngenor. Wonders never cease.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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