Colony/Colony of the Dark/Colony Mutation (1995) -**
I could easily be mistaken about this, because I have nothing to go on beyond my subjective assessment of picture quality and a suggestive notation in the closing credits, but I really think Colony was shot on Super 8mm film. In many cases, that would mean nothing more than that the movie looks and sounds like complete shit, but take a look at that release date. 1995 was well into the video era, and Super 8 was three, maybe four generations of consumer-grade audiovisual technology in the past by then. I mean, my parents’ home movies of a diaper-clad El Santo toddling around a Florida motel courtyard in the mid-1970’s were shot on Super 8! Twenty years later, using Super 8 implied an affirmative decision in favor of technical obsolescence for the sake of some intangible flavor of fidelity (or lack thereof)— and as someone whose band records on analogue equipment whenever possible, I fully support that. The other important point is that Super 8 was not like the 16mm stock that had long been a cost-conscious alternative for filmmakers without much money to spend on prints and lab fees. Like the various grades of camcorder tape available for home use in 1995, it was a sub-professional format in every respect. Both systems sucked by commercial standards, so writer/ director Tom Berna wasn’t really facing a question of better or worse when he apparently passed up crummy modern videotape in favor of crummy antiquated film. The issue, rather, was that Super 8 sucked with character, as a comparison between Colony and nearly any contemporary micro-budget horror film shot on video— Zombie Bloodbath or Violent Shit 2, for example— will handily demonstrate. While the latter movies look like the bottom-feeding direct-to-video releases they were, with all the psychological baggage that entails, Colony resembles instead some long-lost product of the old regional drive-in circuit. I like the psychological baggage carried by that association much better.
Jim Matthews (David Rommel) is a management type at the Gendes Corporation; my guess is that stands for “Genetic Design.” He’s married to one of the company scientists, Dr. Meredith Weaver (Anne Zizzo), but not very happily. You know the drill— prideful, moneymaking man marries a woman whose career is at least as established and successful as his own, then has the nerve to be surprised when she doesn’t immediately drop it and reorganize her life around him. Jim’s attitude is especially galling considering that he and Meredith work for the same firm. It’s not like they can’t make excuses to see each other during office hours, and Jim should understand better than anyone save Meredith herself what the pressures and demands of her work are like. Nevertheless, Matthews takes his dissatisfaction as an excuse to strike up an affair with one of his administrative assistants, whom the dialogue calls Jenny Dolan, but the credits call Jenny Dole. (Either way, she’s played by Joan Dinco.) Jenny believes— and Matthews encourages her to believe— that Jim and Meredith will be getting divorced any day now, granting retroactive legitimacy to the affair. By my reckoning, that makes Jenny as big a fool as Jim is a liar, and her older sister, Suzanne (Go to Hell’s Susan L. Cane), tends to agree. Nevertheless, what neither adulterer realizes is that Meredith is starting to catch on. She’s noticed the pattern of long lunches taken without her and late returns from the office at the day’s end. And more importantly, she’s spotted several days’ worth of charges on her credit card statement from the motel out by the airport where Jim and Jenny like to go for their trysts. When she calls the bank to investigate, the customer service rep confirms that the charges were duly made in the name of the card’s second authorized user— that is, Jim Matthews. Still, Weaver is not one to go off half-cocked about anything, so before confronting her husband, she hires a private detective (Arthur Adams, from Vengeance of the Dead and Planetfall) to keep tabs on him for a few days.
Now before we go any further, let’s have a look at what exactly Meredith does for a living. While her young colleague, Dr. Collins (Tom Fugina), attempts to isolate the gene that controls penis size, Weaver is engaged in something much more significant (even if Collins will probably wind up making more money for Gendes if he succeeds). She’s trying to find a way to reattach severed limbs with the aid of stem cells that have been modified to function as separate, symbiotic organisms. Success will mean that the cells bond with both stumps to form a temporary living bridge across which the damaged tissues can reunite. So far, though, the best she’s been able to do is Serum 670, which turns the stem cells into a parasite colony that forms itself into a vague approximation of the amputated limb.
Although it may not appear to be at first glance, that’s distinctly relevant to the couple’s marital woes, because it is in Weaver’s lab after hours that she finally calls Jim out on the carpet for his infidelity. Inevitably, he tries at first to lie his way out of the confrontation, but there’s no denying the significance of the detective’s photographs. Faced with those, Jim switches strategies, claiming now that he’s broken it off with Jenny, and will never see her again in a non-professional capacity. Obviously that’s just a lie of a different sort, and Meredith recognizes it as such. In a fury, she seizes the nearest thing at hand, and throws it at Matthews. That nearest thing happens to be a vial of Serum 670, which hits its target open end first.
This, as you might well guess, is where things turn decidedly Cronenbergian— Henenlotteresque, too, for that matter. In fact, it wouldn’t be too big a stretch to say that Colony becomes a straight-up cross between Rabid and Brain Damage, with Matthews periodically compelled to kill in order to feed the menagerie of interlaced creatures that his body has become. For the most part, he does so by seducing strange women to their doom, but you know it’s only a matter of time before Meredith and even Jenny start to look like tempting targets. We can also be reasonably sure that Jim will be paying a visit to Suzanne with the aim of silencing once and for all her objections that Jenny will do herself no good by getting involved with a man whom she already knows to be a cheating asshole.
Colony very obviously lacks one thing that both Rabid and Brain Damage possessed, however. Each of those films had an extremely sympathetic protagonist who never came close to deserving their fate as the host to a symbiotic monster or the test subject in a medical experiment gone horribly wrong. No matter how many people Rose killed or infected with super-rabies, and no matter how many people Brian fed to the Aylmer while strung out on the creature’s addictive psychedelic secretions, you had to feel sort of sorry for them. They got a couple of bum deals, and Rose especially was powerless to help herself once that botched experimental tissue graft turned her into the world’s most venereally icky vampire. Jim Matthews, though? Jim’s a fucker, and the only sad thing about what happens to him is that it has the side-effect of making him an even bigger fucker. That’s a hard scenario to pull off, and Berna doesn’t quite hit the target. He also misses the rather less challenging target of the horror inherent in Jenny’s situation. Here she is with these big dreams of a bright future as the boss’s second wife, but not only are those dreams built on total bullshit, but her relationship with Jim will put her almost inescapably on the menu for his hungry, self-willed appendages one of these days. A more competent and/or experienced filmmaker could do a lot with that premise. The trouble here is that Jenny never really develops a personality beyond the self-deluding naivety that drives her affair with Matthews, and self-deluding naivety isn’t exactly an endearing trait, either. Meredith, meanwhile, gets eliminated too early to act as a counterweight to her husband, so the best character we have by way of a rooting interest is Suzanne— and the movie is half over before we properly meet her.
The net effect of that heroine deficiency is to make Colony rather boring for most of its length. It picks up, though, during those moments when Jim is actively on the attack. I don’t know about you, but the first thing that springs to my mind when I think about a person’s body reconfiguring itself into a colony of symbiotic but independent organisms is John Carpenter’s The Thing. I expect Berna was thinking along those lines, too, but he didn’t have anything like that kind of money to spend. To get some idea of what Berna’s budget would buy, start by picturing your favorite truly shitty crawling hand effect— the Christopher Lee-Michael Gough segment of Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors will do nicely if you’re having a hard time thinking of one. Now cross that crawling hand with the adorable little demon puppets in Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare. Only it isn’t just crawling hands here. Colony also offers us crawling legs, a crawling head, a crawling torso with a decidedly vaginal-looking mouth where the navel should be, and even a whole squadron of flying fingers with bulbous, orange eyeballs and wee little bat wings! Most of the time, only one of these marvelously crappy creations is in action in any given scene, but Matthews comes apart completely at the climax, and it really is worth slogging through the 70-odd minutes leading up to that crowning moment of misguidedness in order not merely to see, but to fully appreciate it.