The Strangeness (1980)
The Strangeness (1980)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: June 13th, 1980 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: David Michael Hillman Actors: Dan Lunham, Terri Berland, Rolf Theison, Keith Hurt, Mark Sawicki, Chris Huntley, Diane Borcyckowski, Arlene Buchmann

 


 

A

my (Arlene Buchmann) and her boyfriend Brian (Robin Sortman) survey an abandoned mine, the Golden Spike, but can’t manage to take their job very seriously. Playing pranks and displaying frustration over their work goes hand-in-hand with flashlights losing battery power (something that continues to happen throughout the movie) and the duo getting separated in the lightless tunnels – before something deep within drags them permanently into the depths. And this is before opening title credits introduce the rest of the cast in a somewhat standard-looking, remarkably cheap, television sequence.

The following day, five additional miners (including veteran geologist Angela Platt, played by Diane Borcyckowski, who waves a magnifying glass over various walls to seem professional) meet up to complete some research and investigate the area, wishing to find a new vein that will make them all rich. They’re also joined by boss Mr. Morgan (Keith Hurt) and another employee, who provide booze and crotchety orders to fuel juvenile campfire tales. In particular, Dan Flanders (Mark Sawicki), who is writing a book about the mine, hopes that there are some exciting truths to the rumors about sacred Indian grounds protected by a vengeful god who hates white people (a demon responsible for cave-ins, missing persons, and other tragedies dating back to 1883).

There’s a surprising amount of characters for such a simple premise, especially since they’re all so underdeveloped that sorting out their names and professions is both difficult and pointless. The only one who stands out is photographer Cindy Flanders (Terri Berland), but only because she appears far too blonde, shapely, cleavage-brandishing, and done-up to believably mix with the more rugged group of subterraneous explorers. At least she wears a hardhat. There’s also an Englishman (or Australian, depending on his fluctuating accent), who gets quite a number of lines. Even less fitting than Cindy’s role is light harmonica music and sunny beaches that don’t seem to belong in the same movie as underground death and destruction. And the camera seems to waste plenty of time focusing on faces and reactions when expressions and emotions are entirely absent. However, this could be attributed to the incredibly poor acting.

Though the budget can’t afford seasoned cast and crew members, the mediocre cinematography isn’t entirely unwatchable – expressly when the deficient lighting accidentally adds to the mood and creepiness. Meanwhile, the dialogue is filler or unintentional humor at best (“We’re supposed to be looking for ore, not ingots!”), and generic prospector actions are conducted merely to pass the time in between attacks. When they fight amongst themselves as tensions become higher, the acting grows exponentially phonier.

However, the strangest thing (quite fittingly) about this Z-grade picture is the antagonist – a stop-motion, tentacled monstrosity that appears better suited for a swords-and-sandals feature from the ’60s (except that its head too closely resembles a vagina, as if taking a cue from surrealist H.R. Giger’s fascination with sexual horror). It’s mostly shrouded in darkness, but a few key moments show off its unique grotesqueness, which might have worked better in a sharper looking, more resourceful production. Unfortunately, the pacing is so slow that it’s rarely worth waiting for the monster to reveal itself – or even to dispatch the majority of the victims (though a couple of brief seconds glimpse the brilliant horror of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” or, in even briefer seconds, Ridley Scott’s “Alien”).

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10