"In the past wars were fought by men, men susceptible to fear and bullets. And in the past wars were lost in jungle terrains. But in the future American soldiers will not have to be at a disadvantage in the battlefield. World leaders have unanimously predicted that the next global war will be fought in the Middle East. Here at Norton Cybderdyne we predict that war will not be fought by American men, but by a new breed of soldier without fear. A soldier impervious to conventional weaponry. A soldier trained to kill and survive in the desert, and a soldier capable of reproducing every twenty-four hours. That soldier shall be called SYNGENOR!"
|Reviewer: Jeremy |
Review Date: April 15, 2010
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 10/28/2009
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
It's nighttime, and we open outside the corporate headquarters of Norton Cyberdyne, a defense contractor known for its work with the United States military. Executives Stan Armbrewster (Charles Lucia
) and Tim Calhoun (Jon Korkes
) have just spent a night barhopping, and Tim is extremely drunk. Now Stan has brought them back to their office for some after-hours entertainment with two slutty girls they picked up. But Stan has more on his mind than the usual horror film need for T&A - he has been instructed by someone else at the corporation to eliminate Tim and make sure there are no witnesses. The two men and their female companions take the elevator down to the basement in search of a little privacy, and there they discover a freezer with some sort of hideous monster in it. It's a Syngenor - a Synthesized Genetic Organism - explains Stan, and it's basically an inhuman super soldier that the company has been researching. He discreetly hits a button to disable the lock on the freezer and then high tails it out of the basement, leaving the other three to be brutally slaughtered by the monster.
That same night former Norton Cyberdyne researcher Ethan Valentine (Lewis Arquette
) is in his home laboratory working on an experiment. Suddenly another Syngenor bursts in and kills him. Then his niece Susan (Starr Andreeff
) arrives home from a date just in time to be chased and almost killed by the creature. She gets away, but the police refuse to believe her story, and mysteriously decide to explain away the whole incident as a chemical explosion. Susan returns home where she catches an intruder in her uncle's laboratory. He identifies himself as Nick Cary (Mitchell Laurence
), a reporter. He heard about the deaths at Norton Cyberdyne and has come looking for her uncle, as he heard Ethan Valentine had quit recently. Susan explains what happened and the two decide to work together to uncover the mystery of what happened to her uncle and what's going on at the company.
Of course, what's going at Norton Cyberdyne almost defies belief. The company's CEO, Carter Brown (David Gale
), is addicted to some sort of mysterious drug, and his mental state is slowly deteriorating. An executive named Paula Gorski (Riva Spier
) has decided that Carter is no longer fit to run the company, and, of course, she would be a better fit. Now she is plotting to bring down her boss by pushing him off the deep end and creating a scandal that will force him out of the job. She directed Stan Armbrewster to kill Tim Calhoun, and now she tells him to leak the story of the Syngenors to Nick for publication, blaming the whole affair on Carter Brown's leadership. But Carter Brown knows that people are plotting against him and in his increasingly paranoid state he is willing to take drastic action. As Nick and Susan delve deeper and deeper into the mystery they will become trapped in the middle of a deadly chess game between Paula, Carter and the mass of Syngenors in the basement waiting to be let out...
is a late 1980's-style horror film that takes itself eighty-five percent seriously and fifteen percent tongue-in-cheek. An informal follow-up to the 1980 William Malone thriller Scared to Death
(taking the monster suits and concept of the Syngenor and nothing else), the movie is generally entertaining and often humorous. It has also aged surprisingly well and holds some unexpected relevance to our world today.
First though, there’s the bad part: Syngenor
is too long and it moves too slowly. With a runtime of ninety-eight minutes, director George Elanjian Jr. delivers a movie that too often crawls when it should fly. The plot of the film is not particularly complicated, in spite of the corporate double-dealing that is going on, and there are too many scenes which make the same point repeatedly. Many scenes are drawn out longer than they need to be and thus the middle portion of the movie loses the viewer’s interest, in spite of periodic Syngenor action. A quick look at George Elanjian’s IMDb credits show that he was active as a television director for about fifteen years, starting in the early 80’s, and then he disappeared without a trace (although I’ve just discovered he is on Facebook). His direction lacks energy and his credits indicate he was probably a typical showbiz non-entity, active on the periphery of the entertainment industry and then falling out of sight.
It is fortunate then that Syngenor
gains impact from the way it eerily predicts the indulgences of the military/industrial complex that have followed in the twenty years since it was released. Like the real defense contractors that it satirizes, Norton Cyberdyne is a company that could not survive without suckling at the teat of government. It is the state that funds the development of weapons, buys them and approves their sales to foreign nations. Because national security requirements limit who can buy what when it comes to military technology, the rules of the market, where competition keeps prices low and quality up, don’t apply to the defense industry. In America, where military spending is usually equal to that of most of the rest of the world combined, arms manufacturers are notorious for delivering weapons that underperform and which cost much more than originally planned. Weapons that are in some ways like the Syngenors.
At one point in the film the Susan character notes that her uncle left Norton Cyberdyne because Carter Brown had cut the money devoted to the Syngenor project, apparently so they could get the monsters in government hands faster. But Ethan Valentine wanted nothing to do with it, quitting because he did not want the military taking ownership of his creation until it was properly programmed. His concerns were quite valid, as the Syngenors (which are very well designed considering they actually originated in a movie costing less than $100,000) are beyond anybody’s ability to control, killing anything human and reproducing like crazy. It is revealed that the Achilles’ Heel of the creatures is water, which causes them to melt. They were after all designed to be used in the Middle East, where water is scarce. This gimmick – more than likely a product of lazy screenwriting – only adds to the analogy. How typical of American war planners, who like to go barging into countries they know little about. Of course they wouldn’t realize that certain areas of the Middle East are actually quite wet (southern Iraq is very marshy, for example) and that many coastal areas receive generous rainfall in the winter. They would also be too arrogant to realize that their invulnerable super soldier is not going to scare the enemy troops much once they realize they can kill it simply by dumping their canteens on it.
Of course, these are just ideas. With just ideas and no storytelling, Syngenor
would seem as artificial as its monsters. In large part the film becomes watchable because of the contributions of just one actor, the late David Gale. Released not long before his tragically untimely death, Gale approaches the role of Carter Brown with more professionalism and vigor than most actors of his caliber. Roles such as the ones he played in movies like this and Re-Animator
are not normally popular with older actors, who usually treat them with embarrassment. But not Gale. When the script requires him to strong and powerful, he’s great. When it requires him to be angry and shouting, he’s great. And when it requires him to be absolutely, completely out of his mind, he’s fantastic. David Gale essentially drives the movie, which is otherwise filled with average to below average performers.
is recommended viewing for anyone who enjoyed that unique combination of elements that made late-1980’s to early-1990’s horror films memorable. It’s not a classic, but it does enough things right to give it potential as a minor cult classic. It’s funny, sometimes even witty, with great monsters and Gale’s standout performance. Check it out.
looks quite good for a film that is nearly twenty years old. But it doesn't look like a film that's any newer than twenty years old. Letterboxed at 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays, this progressive transfer is quite clean and sharp. There are no major instances of damage to the film elements, but small specks pop up regularly and are quite noticeable in a few shots. Colors are generally good, but flesh tones are a little too reddish. Shadow detail is only fair, and black levels veer towards the gray. It's an extremely watchable presentation, but Synapse has released better looking DVDs.
It should be noted that this film was originally released on DVD by Elite Entertainment in 2004, although I don't have a copy of that disc to serve as a comparison.
English speakers get two options, a 5.1 Surround track and a 2.0 Stereo track (which is presumably the original sound mix that the film was released with back in 1990).
As a relatively modern film, Syngenor
benefits more from a 5.1 remix than many other titles. The track does an acceptable job of opening up the movie, even throwing in a few startlingly creative channel effects, but fundamentally it's not that much different from the included 2.0 Stereo track.
In addition to the English options we also get Spanish and French tracks in 2.0 Stereo.
This release contains a number of special features, all of which appear to be ported over from the earlier Elite DVD. The most impressive of these is the commentary track with heroine Starr Andreeff, screenwriter Brent V. Friedman and producer Jack F. Murphy. The commentary is relaxed and informative, with all three participants pitching in to talk about the making of a film that they clearly all remember with fondness. The track covers almost all aspects of the low budget shoot, from the locations (most of which were at the old Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated) and shooting schedule to the genesis of the project. Perhaps most fascinating are Murphy and Friedman's recollections of working with David Gale, who they remember as a charming and easy to get along with actor, and a man who was so dedicated to his performance that he created a detailed back story for Carter Brown as a way to help him bring the character to life.
The commentary is followed by four brief behind-the-scenes segments, starting with footage from David Gale and Jack F. Murphy's visit to the Tokyo Fantastic Film Festival in 1990. Narrated Murphy, we see clips of the two men's arrival at the festival, where a Japanese-subtitled print of Syngenor
was shown and apparently well received. It also includes some clips (with poor audio quality) of Gale speaking onstage to the Japanese audience, talking about his acting. According to Murphy the actor was quite a star in Japan thanks to his Re-Animator
role. The next segment is footage from a publicity photo shoot where actress Riva Spier poses with a man in the Syngenor costume. Interestingly, the photo shoot appears to have been conducted in someone's apartment, with a gray backdrop constructed for the models to be photographed against.
Most illuminating of all is the footage that is presented next, which is from the workshop of Doug Beswick, who built the Syngenors for this film using the molds that David Malone had saved from Scared to Death
. With narration again provided by Jack Murphy, we see the comprehensive process by which the individual pieces of the monster costumes were put together. But while this footage may be the most informative, it is not the most interesting or entertaining of the four segments. That honor would go to the brief snippet of footage from David Gale's audition, where he quite capably demonstrates the same intensity and manic energy that he would bring to the actual film.
There is also a photo and publicity gallery that contains a number of lobby cards, photos and, strangely enough, scans from a Japanese pressbook, complete with a sales sheet that appears to offer retailers ten VHS tapes of the movie for 12,900 yen. We then close out the disc with a trailer for the film, as well as trailers for Dark Forces
, Strange Behavior
, all of which are available from Synapse and all of which were licensed from Associated Screen Artists, Inc.
comes recommended by me, flaws and all. This DVD from Synapse seems to essentially be a port of the older Elite DVD in terms of extras, and it’s certainly possible that the same transfer and sound mix are used as well. Those who already own that release should consult the opinion of a writer who was able to compare the two before upgrading. Those who don’t have the Elite disc however should be happy with this release, which features good audio, good picture and fun extras.
Movie – B-
Image Quality – B
Sound – B
Supplements – B
- Running Time – 1 hour 38 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 5.1 Surround
- English 2.0 Stereo
- French 2.0 Stereo
- Spanish 2.0 Stereo
- Audio commentary with Starr Andreeff, Jack F. Murphy and Brent V. Friedman
- Footage of David Gale at the Tokyo Fantastic Film Festival
- Footage from publicity photo-shoot
- Footage from Doug Beswick’s creature shop
- David Gale audition excerpt
- Photo and publicity gallery