“Shocking Dark”: This Terminator/Aliens sci-fi schlockfest is a fearless act of deranged genius

By on July 9, 2019

Italian filmmaker Bruno Mattei made his sci-fi schlockfest Shocking Dark — Italian: Spectres à Venise — in 1989, ripping off not one but two of director Jim Cameron’s ’80s films, The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), which is why Mattei’s film is known outside the U.S. as Terminator II , Aliens 2, and Alienator, among other titles.

Watch this batshit crazy, camped-out cash-in slice of cinematic curiosity — scanned in 2K from the Director’s Cut negative found deep inside a film lab vault in Rome, Italy — on Night Flight Plus.

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Our friends at Severin Films have noted that Shocking Dark goes “beyond brazen plagiarism to become a fearless act of deranged genius,” and they describe the film’s twisted plot this way:

” …A team of badass marines, a tough female civilian and an orphaned girl battle monsters beneath the Venice canals while being chased by an indestructible killer cyborg.”

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Shocking Dark is set in Venice, Italy, in the year 2000 — which in 1989 probably seemed far enough off in the future that audiences could be this was all possible, at least cinematically — after an apparently nightmarish environmental catastrophe.

Venice now sits under a toxic cloud, which drives everyone underground, into the tunnels, in order to escape the pollution.

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Then, one day, creepy Sid and Marty Krofft-style green-fringed Aliens-style frog-beasts begin attacking the workers underground, disrupting the work flow for the research team under the employ of the Tubular Corporation — which frankly sounds a little Southern California-ish, at least to our ears — who have been experimenting with cybernetics and created a Terminator-type robot.

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That team of take-no-prisoners former Marines — under the command of Samuel Fuller (Cristopher “Cristofer” Ahrens) — and a couple of civilians join forces and become a “Megaforce,” traveling down into Venice’s subterranean depths to investigate the strange goings-on below in the shocking darkness.

Their “Operation Delta” is underway when they encounter a group of humans who have been encased like cocoons, and then they meet a young girl named “Samantha Raphelson” (Dominica Coulson), who knows her way around the dark corridors better than anyone else.

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Shocking Dark concludes with what Severin Films calls an “ultimate WTF? twist ending,” and we’re going to let you discover what that means for yourselves.

Featured among the cast are Portland-born actress Geretta Geretta (best known for her work in Lamberto Bava’s Demons, billed here as “Geretta Giancarlo Field”), who plays “Koster,” Haven Tyler (she plays “Sara”) and Fausto Lombardi (billed as “Tony Lombardo”) plays “Lieutenant Franzini.”

Read more about Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark below.

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We should probably pause here to remember that Bruno Mattei — not exactly the maestro that many of his fellow Italian filmmakers were — made his bones in the world of rip-off moviemaking by purloining pieces of major motion pictures made for American (and international) audiences.

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We don’t know how much grief he actually got for stealing from American movies, but, considering how litigious entertainment lawyers in this country seem to be, his films nonetheless eventually made it out into the exploitation film marketplace, one way or another, so apparently Mattei was able to get away scot-free.

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Should you like to check out some of the other Mattei titles which borrowed liberally from previously-released theatrical films, check out 1980’s Hell of the Living Dead, Mattei not only borrowed Goblin‘s soundtrack score from other films, he also used footage from a documentary on indigenous South American tribes, and 1995’s TV movie Cruel Jaws, which utilizes stolen shark attack footage that had already been used in several other movies.

Then, there’s the case of Zombie 3 — which we also have streaming on Night Flight Plus, and you can read about here — on which Mattei took over directing the project that Lucio Fulci had begun.

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Mattei mimicked what Fulci had been shooting, which can be seen as either an homage, or a lazy second unit director’s attempt to match existing footage so that the film works as a whole.

Either way, that film’s backstory is pretty engrossing (Severin Films have previously bundled Shocking Dark with Zombie 3 and Zombie 4: After Death if you happen to be a DVD/Blu-ray collector).

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Filmed in late 1988/early 1989, and shown just once at a French film festival in May 1989, Shocking Dark did not go into wide release until August 1990, in Italy, at which point James Cameron was already well underway producing on his own sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

That’s certainly one reason why the film wasn’t distributed in the U.S. for several decades, and why it eventually had to be called something other than Terminator II when it was finally released (in at least one country it was also titled Contaminator).

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Severin Films also point out that this collaboration between Mattei (credited as “Vincent Dawn”) and co-writers Claudio Fragasso (credited as “Clayde Anderson”) and an uncredited Rossella Drudi was their final “and most notorious” project.

Let’s now un-pause and thank our goddamn lucky stars that there are still reissue film companies out there headed up by people like the fine folks at Severin Films, who spend many sleepless hours in dank underground goldmine-like film vaults around the world, chiseling away and excavating cinematic golden nuggets like Shocking Dark.

You can find more info about Severin Films on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and read more about some of the other cult, horror, mondo films & exploitation films we’ve added to our Severin Films section on Night Flight Plus here.

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Watch Shocking Dark and other sci-fi schlockfests from our friends at Severin Films on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.