Sunday, June 12, 2011

Underworld aka Transmutations (1985)

Okay, so like most horror aficionados I'm a big Clive Barker fan. I'd seen more or less all the movies he's been involved in, with the exception of Underworld, which somehow managed to pass me by until now. You won't see Underworld on any "best of Clive Barker" lists, but even so I was interested to check it out. I mean, written by Barker, with an outstanding cast... How bad can it really be...? Well, it's pretty fucking bad, but not entirely unwatchable, so long as you know what you're getting yourself into.

After a high class prostitute is kidnapped by a group seemingly crazed mutants, former criminal and all-round tough bastard Roy Bain is hired to find her. Before long, he gets himself involved in a nasty sitch featuring drugs, crooked doctors and ugly-as-shit mutants. On paper this sounds like an okay set-up, but it's a fairly poor story that is never really developed. Underworld isn't exactly all that well written, and to be honest it's kind of astounding that Clive Barker is responsible for such a half-arsed script. It's not that it's terrible as such, but it's flat and uninspired stuff for a man who's obviously capable of much better. There are one or two massive plot holes (particularly when Roy is given a shot of the deadly drug that's responsible for creating the mutants, and absolutely nothing happens to him) and essentially, this movie could have been written by anyone.

One of Underworld's strongest aspects, however, is its amazing supporting cast, though the quality of their performances is debatable seeing as the dialogue is so crap. It is fun to see great actors like Denholm Elliot, Steven Berkoff and Art Malik ham it up, though it's not exactly dignified work. By comparison Larry Lamb comes across as extremely wooden in the lead role, being completely devoid of charisma and really just seeming very confused the whole time. Nicola Cowper is also a drag as Nicole, and possibly was only chosen for her insanely bushy eyebrows. Ah, the 80s.

The worst thing about Underworld is the fact that it's pretty much bloodless, and the violence is tame to say the least. It's a mystery how the film was given an R rating, because there's actually nothing here to offend anyone... So as you can imagine, given that this is a Clive Barker movie, Underworld really disappoints in this department. There are virtually no horror elements at all, and I guess the movie would be better approached as a sci-fi/drama more than horror, but that doesn't really excuse the complete lack of anything juicy. It doesn't help that the mutants aren't all that grotesque or even that threatening - they're basically just actors with some bad makeup jobs. Consequently Underworld fails where say, Night Breed succeeds in creating a group of mutants that are both sympathetic but also scary.

Technically, the film looks okay, but every set looks identical. Obviously director George Pavlou thought bathing every scene in seedy neon lighting would make the movie look stylish, but the film begins to look very samey after a while... Even the mutants have their underground lair decked out with fancy neon tubes. The score is painfully cheesy and extremely cheap - there's also an odd tendency to just cut the music dead at the end of each scene, which comes across as extremely amateurish. The movie becomes a total drag towards the end, and I spent the final scenes just really wanting the movie to end soon, seeing as I didn't give a crap about any of the characters.

I guess Underworld isn't a complete waste, and at least manages to hold your attention for the majority of the movie thanks to it's cast, but I can't say I'd really recommend it. At least it doesn't take the coveted spot of "worst Clive Barker film", currently held by the awful Book Of Blood. A year later Barker and Pavlou would reunite to make Rawhead Rex, another piece of garbage, but a highly entertaining one - and I would suggest going straight for Rex if you're looking to delve further into Barker's filmography.

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