Latex crashes on the shores of satire, and the long descent into soft-pedaling begins. At the mushy joining of decades, bad fashions and belief in the red stuff smears over into engineered entertainment: Eighties? Meet Nineties. And fans of flat-out horror , meet Syngenor, a beast engineered to fight wars in the middle east, suck spinal fluid, and never once take the opportunity to shred victims as you like.
Hookers in puffy mini-skirts follow some suits into the sub-basement at Norton Cyberdyne, but one corporate john in this group is meant to be liquidated, so as the first top is doffed, a horrific hand reaches out - Syngenor's ready to rumble! Well, if we never see another pair of knockers, after this high-octane opening, and if corporeal destruction plays hide and seek, (mostly hide) still, merciless straight-ahead satire, punchy scripting, endearing cheapness and a dope-looking creature still render Syngenor a popcorn flick par-excellence. Oh yeah, Re-animator's disembodied doctoral head, in the form of actor David Gale, absolutely tears up the scenery.
Actually, for most of the movie the satire's pretty trenchant, and Gale's Carter Brown boils over quite nastily. When he starts boiling over to the point of capering and howling in the boardroom - during a meeting - Syngenor enters cartoon territory. But by then you've been hooked by the slick black monster(s) jumping from the ceilings, barreling through houses like Michael Myers on meth, and doing the open-armed soft-shoe boogaloo as they're riddled with machine-gun fire by the dopiest looking corporate security in movie history.
There's pitch perfect acting all around, from a cast (besides Gale) of naggingly familiar genre and TV vets, folks who know how to play this stuff; broad but blind to the stupidity. Razor-sharp ice queen Paula Gorski (Riva Spier) looks and acts hot and cold, a marvelous counterpoint to Brown's histrionics and any other doofus male she happens to meet (pretty much all of them). Nick Cary's the intrepid reporter, played by Mitchell Laurence, and Susan Valentine (Starr Andreef) is the wronged young woman, tough and flinty, but able to get stupid at the drop of a hat. Syngenor often feels like a basic cable rip-off of Moonlighting, and I mean that in a good way. Pacing is brisk (though the movie runs about ten minutes too long by the end) and scripting is smart. "Ethan's dead!" Valentine informs the reporter, "You're lying on his chalk-mark." "Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me everything?" He asks. "Probably because I'm not," she tosses back.
Cheesy corporate intrigue fronts the more-prescient-than-we-knew-then reason for the Syngenor - "In the future, wars will be fought in the Middle East," warns the sunny corporate promo-video for the hideous killing machine. The Syngenor fighters, you see, are engineered to fight in a hot, arid, desert climate. We can only hope that Valentine and Cary unlock the secret of the quickly reproducing Syngenor, before all hell finally breaks loose. Well, Shyamalan liked the solution, apparently.
Green freaks will like Syngenor especially, as the movie recycles ideas from Robocop, Aliens, and the costume from 1981's Scared To Death. Even more thriftily, when a poor gal opens the Syngenor file, Polaroids inside clearly show test shots of the Syngenor costume as it was being fabricated - this helps viewers later when a Syngenor falls down and the costume flaps around like a shirt coming un-tucked. Non of it matters though, even with the inexplicable (and that's saying something) climax, including abysmal latex effects and a solarized melt-down that makes The Devil's Rain look like a genuine snuff movie. Syngenor never intends to be good, just fun. True sleaze, as promised in the opening, sadly never makes it; perhaps Syngenor points the way towards horror-as-sanitized-thrill ride. But as thrill rides go, this one is stupid fun.
A 1.85:1 widescreen transfer serves Syngenor like the silly, orphaned VHS title it used to be. Though not terrible, there's enough grain around to make me long for a beer. The image is probably as sharp as possible, as much of Syngenor looks to be shot in semi soft-focus. The DP was probably just trying to mitigate the pink-and-black, huge-polka-dotted-bowtie-in-the-hair thing girls were still doing then. Colors are slightly washed out, too. (Acid washed?) As such, I didn't really notice any compression artifacts, so likely this is the best image possible for whatever source was used.
Dolby Digital 5.1 English Audio is offered, along with 2.0 Surround tracks in English, French and Spanish. The 2.0 track is totally appropriate considering the movie, with a decent range, no troubles, and good mixing, though the 5.1 track certainly beefs things up with extra atmosphere.
A Commentary Track features Starr Andreef, writer Brent V. Friedman and producer Jack F. Murphy, contributing tidbits-lite with some amusing looks at low-budget genre movie-making. Among the other brief extras and featurettes is an 8 minute segment titled David Gale At The Tokyo Fantastic Film Festival that should be of interest to fans of the late actor, even though the awkward bit pretty much defines uncomfortable as Gale and a stiff-armed Syngenor absorb the adoration of the Japanese crowd. A Photo and Publicity Gallery has about 50 lobby cards, stills, and behind-the-scenes pictures you can access through self-navigation - scoot in towards the screen for best viewing -especially for some hilarious staged Syngenor-menaces-woman pics. Five Trailers tout other lowbrow Synapse releases, mostly of circa 1980 high-falutin' trash. Text Filmographies for the movie's principal actors, writer, producer and director will fill in the blanks, or you could hit IMDB. A two minute Publicity Photo Shoot is pure late-'80s parmesan, telling the story of those Syngenor Menaces Woman shots (actually Riva Spier) and has to be seen (heard) to be believed. About two minutes in Doug Beswick's Creature Shop casts a short glance at fabrication of the Syngenor costumes - complete with awful music. About 90 seconds of David Gale Audition footage proves he can turn it on at will - or maybe he was just a real weirdo.
Syngenor won't rattle the cages of hardcore boobs-and-blood freaks, despite an opening promising such, but trash cinema fans looking for one of the last blasts of innocent fun - full of creepy creatures slashing, dashing, getting shot-up and melting, that is - will understand the charms of this sincere effort. Great scripting and excellent performances only add ballast to a wheel of already heavy cheese. If you're hankering for a movie hybrid of Aliens and Buckaroo Banzai, Syngenor may just fit the bill, earning an enthusiastic Rent It for the average fan, while collectors with deeper pockets may just want to buy it.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com