The Strangeness tells the story of a gang of explorers and entrepreneurial types who decide to open a creaky old mine that's lain dormant for years. The fact that it was closed because a group of miners were killed by an unknown supernatural force that calls the mine home doesn't intimidate them in the least, because there's rumored to be a fortune in gold somewhere in that mine and they intend to find it. As the group sets about excavating and then scouring the mine for the supposed loot, they bicker back and forth with one another and eventually start getting killed one at a time by the same unknown supernatural force that killed the miners years before.
And that's really about it as far as the plot goes. People go into the mine, and people get killed in the mine. Of course, a few make it to the end to battle the monster, which is completely rendered in primitive stop motion animation, and this makes for the film's highlight but really this is a pretty dry picture. The stop motion effects, impressive despite the fact that they show their age, were obviously done on a low budget and bring a certain charm to the proceedings but everything that happens in between those moments where the monster is running around is, well, to be blunt... boring. A monster movie should never be boring, yet here's The Strangeness breaking that rule time and time again. Yes, the mine makes for a pretty great location and yes, the strangely vaginal beast who offs our cardboard thin cast of characters is nothing if not memorable but there's way too much filler here.
To the film's credit the 16mm cinematography is actually pretty decent. There is some good camerawork and the lighting isn't half bad (once you get past the day for night shots that open the film) and the monster effects are fun. These qualities try their hardest to make The Strangeness a fun picture, but they can't carry it. There's just nothing to care about here - the characters are all clichés and/or obnoxious and the acting nothing but mediocre. It's obvious that all involved had a good time working on the film (the special features confirm this) and it's interesting to see what a bunch of students were able to accomplish with a camera, some spare time and a few bucks but the end result just isn't as memorable as it should have been.
A psychologist could probably have a field day analyzing the bizarre sexual features of the monster that we see in the finale and the Harryhausen inspired effects that take place in the last five minutes of the picture are definitely cool, but you're likely to have to fight yourself to not hit the fast forward button on this one. The picture has limited cult appeal thanks to the creature effects but those expecting the blood, guts and nudity associated with so many low budget drive-in/exploitation and horror pictures of the era will be let down by the fact that almost all of the killings happen off screen and that the cute blonde in the lead keeps her clothes on the entire time. At least had the filmmakers thrown some sex and blood into the picture it could have been more entertaining, but that didn't happen and we're left with a fairly tepid picture saved only by some interesting last minute monster effects.
Code Red presents The Strangeness in a good 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The opening scene shows some wacky day for not photography ugliness, but aside from that the color reproduction looks pretty accurate. The scenes that take place in the cave can sometimes be a tad dark but for an older, low budget 16mm production there's really not much to complain about here at all. Detail is fine for an older low budget feature and only mild print damage is noticeable. Taken from the original 16mm negative, you can't really call the transfer reference quality but given the age and obscurity of the picture this is a good effort.
The audio chores are handled by a fine English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track. There's the odd pop in the mix but if you're not listening for them you're probably not going to notice them. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and the score and sound effects are all well balanced. The film shows its age in that it has got a fairly limited range but you can't fault it for that.
The best of the extras is an audio commentary with the film's director Melanie Anne Phillips and actors-effects technicians Mark Sawicki and Chris Huntley who are joined by moderator by Jeff McKay. There's a lot of good information in here pertaining to how this production got made, how all involved more or less worked for free and did this as a labor of love based on their affections for the genre, and how some of the cool stop motion effects pieces were all put together. The track moves at a good pace and stays on topic for the most part and anyone interested in this history of this odd film should certainly enjoy the talk. From there, check out the interviews with Melanie Anne Phillips (15:11), Mark Sawicki (8:54) and Chris Huntley (12:25). There's some repetition here in terms of what's covered in the commentary track and what's covered here but it's cool to put names to faces. Throughout both the commentary and the interviews you get the impression that all involved had a lot of fun with this film and nobody seems to be taking any of it all too seriously.
Code Red has also included a selection of short films made by the filmmakers responsible for The Strangeness - Origins (7:03), Eat At Joe's (0:40), It Stalked The Night (6:38), Grave Site (6:42), Daddy's Gone A Hunting (3:42), and The End (1:54). A few of these are pretty dry but others are worth checking out to see more of the same style of stop motion animation that is employed in the feature on display. Those of us who can't get enough of those 'primitive' creature effects will enjoy this material.
Rounding out the extra features are a still gallery, a six second joke clip called Binky, and trailers for Brute Corps, The Statue, Trapped, The Visitor, Night Warning, The Weekend Murders, and the mighty Stunt Rock.
The Strangeness takes its sweet time to get going, but the last fifteen minutes of the picture are a lot of fun and the monster effects, the obvious highlight of the film, have got their own primitive charm even if the bulk of the film is pretty dull. Code Red have done a nice job on the DVD, lavishing it with far more extra features than anyone probably ever expected, so fans of the film will definitely want to pick this up. The uninitiated might want to rent it first, however...
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.