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  Strangeness, The What lurks beneath
Year: 1985
Director: Melanie Anne Phillips
Stars: Dan Lunham, Terri Berland, Rolf Thieson, Keith Hurt, Mark Sawicki, Chris Huntley, Diane Borcyckowski, Robin Sortman, Arlene Buchmann
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Looking for a good story geeky bespectacled novelist Dan Flanders (Mark Sawicki) and his hot blonde photographer wife Cindy (Terri Berland) join a group of explorers hired to survey an abandoned underground goldmine. Led by stuffy employer Hemmings (Rolf Thieson) the team include lady geologist Angela (Diane Borcyckowski), grizzled inexplicably British old miner Morgan (Keith Hurt) and reluctant cavern guides Geoff Calvert (Dan Lunham) and Tony Ruggles (Chris Huntley). The latter two spend all their time grumbling or else blatantly hitting on the married Cindy no matter how often she insists she is not interested. In the midst of so much tomfoolery rising from the depths a mysterious tentacle monster attacks the interlopers, one by one, turning the expedition into a nightmare.

An Eighties horror obscurity that never amassed a following big enough to become a true cult film, The Strangeness prefigures but does not match the claustrophobic terror of Neil Marshall's more celebrated The Descent (2005). It is a low-budget affair, sluggish for the most part yet enlivened by moments of ingenuity and B-movie charm: i.e. neat opening credits that run over still shots of the screaming cast, an effective John Carpenter style synth score from producer/co-writer/special effects supervisor/supporting actor Chris Huntley, clever character P.O.V. shots during monster attacks lit by Cindy's flashbulb or Geoff’s headlamp. Most notably the claymation creature (whose origins are hinted at though never entirely explained) that evokes warm Ray Harryhausen vibes.

That said the film's shock and suspense credentials remain scant with too much screen-time devoted to pointless wandering in murky, under-lit caverns, inane chatter and goofy humour that suggests it was at least partly intended as a parody. Keith Hurt's Morgan, who looks like Slim Pickens but talks like Les Dawson, is especially prone to dumb jokes and worse songs. While performances walk a thin line between naturalistic and cartoonish, the eccentric characters are at the very least more vivid than the usual blandly disposable teenagers that populate most Eighties horror flicks. Dan, while established initially as jittery and inept, nonetheless proves level headed enough to calm down the few hot-heads and keep the group together. Similarly macho moustachioed Geoff emerges an interestingly flawed hero. At one point reduced to a sniveling wreck he has to be coaxed by Cindy and Morgan into upping his hero game. Director David Michael Hillman, who later transitioned to become Melanie Anne Phillips (their only other directing credit is children's adventure Brothers of the Wilderness (1984)), lets the comedy drag on way past the point of being funny but still makes good use of the cramped and eerie locale. The last third kicks the suspense up a notch with more intense performances from the ensemble players even if the deaths grow increasingly random. Huntley is credited with directing additional scenes that were most likely the Alien (1979)-inspired death scenes wherein the creature melts victims with an enzyme of sorts that nets impressively gloopy, maggot-ridden results. Dumb, certainly no genre classic, but kind of fun.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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