Written and Directed by: George Eastman
Starring: Gene LeBrock, Catherine Baranov, and Harry Cason
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“What was it?"
"A nightmare...from the past!"
"A nightmare...from the past!"
Say what you want about the Italians (though I’d be especially careful about it when discussing the mob unless you want to wake up next to a horse’s head), those guys were dependable when it came to genre filmmaking for a few decades. Not always for the quality, mind you, but you could always count on quantity, especially when it came to ripping off something successful. If a film was even moderately popular, you can rest assured that it likely spawned some knock-offs and/or fake sequels. Cronenberg’s update of The Fly certainly could not escape this fate, even if it did take a few years for Metamorphosis to assault audiences with a Z-grade variation on the theme.
In this mad-science-gone-horribly-awry tale, Gene LeBrock is Dr. Peter Houseman, a brilliant but maverick scientist whose bizarre experiments haven’t endeared him to the old guard at his university. When these greybeards threaten to pull the plug on his program, Houseman does what every ambitious scientist before him has done by subjecting himself to his own highly experimental serum. It’s supposed to combat the effects of aging, and it works out okay for Houseman until he realizes he’s actually unlocked some evolutionary secrets that are causing his body to slowly deteriorate.
Remember that scene in The Fly where Seth Brundle becomes a raging, alpha male asshole? Metamorphosis is kind of like an hour of that, only infused with a bit of an (obvious) mystery and a Jekyll/Hyde angle since Houseman isn’t initially aware that things have gone askew. Things seem pretty great—he’s got a budding romance going with a fellow scientist who has taken an interest in his work (Catherine Baranov), and he’s courted the attention of an attractive blonde girl (Anna Colona) who likes to tease him from the front row of his class. Unfortunately, he’s also been up to more than that, as his mind keeps flashing back to a scene involving yet another woman, only he’s not sure who she is. A trip to a local pub starts to unravel the mystery; instead of engaging in a horrific arm-wrestling bout like Brundle, Houseman instead discovers that he possibly raped and definitely assaulted one of the barmaids. Her buddies attempt to retaliate on her behalf, only to discover that they’re dealing with a guy with superhuman strength and whatnot.
An Italo-horror version of The Fly that degenerates into sequences featuring our hero rampaging about sounds pretty awesome until you realize Metamorphosis was released when the industry was drawing its last breaths. Had this one been released even a few years earlier, it probably would have been an incredible gore showcase, and it would have been a blast seeing a nutty, low-budget attempt at outdoing Chris Walas’s outrageous effects work in Cronenberg’s movie. By 1990, though, the budgets had seemingly dwindled even further, so Metamorphosis is unable to compensate for its bald-faced retreading of The Fly. As you’ve probably already gathered, the film borrows quite heavily from the film that inspired it, but it gets even more brazen when entire exchanges are almost lifted wholesale. Usually, that’s sort of the impish charm that comes with these Euro rip-offs since they often at least bother to pile on loads of gore and absurdity. Any “charm” here is mostly unintentional since it’s so cheap and largely unimaginative; it certainly lacks the operatic, grand guignol appeal of Cronenberg, and it doesn’t function particularly well as a character drama either thanks to the wacky dialogue and an assortment of wooden performances.
Metamorphosis does have the decency to deviate in its choice of creatures since Houseman doesn’t turn into an insect at all but rather a reptile. Again, it’s something that sounds a lot cooler than the final product because the effects are so poor; for much of his transformation, LeBrock just looks like he’s been caked with old-age makeup (that’s the “twist” here: the anti-aging serum actually does the opposite) before he somehow turns into a human-sized dinosaur. Even then, the effect is laughably static and only appears for about thirty seconds during the film’s anti-climax (which does admittedly result in the best gore gag: a puddle of gooey viscera). Even worse is that Houseman doesn’t even do a whole lot in any of his various forms: outside of the stuff involving the girl at the bar, there’s only one more stalk-and-pummel scene with his promiscuous student.
The climax shows some promise when Houseman returns to the lab at his school, at which point the film threatens to ape the gore-drenched splatterfest from the end of The Fly II, but alas. Houseman mostly just terrorizes Baranov’s young son, a weird little bastard who’s creeper than just about anything else in Metamorphosis. If this one actually featured a miniature dinosaur rampaging through cheap sets and splattering around even cheaper gore, it’d be worthwhile on that bottom-of-the-barrel level. Instead, it’s a dud from Mill Creek’s Chilling Classics, a collection that’s actually been pretty good to me over the years; the VHS rip featured here does the film few favors, but I’m not sure a better transfer would do a whole lot for the movie. It’s almost staggering how George Eastman—a man associated with some pretty decent trash movies—couldn’t stage a memorable bodily mutilation or two for this one. At least he leaves on a high note, as the final shot provides a pretty gonzo twist involving a lizard, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never typed that sentence before. Sometimes, you’ve gotta meet a movie halfway (or, in this case, about three-quarters of the way). Rent it!
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