VisArt Diaries: Embracing the Mythical Mockbuster
A year in review

Joshua Robbins

As you know if you read my debut VisArt Diaries column from two weeks ago, I’ve spent the last year trying to watch 365 movies, among other things. Well, you’ll be happy to know (or not care) that I recently reached my goal for 2018 — I am actually at 369 movies at the time I’m writing this.

So now that I reached this pointless milestone maybe I’ll celebrate in the new year by reading and playing guitar more, but probably not. Everyone loves a good year-end list, so I think the best way to start this one off is by giving you my top films of 2018. I highly recommend all of these, which can mostly be found in Charlotte’s local video store, Visart, except for the amazing The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which can be found exclusively on Netflix. Before you get all in a tizzy, I did watch all of this year’s Marvel movies, I’m just not sure that they deserve any more attention than they’ve already gotten. So here goes…

 

Top Ten Films of 2018:

  1. Gringo
  2. Hereditary
  3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  4. Summer of ‘84
  5. Revenge
  6. A Quiet Place
  7. Upgrade
  8. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  9. Mandy
  10. You Might Be The Killer

As you also know if you read my first column, much of my focus during this year of, “A movie a day keeps something away,” has been on lesser-known and often decades-old B-list films. This week, I’d like to discuss the 1989 Italian classic Shocking Dark, aka Terminator 2, aka Alienator.

Italian markets like to make unofficial sequels to popular movies that often have very little to do with the original film. This one was released four years before James Cameron’s 1992 masterpiece of the same name. To make it easier we’ll just refer to the movie as Shocking Dark. The effort was directed by Bruno Mattei, best known for his women-in-prison films and for replacing Lucio Fulci in the director’s chair for Zombi 3.

Geretta Geretta (left) and Fausto Lombardi (middle) in ‘Terminator 2.’ (Photo courtesy of Flora Film)

Shocking Dark is more of a ripoff of Aliens, essentially mirroring the plot of that film up until the last 15 minutes, when the “Terminator” finally makes an appearance. The film takes place in post-apocalyptic Venice in the year 2000. A secret experiment is turning people into monsters in the tunnels of the city.

Tubular Corporation (imagine Weyland-Yetani from Aliens) sends a representative to aid Dr. Sarah Drumbull (ahem, Sarah Connor). Drumbull and the blank-faced representative go on a rescue mission after receiving a tape from another scientist. The representative’s lack of emotion serves as a thinly veiled reference to the android Ash of Alien, Bishop of Aliens and, of course, T-800 from The Terminator. Italian knock-off films don’t deal in subtlety. I insist that you watch the trailer for yourself.

 

I’d recommend this movie in the same way that I’d recommend watching a car accident — simple morbid curiosity. I remember when I was growing up and my parents brought home Aladdin, only to pop it in the VCR and quickly realize this wasn’t the recently released 1992 Disney classic Aladdin. They had fallen for what we now call a “mockbuster.”

Most of these bootleg titles are created to trick consumers into picking up their film instead of the superior film. They’ll often rush through production and get it to stores before or around the same time as the other release. Good Times Productions was the aforementioned suspect in the great Aladdin hoax. Nowadays we have The Asylum, which releases flicks like Transmorphers, Alien vs. Hunter, Snakes on a Train, Sunday School Musical and the like. The company is now known for its infamous Sharknado series, which surprisingly isn’t a parody of anything.

Point being that the mockbuster racket isn’t a new one. And while it was a slightly different idea/scheme in Italian cinema, the basic intent was the same. To be honest, even big American studios tend to do similar things, just look at Armageddon and Deep Impact, or White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen.

So now that you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. Partly to give you a sense of what range of films I’ve taken in this year and partly to prove to myself that I did it, I’ve listed every movie that I watched in 2018. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the other side of the new year.

Aside from being a proud cinephile, Joshua Robbins plays bass for local indie bands Late Bloomer and Alright and is co-owner of local record label Self Aware Records. 

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