Cult Cinema: The Strangeness (1985) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Code Red

Somewhere between Mario Bava’s monster-movie debut Caltiki – The Immortal Monster and Neil Marshall’s cave dwelling The Descent lies Melanie Anne Phillips’ microbudget indie mining-horror gem The Strangeness, a do-it-yourself gathering of friends kind of film production that does a lot with very little.  

A literal 16mm backyard production about a group of miners in search of gold who end up being attacked by a strange tentacled creature dwelling therein, this low budget suspense thriller while occasionally campy with some relatively silly vistas of a Claymation creature winds up being a really cool and entertaining monster movie with many tricks up its sleeves.  Moreover, like Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead it brought together a group of talents who worked on the shoestring with limited means to produce some surprisingly effective thrills.

An ensemble piece featuring two of the film’s producers who also served as soundtrack composers and effects artists (truly a familial labor of love spoken of the same DIY breath as Shinya Tsukamoto), The Strangeness zeroes in on a team of nine people navigating their way through the original Gold Mine in search of untold riches.  

The trouble is they’re immediately lost and cut off by recurring cave-ins as they continue to try and blast their way out.  As supplies run out and morale dissipates, they soon discover there’s something else, a mythical otherworldly tentacled creature that frankly looks like a hermaphroditic penis replete with a vaginal mouth that bites off the heads of its victims.  Think of Carlo Rambaldi’s inhuman sexual beast slithering about in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession done by Lee Hardcastle and you have a rough idea of what’s in store.
Though clearly a made-for-nothing cheapie that takes a little while to get going, with a number of expository scenes that could’ve been trimmed, The Strangeness somehow still manages to pack a minor punch by playing heavily with red light, shadow, claustrophobic corridors and subliminal strobing in key scenes.  

Yes for the most part the scenes of the vaginalpenis monster will trigger laughs particularly when you see it eating up a human that looks like an action figure prototype but all the scenes in between, compounded with a surprisingly hip and moody synth soundtrack it all sort of gels together in a way that works anyway.  Fans of the ensemble cast thriller will find much to enjoy with the sense of encroaching suffocating danger being created somehow in someone’s backyard.  Scenes of caves inner corridors, as it turns out, were just handfuls of tin foil plastered on the walls of the filmmakers’ garages.
Initially composed for theatrical release in 1979 before being shuffled around a mishandled distribution deal that sent the film straight to VHS obscurity in 1985, The Strangeness was pretty much forgotten until being rescued by Code Red DVD in the early 2000s.  Interestingly the film’s director in the years since came out as transgender, transitioning to Melanie Anne Phillips and becoming herself a major proponent of trans rights.  

Looking at the film’s monster now, the developments make sense and no doubt some might reevaluate the film as allegorical about the fears of coming out with the monster possibly being a white elephant in the room?  A then unknown early entry in what would or would not become the proliferation of distinctly LGBTQ oriented horror, the realisateur’s own personal changes invariably further enhance the mythology surrounding this made-for-nothing cheapie turned minor cult favorite ripe for rediscovery from fans of regional exploitation that doesn’t necessarily need all the money in the world for it to give you a little kick. 

--Andrew Kotwicki
-Christopher S. Jordan