This monster movie takes a stab at predicting the future evils of science and genetic tampering — and boy is it cheesy!
An ex-cop investigates grisly murders that seem to be committed by a killer with super human strength. Let’s dig into 1980’s “Scared to Death”, directed by William Malone!
As I See It
The quality of the image on screen looks like the film was developed in the ruins of Chornobyl. There’s no way you can see this film and guess it was made in the eighties, except for the monster who, in my opinion, is too slick looking. It reminds me of a nineties sci-fi, rather than a monster movie filmed in the closing of the nineteen seventies.
We get the requisite foreshadowing to open, with the “Dead End” sign. Very low-hanging fruit.
Unbelievably, the shot of the leaf floating down the street and finally falling into the sewer is almost exactly recreated (with a paper boat) in Stephen King’s IT. I would never posit that they were paying homage to this movie.
According to an interview the director gave on the Retromedia DVD release of the film (2007), Rick Springfield was set to play the lead role but backed out last minute because he had a hair appointment, or he had to watch the paint in his flat dry, or he had a 24-hour stomach bug.
(I actually met Springfield in my days as a Roadie/Musical lackey, and he was a pleasant guy who still had Women literally screaming and fainting over him twenty-five-plus years after “Jessie’s Girl” which skyrocketed to the top of the charts within a year of this film being released. Chances are, he made the right choice by passing on this film.)
Director William Malone set out to make a monster movie because they seemed easily bankable, and a monster movie he made — which apparently turned a profit as well. He has gone on to direct some well-known projects, such as a couple of episodes of Tales From the Crypt, Freddy’s Nightmares, the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill, and an episode of Mick Garris’s Masters of Horror. Quite a genre resume.
Malone admits to ripping some creative “inspiration” from Giger’s Xenomorph design. It would be an insult to Giger and Ridley Scott to say the Syngenor (Synthesized Genetic Organism) resembles anything from Alien, but there is an inner mouth that protrudes and it is pathetic.
The film eventually slows down to a snail’s pace, and it seems perfect fodder for something like MST3K, which makes sense that it got the Riff Trax treatment.
There is a lot f down time. Tension building takes forever. There are goofy wigs and even goofier dialogue.
It’s an eighties clunker that still feels like part of the family. Don’t forget: “Genetic engineering is real and soon we may have to deal with a new set of values.”
Director William Malone cast an actor he had met at an improv class in the lead role. Unless you were in that class, I don’t think you would have known Stinson or any other actors who gave their effort.
Of Gratuitous Nature
The peeping tom watching the girl get changed, who very obviously is a different human when we go from creeping to an interior shot, has got to take the cake.
Man, imagine if Rick Springfield hadn’t gotten cold feet? He would have owned this section.
Ripe for a Remake
I can imagine this being a world that this film gets remade in 2022, especially with genetic engineering not being a stone thrown blindly into the darkness of the hereafter.
A direct-to-video sequel was released in 1990, simply titled Syngenor. It did feature the same monster from a decade earlier. It also had some killer VHS art.
Where to Watch
It seems Vinegar Syndrome has recently released a 4k restoration Blu-ray of this film (one I wish I had watched, as my copy was absolute trash quality), but I’ve had trouble finding (it may be sold out) a working link to purchase. You can also stream on Hoopla, Tubi, and Freevee.