This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Why on earth would anyone want to watch this poorly regarded, direct to video, marginal 1979 sci-fi extravaganza in this day and age? Well, truthfully it would have languished in obscurity were it not for the recent creation of Michael Bay’s The Island, which rather fittingly given the content matter (allegedly) appears to be a clone of this. Still, there’s a raft of lawyers busy trying to sort out if this was a case of parallel, albeit time-shifted creation or a copy and paste effort so let’s not worry about it too much at the moment. The main differential between the two will no doubt be the cost, the glossy MB effort that’s currently bombing at a box office near you weighing in at a $120 million compared to the buck twenty that Parts seems to have been created on.
It may be subtitled The Clonus Horror but don’t expect any werewolves or nutters in hockey masks, Parts is one of the many science fiction films where the actual ‘science’ takes something of a back seat to ‘running away’ and, at a push, ‘intrigue’. A group of shiny happy young people all clad in the finest primary coloured, tight fitting Adidas sporting gear go about their business looking for all the world like they’re in an Olympic training camp. They do have a goal in mind, all working and exercising diligently until they are deemed worthy to be sent from their enclave to America, a golden land where all dreams come true, happiness is guaranteed and kittens are plentiful. Aww, kittens.
As the sharper on the uptake may already have figured out from the title, this halcyon ideal isn’t anything like the ugly truth. After deemed mature by the hidden scientific observers, they’re taken from their friends and prepared for their trip to America in much the same way a chicken is prepared for a journey to a supermarket, killed, vacuum packed and put on ice. These people are clones (Clonus? Do you see what they did there?) of people out in our real world, created by the important and influential with intention of being a stock of suitable donor organs, which some might just call spare parts (Aha! The mystery is solved!). Distasteful perhaps, but not worthy of a film in itself unless something unexpected were to happen.
Funnily enough, it does. Two clones of different control groups, distinguished by a natty earring, accidentally meet. This, for no readily identifiable reason is a bad thing from the shadowy controllers standpoint, but from a scientific experiment viewpoint they decide not to ‘reprogram’ these two and watch what unfolds. Most of the clones are kept artificially dimwitted and docile but some are not, for no readily identifiable reason. This chance meeting, for no readily identifiable reason sets their minds turning and soon Richard (Tim Donnelly) and Lena (Paulette Breen) have what would be secret if not for the hidden surveillance cameras meetings that see them turn from strangers to friends to lovers. Awww, kittens. Pleasant perhaps, but not worthy of a film in itself unless something unexpected were to happen.
Funnily enough, it does. Richard figures out that something a little odd is going on here, triggered by finding a can labelled ‘Milwaukee’ floating in the river. The explanation that Milwaukee is a rare mineral found in certain parts of the river understandably doesn’t sit right with Richard. Breaking into the control building one night he discovers the horrible truth, outlined above, a makes a break for it pursued by a guard force fully prepared to shoot him to keep their secrets buried. Strangely, this seems neither too difficult nor to take too long. Showing up harassed, bedraggled and beshot-in-the-arm on a retired reporters doorstep with a videocassette of evidence of the Clonus Corporation’s wrongdoing, Jake Noble (Keenan Wynn) helps him track down his other half, for lack of a better term, philosophy professor Prof. Richard Knight (David Hooks). An odd choice perhaps, but can soon be tracked back to his presidential candidate brother Frank Knight (Peter ‘Mission Impossible’ Graves).
This marks another shift in the film, having gone from attempting with limited success to be a foreboding mystery (being told everything that would have made it a mystery in the first five minutes sort of puts the kibosh on that) to a somewhat underwhelming chasey type actioner to being something of a question of morals, as the Prof. has to balance his ethical issues and urge to go public with the truth with the understandable benefits that a backup younger, healthier body could provide as well as Frank’s complicity. Still, you have to wonder if the higher ups in this little enterprise are entirely happy with this little information containment malfunction and what remedial reality correction may have to be undertaken using their ‘amnesia ray’, or Colt .45 as they like to call it.
Parts: The Clonus Horror has a few qualities that make me genuinely want to love this little film. Anything with the offhanded bravery to kill so many of its heroes with such uncaring, reckless abandon makes my heart sing with a kind of pure joy, even if it does have to cop out at the end to ensure that the evildoers can’t escape unpunished. It always seems very aware of what it is and doesn’t get too many ideas above its station, or get caught up in Segal-esque moral posturing diatribes. It sensibly limits its use of special effects to what it’s budget can more-or-less adequately, given the timeframe, provide. Until it’s hampered by the action film need to have a bad guy to rail against it even puts forward salient arguments as to why this is sort of thing might be considered acceptable. In short, it’s far more intelligent than we’ve come to expect from this end of the market.
If it hadn’t been so slapdash, haphazard and disjointed it might have gotten away with it. Given the slightly esoteric nature of his crisises we really needed a great actor to portray what can only be termed as the mind-fuck Richard goes through, but sadly Tim Donnelly isn’t a great actor. There are umpteen worse actors walking the boards today and for the most part he does what’s asked of him well enough, but the few moments that required excellence to buy into a film that doesn’t have the opportunity to buy goodwill with flashy effects receive only adequacy. While Fiveson does a fine job in the framing of many shots that cover up the lack of resources, the pacing takes something of a hit as it seems the film is never quite sure where it wants its chips to finally fall. It’s ended up as a film that’s difficult to properly work out what the vision was for it on a first viewing, and isn’t good enough to warrant repeat viewing or extended though on what it might have truly been.