Monday, October 30, 2023

Screamers (1995)


One last Monster Madness episode, looking at something that needs to be looked at because so few people know about it.

SUPER underrated movie that combines elements from my two favorite sci-fi horror movies: Terminator and The Thing. It's one of those "they could be anyone" movies, combined with unstoppable machines and an apocalyptic future. This shouldn't have been that good, but it really is. It's also based on "Second Variety" by Phillip K. Dick, and as we should all know by now, any movies and shows based on Dick stories tend to be pretty damn interesting.

2078 seems really, REALLY optimistic for there being mining colonies around a star that's eight light years away. Even for the over-optimistic 90's.

Well, here's the thing. In the original Dick story, this didn't take place on another planet. It took place here, in Russia, circa some time post-2000. That setting makes waaaaay more sense and the exact same story can be told there. Well, the movie decided to make it a mining planet instead, no doubt because scary space movies were all the rage at the time.

Whoa, they're really going all-in with this opening exposition crawl.

This crawl is one of the worst things about the movie. It just inundates you with information and sets the movie up to be immediately confusing.

Yep, uh...still going

Would have been way simpler to just go "We're in Siberia, WW3 has been going on for a while and has petered out, everything's sorta in ruins now and nobody's really fighting anymore, just holding onto various outposts and waiting for something to happen"

Hell, the movie even has the radioactive surface world from the book. They attribute it to the planet's ores giving off radioactive fumes. Just have it be post-WW3. Biggest mistake the movie makes.

Annnd going

Alright, suffice to say, this movie works a little better if you just imagine it as US versus USSR like the story intended. The mining operations and it being a distant world barely comes up. However, for the sake of following along with the movie, basically the TLDR is that two factions (Alliance and NEB) have been fighting it out for a long time on this mining moon. Both are proxies for Earth-based factions (might even be the US and USSR, who knows).

Their war has been vicious and destructive, and neither side has been able to actually emerge victorious. So at this point they're developing deadly machines to do the fighting for them. Specifically, screeching blade-armed drones known as...

Nice slicing effect on the title screen.

Movie starts with a lone NEB soldier stumbling through the wasteland on the way to an Alliance base.

The Alliance troops on guard suspect the soldier is on his way to do some sort of suicide bombing, and get ready to snipe him.

But wait! Something's in the ground, and it's scanning the guy!

Several Screamers (basically small spinning blade drones) fly out of the sand and cut the guy to pieces. What a way to go. We don't get a good look at them and they're back under the sand as quick as they flew out.

The Alliance troops puke, even though it was their own Screamers that took the guy out. The guy was trying to wave at them, holding some sort of cannister. What was in it?

The 2nd-in-command of the base goes out to retrieve the cannister. He's got a bracelet on that keeps Screamers from attacking him. That's right, Alliance troops have bracelets that emit certain frequencies that prevent their own Screamers from attacking them. From there they just sorta let the Screamers patrol and do whatever it is that they do.

What a wasteland.

Even with his bracelet, this is horrifying, so he has to be cautious. Just then, a machine roars out of the sand and tries to grab the severed arm of the soldier, so 2nd-in-command guy has to gun it down. This gives us our first real look at the remains of one of these machines. They're rudimentary and simple, but incredibly deadly. Also they seem to be collecting the body parts of the people they kill, and dragging them under the dirt. Well, that's weird. I'm sure it's nothing and won't totally come into play later...

The cannister contains a message for Alliance command in this area. Whatever it was, it was important enough for a NEB soldier to walk here alone carrying it and get brutally shredded by their death-drones.

He brings it to base captain Peter Weller, of Robocop fame, seen here lounging around and not particularly caring. He's a lot like Lt. Traxler in The Terminator. The kind of guy who asks for a cigarette when he's already holding one.

2nd: "This is addressed to Alliance command. That means the two of us. And God if he still cares."
Weller: "I doubt it."

Looks like the message is a call for a cease-fire. The NEB is calling for an end to hostilities with the Alliance because they've found a new source for the ore they're fighting over and now there's enough for everyone.

Weller talks to the leader of the Alliance, and he confirms that they're open to a ceasefire.

Also we learn that Weller's name in this movie is Joseph Hendrickson. Which is pretty funny because his name in 24 Season 5 was...Henderson.

2nd says it's a good thing the shooting war has stayed on this mining world instead of expanding to Earth. Weller grouses that maybe it'd be good if the war expanded to Earth, because maybe their bosses at the Alliance would have been more open to peace if they had to roll around in the ashes too.

But wait! An Alliance plane crashes right outside the base, triggering an alarm. Well, this is a weirdly eventful day after six months of nothing happening. Turns out the plane has some sort of nuclear weapon on board, as well as a bunch of weapons and 37 dead crewmen. So now the mystery is what the hell their destination was.

There's one guy who survived the plane crash, and he's being menaced by Screamers.

They, weirdly enough, seem more interested in dragging as many dead bodies into the ground as they can. What are they doing with all these dead bodies?

Weller takes out a few of them to rescue the guy, and notices that these are more armored and advanced than the normal ones the Alliance has been using.

They've got the same CPU, more or less. Why is the Alliance making new varieties of Screamer if the war is basically over?

The guy who survived the plane crash is Jefferson, a rookie marksman who is brimming with confidence but not a lot of sense. He looks a bit like a young Scott Bakula.

Things get even weirder when Weller plugs in the new Screamer chip and...the code for it isn't in human language, it's in some new made-up gobbledegook. This doesn't make any sense. If the Alliance made it, the code would be in human language.

Jefferson brings bad news: The leaders of the Alliance, who Weller thought he'd been communicating with...died two years ago. So he was talking to a fabrication. Things continue to get weirder and weirder, but he wants peace regardless. He's going to go to NEB HQ and negotiate a ceasefire himself, and needs an ally. Jefferson agrees to go, no big whoop.

His buddy offers to go, but Weller says he needs someone competent to hold down the fort here. We can see that these guys are bros, which is the closest Weller gets to actually respecting or even seeming to like any of the guys in this movie.

Weller sets off with Jefferson the Marksman, who immediately starts getting on his nerves with what a n00b he is.

Weller: "As much as you're dying to get shot to pieces in a battle, we're gonna go up there and make peace and deprive you of that experience."

That guy is cool.

Some really nice sweeping scenery shots in this movie, even if most of it is polluted wasteland and refineries.

After a while they stumble upon a creepy small child wandering around.

The creepy small child has an adorable teddy bear, and Weller introduces himself to it. The kid wants to go with them and Jefferson is all for it, until Weller shuts it down and says the kid has to stay here.

Eventually he relents, though, and lets the kid go with them. Just as they're setting up camp for the night...

...a Screamer attacks!

"Fuck yoooooooou!"

Alright hold on, stop the bike! This different from the others. Another revision of the Screamer design, this time designed to resemble an animal skeleton.

...the hell does this mean?

Weller checks its CPU, and...instead of the usual type designation, it has a bunch of symbols in some unknown language. Just like the code on the last chip. So now the chips themselves are becoming otherworldly and disconnected from human creation.

Worst part is, that Screamer completely ignored their Screamer-repellent bracelets. Saw right through them.

This movie is full of gorgeous environments. Some creative art direction that really gets across "desolate mining planet". Course this also could have been 2070 Siberia and not missed a beat.

Finally, they arrive at the NEB base.

Suddenly, enemy troops blast the kid right out of his boots!

"WENDY I CAN FLY!" he says as he sails to his death.

Weller is shocked and horrified to see that the kid has an exposed endoskeleton.

The kid...was a machine.

Suffice to say both guys are in total shock, having never seen anything like this before, as the troops come out.

On the left is Michael From La Femme Nikita, an overconfident douchebag of a soldier. On the right is...some nerdy guy who is chronically terrified. He says his entire unit was slain by one of those fake kids. There are only three people left in their base, including them.

Also...the NEB guys have been figuring out why Screamers always seem to drag corpses underground. They're down there studying said corpses and re-designing their own bodies to more closely resemble the things they're killing. In short, they've taken on a mind of their own and humans aren't even really in the loop anymore, nor have they probably been for a while now. The machines have evolved beyond their programming and now just see humans in general as a threat.

Weller tries to radio back to base that there's a new kind of machine that looks like a little kid who needs help, and don't let anyone in. Only problem is...his buddy can't hear what he's saying through all the static interference.

Well, that isn't good.

This movie is really adept at creating a creeping sense of dread during all of this, as is the short story it's based on.

The NEB base is a sprawling underground complex.

MFLFN is a real jackass, and endlessly mocks the terrified guy as well as Jefferson. Weller takes the opportunity to take charge of the situation and let everyone know whose band this is.

...until this Jessica woman shows up, the person in charge of the NEB base. She takes no guff from anybody, and immediately has chemistry with Weller since he's the same way.

After she invites him to go have a drink with her, Weller nods at the guys to assert dominance and they all back off.


Weller's story here is that his wife left him for some other guy years ago and he's just never really been into anyone else since. That and the dating prospects in this desolate hellscape aren't exactly abundant.

The two groups join together to make an expedition up to a nearby Alliance transmission station to try to transmit a signal back to Weller's base and warn them.

They get it punched in on...Windows 95? Nice Nintendo Power like font too.

MFLFN stands guard...and pans his head around slowly and steadily for a moment.


Just then, another animal skeleton Screamer scuttles into the room, looking for BLOOD.

Jefferson leaps to the aid of the scared guy and they blow it away just in time.

But wait... they suddenly hear many footsteps approaching, accompanied by a cacophony of squeaky child voices.

This is like the Bridge of Khazad-Dum. GET OUTTA THAAAAR!

While everyone else runs for the exit, Weller stays and runs the CPUs through the Alliance database real quick. Turns out this thing is just the latest revision of Type 1 Screamers.

All humans created was the original Screamer model. Everything from there is self-revision.

The terminator-kid is Type 3.

So wait...what's the second variety?

After they get away, freaked-out guy is so freaked out that he keeps saying the same thing over and over, something the kid was also doing.

Michael accuses him of being a machine, until he draws on Michael. Unfortunately for him, Michael is faster and stabs him with a knife.

Weller checks the corpse...and it's definitely a human corpse. Which makes Michael a murderer.

He makes some excuses for being a general jackass, and they move on. Problem is they really don't know who might be a machine at this point. According to Jessica, rumor is that the Type 2 machine is an injured soldier who lays around yelling for help.

Kind of creepy how the minute the machines could start making themselves look human, they immediately started designing "bait" models that would lure people in and take advantage of their kindness. Wounded soldier, lost child, both things that would get people to stop and let their guard down to try and do something to help. That the machines went straight to this line of thinking shows them to be pretty insidious.

They start heading back towards Weller's base on foot, which takes a while and has more sweet views.

He couldn't get a signal to reach them for a while because of radiation, but now that they're right outside he finally establishes comms with his homie. However...the guy doesn't sound like himself, and isn't treating Weller like his superior or listening to orders. Weller tests him by mentioning things they were talking about earlier, but in a coded way, and it flies over the head of his friend. ...he's not your friend anymore, he's been replaced.

Soon as Weller figures this out, the doors to his base open up and a KIDZ HORDE roams out, screeching at our heroes.

The Devil's hands have been busy.

"Fuck yooooooooou!"

There's a freaking ARMY of these kidz!

Finally they deploy the flamethrower!

Even that isn't torching them fast enough, there are just too many inbound. They start sprouting saw blades from their arms as they close in for the kill.

Finally Weller launches a tactical mini-nuke grenade that they found earlier and were saving for a rainy day. It completely annihilates the horde of kidz and the entrance to the base.

By the time the smoke clears dawn has broken, and everyone's worse for wear. Also Weller's base, and everyone in it, is gone.

He finds Michael nearby, writhing around on the ground yelling for help.

Wait a minute...

Too late, as he gets up and kills poor Jefferson by crushing him with his metal hands.

My God. Michael is a Type 2 version.

Well, Jefferson was doomed from the get-go...

He then walks toward Weller to finish him as well, but Weller is armed with a very potent gun.

After stunning him with a shot to the face, he loads up a grenade and...

...blasts him in half. Luckily these things are much easier to kill than Terminators, so he doesn't crawl forward with his upper torso like some sort of hellish nightmare.

Weller embraces Jessica. They're the only two left. He then slashes her hand and she bleeds profusely. HE HAD TO CHECK.

He's about to slash his own hand and she stops him, saying she believes him.

They cry and embrace, two lovers at the end of the world.

There's an escape shuttle hidden nearby in a very well-disguised wall. He knows the code to get in, so they're gonna try to get to the shuttle and get off this forsaken rock.

In the depths of an old Alliance hangar, they find...

...the shuttle. They're both pretty thrilled. Weller goes to the hangar controls to get the thing prepared.

...then his best friend emerges from the shadows.

It ain't him, though, and tries to kill Weller. It also has the same characteristics as Michael (overly cocky and arrogant, mocking his foe) so it's a Type 2. He says that they've been using human corpses as models to construct Type 2 Screamers, which means his friend's corpse got used as a template as well. I think they might even be hollowing out the corpses and building the machine inside of them. Not sure. The Type 2 doesn't seem mass-produced like 1 and 3.

Weller manages to fight him off by electrocuting him with a loose wire. Now can we get outta here?, because it turns out the shuttle only has room for one person. She could sit in his lap?

No, it only has life support for one person too.

He insists that she leave without him. She insists HE leave without her.


Hey look, a second Jessica. There are two of her? That's hot!

Second Jessica tells Weller that they're the newest revision. They can bleed, have sex, everything. Indistinguishable from humans. They also have self-awareness unlike the others. So she's Type 4, I guess.


The two Jessicas then shockingly begin fighting each other, demonstrating super strength and martial arts proficiency. If she was THIS strong the whole time that could have been brought to everyone's attention YESTERDAY.

Evil Jessica wins the fight by impaling regular Jessica, destroying her power core. Then she turns around and screams at Weller like a Body Snatcher.

The engine of the escape shuttle powers on and blasts Evil Jessica to smithereens.

The real Jessica is sorry she didn't tell him sooner. She was basically fighting with her own programming over wanting to tell him. She's advanced enough to have free will.

Also...she learned to love. With that, she keels over. He notes that the machines have already evolved to where they're turning on each other.

With that, Weller pays his respects to her and regretfully boards the ship.

Then he takes off to the sky, like Heero. Well, safe to say he's got to be thrilled to leave this hellscape behind.

As he soars toward Earth, unbeknownst to him, a teddy bear is lurking behind the control panel. It's one of those bears the Type 3 kidz were carrying.

...and it starts moving. Type Zero?

Well, I didn't need to sleep tonight. So will the human race be wiped out on Earth once the bear makes its way out and starts self-propagating new Screamers there? Who knows.

Really good movie, and a bit chilling. It's nowhere near as good as Terminator or The Thing but it combines elements from both to potent effect. It's worth seeing, and not many people have heard of it.

Also, worth reading: Second Variety (the short story)

You can't go wrong with Phillip K. Dick, that much has been proven over the years. The final act of the short story is significantly different from the movie and I think it's even better.

One thing though, I don't think the movie ever explained the crashed airplane with the nuke onboard. Jefferson was the only survivor and didn't know what their mission was going to end up being. Most likely someone in command in an Alliance base found out that the Screamers were out of control and was going to try to nuke them. Either way, the plan fell apart. ...but why did the plane crash?

Yeah, surprisingly deep movie with a fair amount of mysteries to figure out. The kind of movie you watch a second time just to try and catch all the clues.

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