The title may sound generic, but METAMORPHOSIS: THE ALIEN FACTOR is an unusually vivid and accomplished low-budget horror film, a science fiction chiller that stretches its budget well and whips up some solid frights.
Much of the action takes place at the top-secret Talos Corporation, where a night watchman is devoured by something big and toothy that's been spawned in one of the labs. Concerned about his disappearance, his two teenaged daughters, Sherry (Tara Leigh) and Kim (Dianna Flaherty), go to the lab
to ask after him, but get nothing but the runaround. As it turns out, the head of the facility, Dr. Viallini (Marcus Powell), is covering up a serious accident that's occurred in the building. Down in one of the research labs (as revealed in lengthy flashbacks, one Dr. Foster (George Gerard) had
been working with some strange, alien spores and grown bizarre, slimy creatures from them. When his partner/girlfriend Nancy (Katherine Romaine) romantically distracts him during an experiment ("Please, honey, not in front of the mutants," he protests), a small, bloblike creature bites him on the
hand. Soon, the poor doctor is undergoing a grotesque transformation into a long-necked, slimy monster.
Despite the efforts of Nancy to help him, all traces of Dr. Foster soon become lost within the ever-growing mass, which eventually becomes the hungry monstrosity that killed the girls' father. Dr. Viallini is now determined to keep this horrific development a secret, to the point of hiring
hitmen led by Mitchell (Tony Gigante) to exterminate anyone who might leak the news. The night after being turned away, however, Sherry returns to the lab with her boyfriend, intending to sneak in and find out once and for all what happened to her father. Unbeknownst to them, Kim has hitched a
ride in the back of Sherry's truck, and soon the three teens are sneaking through Talos' labyrinthine hallways, searching for clues.
They soon get a big hint as the monster, now enormous and sporting a long neck and huge, razor-fanged jaws, bursts into the halls. It kills Nancy and one of the other hitmen, and pursues the two girls and Mitchell into another lab room, where a nuclear-powered weapon is installed. Sherry uses
her knowledge of computers to activate the weapon, and the energy surge appears to revert the monster back to the human form of Dr. Foster. But when Mitchell goes in to shoot Foster dead, the doctor re-mutates back into its creature stage and swallows the gunman whole. Then it turns on the girls,
but Sherry activates a huge piece of machinery that crushes the beast. Out in the hallways, Sherry and Kim are reunited with the former's boyfriend--just as the creature that first bit Dr. Foster emerges from the lab. Now human-sized and still getting bigger, it bursts out through the building's
Though METAMORPHOSIS started life as a sequel to producer Ted Bohus' tiny-budgeted THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983), it not only has nothing to do with that movie's plot but makes a quantum leap beyond it; the new film cost less than $2 million but looks like it cost at least three times as much. Helping
matters is the fact that Bohus, co-producer Scott Morette, and writer/director Glenn Takakjian have kept the cast and number of locations down, leaving them free to spend their money on the copious special effects and makeup work. The monster creations (supervised by Vincent Guastini) and
stop-motion visuals (by Dan Taylor) are of a quality well beyond what one usually finds in movies on this level, and remain convincing and scary throughout.
While the movie becomes an effects fest by the final third, Takakjian is to be commended for sustaining the tension all the way through. In many films, such an effects overdose can become numbing, but the director paces the action of the last few reels for maximum impact. The intensity of all
the climactic monster action helps make up for the fact that the earlier dramatic scenes are rather shaky, due in part to Takakjian's uneven work with actors. Powell, the only one to play the material for welcome camp, is great fun as the smarmy Viallini, while Gerard and Romaine are decent as the
dedicated doctors. On the other hand, Leigh and Flaherty are great-looking, but have trouble reacting properly when confronted by creatures; their stand-there-and-gape behavior recalls Richard Pryor's comically rhetorical "Why get killed when you can run?!"
The movie's flashback structure makes the storytelling fairly awkward in the first half, and the movie works better in parts than as a whole. Fortunately, it gets more intense and coherent as it goes along, and by the second half it's moving confidently enough for one to forget the shakiness of
what has preceded it. This is especially noteworthy given the film's troubled production; the money ran out halfway through, and once sufficient financing had been raised, actress Romaine had departed. As a result, the filmmakers had to kill her character off (in one of the movie's shocking
highlights) and press the Mitchell character into service as an unlikely ally to the teenaged heroines. The switch actually works well, marking an alternative to the usual "heroic scientist saves the day" standard. (Graphic violence, profanity.)
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