Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme


For as long as horror and science fiction film has entertained and challenged audiences with disturbing imagery and mythic story-patterns, this aesthetic form has also challenged the status quo using universal archetypes, taboo themes, and subversive narrative approaches to question the validity of the ruling social classes, mass mentality, and such troublesome questions as morality, mortality, and the very value (or lack thereof) of perception itself. No small feat for a genre often ridiculed by unknowing, prejudiced members of the mainstream media (nothing more than another term for the ‘status quo‘) as it is cherished by devotees appreciative of its ability to help us face concerns of both the human condition and the wider universe that we would have neither the nerve nor intellectual/emotional tools to explore in any other way.

Whereas much genre cinema inadvertently champions conservative mentalities by restoring world order/the norm after allowing its stock-monsters to raise some hell, the more serious examples challenge cultural dictate and cinema expectations by using exploitative themes to vivisect the very nature of reality. CLONUS is such a film, utilizing a science fiction and horror format/structure to not only challenge dictates of morality and authority but to also question the very notions of right and wrong, truthhood and falsity.

Good and evil are but catchwords in this coldly established world of emotional treachery and sterile sentiment, evoking dread and apprehension via a scathingly thoughtful screenplay, competent performances, and assured direction. As much a biting satire of commercialism, commerce, individual greed, and cultural apathy as it is a hotbed of political and religious turmoil, this is one exploitation picture where the subtext offers as many sordid thrills and emotional extremes as does the action-packed surface plot. Also known by the more sensational moniker of PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR, this neglected film feeds on our fear of a dystopian future, claustrophobia, loss of identity, and instinctive distrust of science. A hybrid of various genres and cinematic forms, the mood is as diverse as its content, ranging from pathetic and darkly comical to morose and terrifying.

A depressing sense of finality and hopelessness permeates; indicting our species for the condition at which these tragic characters find themselves. Clonus, the land where the action unfolds, is no less a character than the living figures who languish within it -- a physical representation of wayward humanity taken to extremes. Playing on the contradictory juxtaposition of exterior appearances and the inner realities of things, Clonus is home to a group of incredulously happy saps that appear to frolic, love, and languish the day away in ideal beatitude . . . under the watchful eye of uniformed guards. Rather like contemporary society, this is a heard of sheep all too willing to let others make tough decisions for them so long as they are allowed to live in blissful ignorance.

Similar in concept and mood to William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s LOGAN’S RUN, the plot reveals that when these ‘people’ (I use the term loosely, as they are more numbers/objects than individual personalities with any degree of choice; you know, rather like today in America) reach a level of pre-determined existence, they are ‘rewarded’ with the opportunity to travel to legendary ‘America’, where everything (or so the powers that be claim) is wonderful and rich and free. Instead, we discover that they are freeze-dried like meat and laid to rest in cold storage. Enter Richard (Tim Donnelly) and Lena (Paulette Breen), a pair of young people whose matching ear tags result in the pair taking the unusual step of showing more than a passing interest in eachother. It soon becomes apparent that this depiction of human emotion does not please the guards monitoring their movements, whereas the relationship is just the beginning of Richard’s intellectual/emotional transformation.

A symbolic retelling of Adam and Eve in the Garden, Richard partakes of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, only in this case, the catalyst is a human relationship in which the spark of love wakens him to his predicament. Richard soon begins to question the nature of both his society and his place in it. Fleeing from Clonus, he travels to the unknown wider world, and discovers . . . Well, I’m not going to say anymore for fear of ruining a conspiracy theorist plot that, while not as surprising as it was undoubtedly meant, is nevertheless intriguing, particularly in our current cultural unease, when similar issues are being debated by an Aristocracy disguised as democratic politicians.

The not-so-subtle allegory of CLONUS resists becoming heavy handed, lending further realism, authority, and emotional disturbance to a satisfying conflict. A morbidly wonderful inventive examination of a political machine that deceives its people, this film in no way deserves the rather crude reputation it has received as a laughable Schlock-fest. On the contrary, its dark intelligence is only surmounted by its willingness to attack the distortion of world events and distribution of ‘approved’ reality that its world’s government uses to program its citizenry. If this sounds heavy, seeped in philosophical inquiry and thought, it is; this isn’t the science fiction opera of STAR TREK or the Epic Quest-in-space adventure of STAR WARS; nor does it offer the blunt horror of ALIEN or the sappy frontier spirit so prevalent in mainstream ‘popcorn’ science fiction. Instead, this is a movie where both fear and awe are evoked as much through the intellect as through emotional stress. Yes, it entertains, but it also challenges pre-conceived notions of self and state, government and personal freedom.

Depicted in a pleasing 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the colors are bold and nicely transferred, while print damage is minimal, free of any serious lines, scratching, or grain. While some speckling occurs, this is more the fault of the movie’s source and age, no doubt, than any direct fault of the restoration effort. Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is likewise satisfactory, allowing the dialogue and music to blend well.

Mondo Macabro should be congratulated for preserving such an intelligent, scathing example of speculative fiction, but the extras on this disc really make this package stand out. Here MM gives the feature a loving wardrobe of accompanying features that add substance and class. Included is a worthwhile full-length commentary by director Robert Fiveson, who proves both talkative and enthusiastic. Reliving his time in the business, he discusses the difficulties of preparing/making the film, the meager budget, and offers wisdom hard-earned through strife and turmoil. Dissecting everything from effects to personal philosophy, Fiveson is a one-man army of ideas and insights, making the track as informative as it is fun. “Parts of a Life,” a documentary, is next, focusing on little known areas of Fiveson’s life and work. Each of these supplements is unique enough in their approach to make them worthwhile. A photo gallery, theatrical trailer, and MM’s promo reel round out this offbeat offering of cultural conspiracy and technological terror.

CLONUS is much a threat to the passive mind as it is for the emotionally adventurous but also serves as a cultural warning whose grim message is everyday becoming more apparent.

William P. Simmons

 

Directed By: Robert S. Fiveson

English Language

USA / 1979 / 90 minutes

Special Features
Interview with the Director, Commentary, Theatrical Trailer, Preview Reel

A Mondo Macaboro Release

Region ALL / NSTC / Anamorphic Widescreen (16:9) / Dolby Digital Stereo

www.mondomacabrodvd.com

CLONUS

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