Director: Christian Duguay
Script: Dan O’ Bannon, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Cast: Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, Jennifer Rubin, Andy Lauer, Ron White, Charles Powell, Liliana Komorowska
Running time: 108 minutes
Set on the war-ravaged mining planet, Sirius B, Screamers is based on the novella ‘Second Variety’, by Philip K. Dick, and is certainly one of the best screen adaptations of his work.
The year is 2078 and Commander Col. Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller) is in charge of a remote outpost, protecting it against the New Economic Bloc (NEB) who began a war years ago in order to exploit valuable radioactive deposits on the planet. His life is further complicated by the ‘Screamers’ of the title, which are man-made killing devices designed to eliminate all enemy life forms, and that now seem to be malfunctioning, making them equally happy to kill anything that moves, and not just the enemy. These mechanoids were originally created by The Alliance, who formed to rebel against the NEB. Disturbingly, these ‘Screamers’ now seem to be evolving and reproducing themselves, but in different disguised forms.
When a lone soldier arrives with a message for Joseph Hendricksson, from the leader of the opposing side, suggesting a ceasefire, Joseph takes a rookie sharpshooter, Jefferson, from a fallen aircraft with him to broker terms and conditions, but it soon becomes apparent that things are not how they initially seem to be and that they’re probably walking into a trap, a trap that’s been set by something not quite human…
Screamers is a somewhat neglected sci-fi movie that deserves more recognition and acclaim than it currently receives. Not only is it well made, featuring some great performances by the largely unknown cast, but it also has some excellent production design and some decent special effects, especially taking into consideration the age and the relatively small budget of the film. The ‘Screamers’ themselves are nicely realised and are quite original as a concept. I particularly liked the idea that Alliance troops used to be able to wear special wristbands that prevented the Screamers being able to detect a heart rate in their wearers so the Screamers wouldn’t attack them. And it’s this kind of attention to detail in world-building that sci-fi fans like, admire and enjoy so much, including me.
Admittedly, there are some CGI effects that have dated very badly and are quite laughable nowadays, but the practical special effects, including the models, stop-motion animation and matte paintings are uniformly impressive.
On a more human level I enjoyed the informality of the way Hendricksson talks to his staff (after having being stuck at the outpost for so long), the banter that he has with his second-in-command, and the sarcastic quips that he makes when engaging with his new back-up, Jefferson (Laver).
Director Duguay keeps things moving along at a good pace and nicely generates tension when required, and also produces a few classic set-pieces, including the initial Screamer attack at the start of the film (to help illustrate how bad-ass they are); the sequence in the old canteen where Hendrickson tries to learn more about the modifications the Screamers have been building into themselves; and the finale, which is great fun and has a nice twist.
Screamers references some sci-fi and horror greats including Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Terminator and The Thing. And, while it’s not as good as any of those films, it certainly can hold its celluloid head up high as a superior piece of 90s cult film-making.
101 Films is distributing Screamers on Blu-ray. This package comes with a limited edition booklet (which I haven’t seen unfortunately) and various extras on the disc. These include:
An audio commentary with film critic Kevin Lyons;
Northern frights (21 mins) – An interview with director Christian Duguay who talks about how the film came about, the difficulties of shooting in sub-zero temperatures, slow to render CGI, and about how he’s still surprised by how well the film has stood the test of time and is so well-loved by its fans.
Orchestrating the future (24 mins) – An interview with producer Tom Berry who talks about how he came to be in the film business and how the rats used in the film were actual wild rats taken out of a grain store!
More Screamer than human (11 mins) – An interview with co-writer Miguel Tejada-Flores who talks about his earlier career (he scripted Fright Night 2 and The Psychic), the made-for-TV sequel to the film (a good script, but bad execution, he admits), and about the script itself, which had been written by Dan O’ Bannon several years before and was a much darker script in its original form.
From Runaway to Space (19 mins) – An interview with actress Jennifer Rubin who talks candidly about her career, and also how she already knew Peter Weller before they made the film together.
Trailer (2 mins) – A mostly cool trailer, although it gives a major plot twist away.