A small group consisting of scientists, explorers and journalists enter an old, previously closed off mineshaft to see if it’s suitable to resume mining. The mine had been closed off and sealed decades before, due to a series of suspicious deaths and very strange stories coming from the surviving minors. But a recent earthquake has just reopened the old mine, and the company who currently owns it wants to know if the reported gold deposits sitting in it are worth extracting. But when another quake causes the small group to become trapped within the mine’s depths, the would-be explorers quickly learn that the tall tales of monsters the old minors once told were more set in reality than any of them previously thought.
A visual representation of how to adjust your expectations for the film.
The Strangeness is an American monster movie from 1985, though you wouldn’t be remiss in thinking otherwise for a while, as the monster in question takes it’s sweet little time showing up. From what I’ve been able to gather, it’s entire inception and execution basically boils down to a group of friends getting together and one of them saying, “Hey! Let’s make a movie!” And thus you have The Strangeness, a decidedly low budget production filmed simultaneously on location at a mine they didn’t have permission to film at, and in director Melanie Anne Phillips’s grandparents’ garage. Oh, and the monster is created using stop-motion animation. I think that should cover all of the bases regarding what everybody should expect going into this film.
Yup. Be sure to get your swigs in early, folks. You’re gonna need it.
Even considering all the obvious issues thanks to the noticeably low budget the crew had to work with, I think I can easily say that it’s the film’s pacing that should get the credit as it’s most abysmal flaw. The film starts off fine with a couple of people getting sucked into the mine by unknown forces, but the next hour or so is damn near unbearably boring. Once we get through some quick introductions to all the cave explorers, the plot essentially screeches to a halt. After they make it down into the caves, the film utilizes the tried-and-true horror movie method of stringing out an already paper-thin plot by having all of it’s characters spend time wandering around in the dark. But while other movies may use this same padding method, they’re usually smart enough to break the aimless meandering down into separate chunks and space them throughout the film. The Strangeness seems to have decided “Why bother?”, and as a result the viewer gets the pleasure of watching everyone do nothing but wander around and look at murky nothingness for a solid 45 minutes, with the time only broken up with small bouts of inane dialogue. To make matters worse, the lighting is so poor thanks to their flashlights being the bulk of their illumination (and because the filmmakers didn’t want you to notice the walls were made of painted tinfoil), that you can barely see more than their faces and hands during that time. So not only is nothing happening, but you don’t have anything to look at either beyond their curious and confused faces.
I think this is the most lighting you get during the entire segment.
Surprisingly enough, the production values, including the lighting in particular, seem to improve as the film goes on. Or at least improve enough so that you can actually see what’s happening on screen. I don’t know if they were getting more experience as the film moved along, they got some extra funds, or someone replaced the bulb in grandma’s garage, but the look and pacing of the film miraculously manages to get better as the film moves along. In fact, the last 30 minutes or so, which is perhaps unsurprisingly when the monster finally decides to really show itself, are actually pretty fun. I mean, sure the whole ending is completely illogical, but at least it manages to be mildly entertaining.
Wait….how’d you get out there?! I’m so confused….
As this film was primarily filmed using a bunch of friends in various actor roles, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the performances vary quite a bit, though I wouldn’t say any of them were in any way awful. They all feel distinctly “middle of the road” theatre troupe-level in regards to acting. Some are a little over-the-top (which can be annoying) and some are a little stiff (which I think was fully intentional), but they’re all fairly survicable considering they’re your typical 80’s monster-movie fodder. Which is fine. They’re purpose isn’t meant to be gripping after all. It’s to bumble around in the dark, and provide just enough drippy, drama-filled dialogue and mundane humor to pad out the film. My only gripe with them is that the lead is kind of a sexist jerk, so you’re forced to watch him awkwardly interact and flirt with the pretty blond lady. To his credit, he does stop once she shuts him down, but being forced to watch their clumsy interactions is downright painful.
Workplace sexual harassment in a cave. That’s a new low. Get it?…. Eh?….Aw, to hell with ya’lls….
Of final note, I must bring up The Creature in the caves, which is a slimy, Lovecraftian-type tentacle monstrosity, created using stop-motion animation. I actually quite like the design of this thing. It’s green and gooey and squiggly and has a vertical mouth on the top of it’s head that resembles….well, let’s just say it resembles a certain type of Georgia O’Keeffe painting and leave it at that. The downside is that The Creature’s animations aren’t nearly as fluid as they could be and it feels a little out of place surroundedby all those rocks. It looks more like something you’d expect to see at the bottom of the sea, not in the bowels of a cave. And while it’s design may be neat, we’re never actually given any kind of explanation for what this thing is. I mean, I get it. Having this thing just be part of “the unknown” can be unsettling, but that’s a strategy that can just as easily leave the viewer wondering, “Yeah….but what is it?”
I mean, really, at least give me a hint?
When it comes to the “cave dwelling monster movie” subgenre of horror, The Strangeness is pretty far down on the list of “must-sees”. The acting is mediocre, the production values are sub-par, it’s horrendously slow, and the story is grossly familiar. The only upside is that the ending is actually pretty fun, The Creature is an interesting looking beast, and the process used to bring it to life is pretty fascinating, even if some of the animations are a little janky. But do those last two elements make it worth it? I’d say it’s unlikely. If you’re a fan of monster movies and stop-motion animation, then this will be worth watching at least once. But for everyone else, I suspect it’ll be a hard skip. Though, if you want to risk it, don’t be surprised if you find your finger hovering over the fast-forward button quite a lot.
The Strangeness is available on a variety of streaming services.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray, but both versions appear to currently be out of print.