Mondo Macabro // 1979 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 29th, 2005
Attack of the clones.
Mondo Macabro, the studio that lays claim to "The Wild Side of World Cinema," unleashes this 1979 thriller about a secret government cloning operation that farms spare parts for important people. Is Clonus (a.k.a. The Clonus Horror, a.k.a. Parts) worth your valuable time? (See, if you had a clone, you could watch this movie while he or she goes to work -- not a bad idea, Clonus! Not bad at all!)
There's something fishy going on in the San Fernando valley.
A top-secret government facility is teeming with idiot savants running around in Adidas sweatsuits. Wide-eyed and dreaming of the promise of the mystical place called "America," these folks frolic and work out until they are deemed ready to make the journey. Little do they know they're all clones of the rich and powerful movers and shakers in the real America, and when they come of age they'll be ushered into cold storage and used for organ harvesting.
One of the major players in on the secret is Jeffrey Knight (Peter Graves, Airplane!), a senator aspiring to be president. His brother, Richard Knight (David Hooks), is of a more ethical persuasion and is appalled when he discovers the Clonus operation. In fact, he's introduced to the facility through his own clone, Richard Jr. (Tim Donnelly), who has escaped Clonus after discovering the truth. Now the big shots that run the operation are after their fugitive clone, and suddenly everyone who is sucked into the truth is equally at risk.
Mondo Macabro is an excellent distribution company, able to drum up some of the wackier films that may have slipped through the cracks, remaster them superbly, and pin some substantial extras on the disc. The company's synopsis writing could use a little work, though. I submit Exhibit A, from the back of the Clonus case:
"Peter Graves and Hollywood legend Keenan Wynn star in this dazzling political thriller that works equally well as a pulse-pounding horror film, packed with moments of jaw-dropping terror."
Hey, Mondo Macabro synopsis-writing guy -- cut back on the Trix!
Over-the-top adjectives aside, Clonus is not a horror film and, apart from a brief scene of a clone getting her head buzz-sawed, there are really no moments of "jaw-dropping terror." The reason I bring this up is not to criticize the quality of the movie. Actually, Clonus is pretty good, but if you're going in expecting a horror flick you won't leave satiated. It's more like a political mystery/chase film/sci-fi/expanded Twilight Zone episode/cautionary tale/social commentary cocktail. There is of course the tasty irony of the movie: Made in 1979, its "far-fetched" topic is a centerpiece of bioethical debate these days. While I'm sure no one would be audacious enough to say that we're a few steps away from farming human beings, hanging them in a meat locker, and playing "Operation" with their internal organs, never before has the planet been this close to the technology to artificially recreate humans.
Director Robert S. Fiveson embraces the moral quagmire. When the Knight brothers have at it about the pros and cons of cloning for spare parts (pro = live forever; con = the wholesale slaughter of innocents), Fiveson hits upon many of the buzzwords and dilemmas in today's dialogue -- are clones human? Isn't it worth it to extend the lives of great men and women? And wouldn't it be cool to have a bunch of friends to play Scrabble with?
Don't worry, though, the movie is not an exercise in proselytizing. What moves Clonus along is the chase aspect of the film. It doesn't take Richard Jr., our clone protagonist, long to discover who he is and what his unsavory purpose in life is. And when he enjoys a roll in the hay with his bodacious clone girlfriend (it's obvious that the scientists are genetically engineering huge breasts for the females, perhaps just to keep the security personnel awake) and strikes up a relationship, his humanity is suddenly stark, no matter what those heartless Clonus bastards think.
The evasion of said bastards and the unveiling of the conspiracy is the meat and potatoes of the film, and Fiveson pulls it off well. Clonus isn't a balls-out action film, but the acting and pacing were executed solidly enough to keep me engaged. The final two-thirds is really one large pursuit scene, taking a break solely for some exposition and the aforementioned morality discussion.
The transfer, in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, is gorgeous. Aside from a few sporadic flaws, the video is sharp and pristine. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is adequate enough, though the audio mix could have benefited greatly from an aggressive LFE.
While there are fewer extras here than Mondo Macabro usually supplements its releases with, what is available is substantial, though director-centric. Fiveson delivers an audio commentary, which is really a question and answer session with a poorly miked interviewer while the movie runs; it's unorthodox, but insightful. An interview with Fiveson is exhaustive. If you're struggling with you college term paper on the life of Robert S. Fiveson, this feature is all you need. Trailers finish off the package.
Clonus isn't a lot of things. It's not a horror film or an action-packed sci-fi adventure or a whiz-bang narrative of political manipulation. It's not a pogo stick or an aardvark either. Where I'm going with this, I have no idea. Just that I think Clonus is a pretty decent movie.
The accused is released. And so is the clone of the accused. And so is the clone of the clone of the accused. And so is the clone of the clone of the clone of the accused. And so is the clone of the clone of the clone of the clone of the accused. And so is the clone of the clone of the clone of the clone of the clone of the accused.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Interview with Director Robert S. Fiveson
* Director Commentary
* Theatrical Trailer