Sterling // 1998 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // September 5th, 1999
Their dreamchild turned into a nightmare.
Some of the cheesiest sci-fi/horror that I have ever seen, Progeny makes for a very strange and uneven DVD.
I make sure to occasionally stray outside of my usual cinematic boundaries and check out a film that had never entered my horizons. Progeny is one such film, and it caught my eye with an unusual assortment of actors. Not only do you have Brad Dourif, weird character-actor supreme (see his turn as Piter DeVries in Dune), but up pops Lindsay Crouse, last seen by me as a young hockey wife in Slap Shot, and finally -- Wilford Brimley as a gynecologist?!?
Unfortunately, the early spring of potential promise is short-lived. Normally, when I review a disc, I run through it at least twice to get a handle on the film itself and to judge the quality of the video, audio, and extras. I didn't have to do that with Progeny. The story just never got off the ground, leaving me rather uninvolved and ambivalent as the supposedly horrifying events build up to the climax. It also did not help matters that Wilford Brimley (Dr. David Wetherly) exits far too quickly and Brad Dourif (Dr. Bert Clavell) takes far too long to be introduced. Both of these actors have talent that is barely used here, in favor of the less talented lead couple. Jillian McWherter (Sherry Burton) does her best to convey fear and terror, with mixed success, but her on-screen husband played by Arnold Vosloo (Craig) is about as lively as a CPR dummy. This guy is nothing like the adrenaline junkie that E.R. doctors tend to be. None of the remainder of the cast is particularly notable, but I have to say that I couldn't take Willard Pugh seriously as the hospital administrator Eric Davidson. I kept on having visions of his goofy mayoral role in Robocop 2.
Well, let's get this synopsis out of the way. Craig and Sherry are busily doing the mattress dance, attempting to spawn, when something odd happens. They shake the odd feeling and continue with their lives, in due course celebrating the happy news that Sherry is pregnant. Craig begins to have odd reactions and visions, which prompt him to seek hypnotic therapy with Dr. Susan Lamarche (Lindsay Crouse). Craig is beginning to remember what turns out to be an alien abduction of his wife, who (along with Dr. Lamarche) is incredulous that Craig would even consider such an absurd scenario.
Even for a first-time mother, Sherry begins to have her own ominous physical reactions, which scare her into getting an ultrasound from her OB/GYN, Dr. Wetherly. Craig continues to brood over his memories, increasingly of the belief that he did not father the child and that the child is a product of the alien abduction. Even Sherry undergoes hypnosis with Dr. Lamarche, and remembers very detailed memories of her abduction and experimentation; she cannot be convinced that Dr. Clavell, a noted expert in these matters, should be brought in to help.
Sherry continues to have even more disturbing visions, which both confirm Craig in his beliefs and convince Dr. Lamarche that Sherry is a seriously disturbed woman in need of professional assistance. When Sherry goes so far as to nearly kill herself in an ice bath because "her baby wanted it," Dr. Lamarche admits Sherry to a psych ward in her sole care. Finally, in answer to a nearly forgotten message, Dr. Clavell shows up and assures Craig that his experiences are not unusual, and that he can help. The pair attempt to break through Sherry's resistance with a little sodium pentothal, but although they learn from her even more horrific details of the abduction they succeed only in getting themselves removed from the hospital and having Craig fired.
By now, Craig is obsessed with killing the alien child growing in his wife's body, and Dr. Clavell reluctantly agrees that this is a necessary step. By simple subterfuge, they sneak back into the hospital with the intention of a forcible and involuntary alien abortion. Matters go horribly awry, and tragedy is the ultimate result.
Extras are as strange a lot as the movie itself. You get a two feature length commentaries with the director and producers on one and the writers on the other, interviews with "abductees" and their therapist, a trivia game, effects footage, storyboards, cast and crew bio and filmographies, rather poor quality video interviews with cast and crew, and, of course, a full screen (ick!) trailer. If you like the film enough to make it through all of this extra content, then you're made of stronger stuff than I. It is packaged in the preferred Amaray keep case.
Yeccch. Particularly at the end, the effects that are meant to create repulsion and horror are more amusing in their cheapness than they are repulsive or shocking. It's a shame, as there was the potential for some fine acting, but it was squandered and hidden beneath a bland script and acting that should be kept away from a forest fire.
The video is a disappointment, given the expectations that I had from reviewing a previous Sterling title, Supreme Sanction. The picture is generally quite soft and not crisp at all, with plentiful grain and video noise and a fair amount of dirt and blemishes. Color saturation is weak to moderate, contrast is adequate, and the blacks in a couple of nighttime house exterior shots were positively gray. Flesh tones are a bit on the pale side, and in a few scenes have an odd tint. It doesn't help matters that this is a non-anamorphic transfer.
Audio is unremarkable Dolby 2.0. Dialogue is understandable, but the effects are pretty limited to the center of the soundstage with only limited use of channel separation. The sound in general seemed a bit flat, and the bass was frequently harsh rather than nicely thumping, but at least your subwoofer will get woken up occasionally.
If bad sci-fi/horror is your bag, then have at it. For the rest of us, I wouldn't rent or purchase this overpriced ($30) disc on a dare.
Guilty as charged on both counts. I sentence the director, producer, and writers to 95 minutes of slow torture. Sterling is sentenced to a month of picking up trash from the highways.
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary by the Director and Producer, Plus Actual Alien Abductees