Chilling Classics Cthursday: METAMORPHOSIS (1990)

Chilling Classics Cthursday: METAMORPHOSIS (1990)

I will admit, when I saw the little (1990) on the cardboard sleeve holding this week's Chilling Classic Metamorphosis, I flinched so hard that I got cramps in places I didn't even know I had. Yeah, there's, like, The Exorcist III, but horror-ly speaking, there ain't much from that year to get excited about. But! When a credit for Joe D'Amato's production/distribution company FILMIRAGE appeared alongside writing and directing credits for George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori), I was cramping anew, but with curiosity. After all, Eastman co-wrote the 1987 giallo/slasher StageFright and co-wrote and starred in D'Amato's cannibal...err, classic?...Anthropophagus. Ah, so Metamorphosis is an Italian joint from these folks? Well, said I, this film should be a weirdo, perhaps gory, perhaps sleazy journey.

Spoiler alert: IT'S NOT. 

Dr. Peter Houseman (Gene LeBrock) is a brilliant, hot professor and genetic scientist who wears an obligatory 1990 mock turtleneck and is working on some top-secret project having to do with eradicating aging, disease, and death. 

It's always that with these geneticists, isn't it? Immortality! Who needs it, I say. Certainly no one in horror movies, because it never goes well.

And it's not going well for Peter, that's for sure. Not only does he keep killing his test subject monkeys (their alpha and beta waves go nuts after he injects too much glucose!), there's a suit from New York on the scene, as the folks in charge want to know where all the grant money Peter's department gets is going. Accountability! Who needs it, I say. On the bright side, the suit in question isn't "some hysterical old maid in menopause" as Peter fears, but rather a hot woman named Sally who makes eyes at him and is 29 years old. Or so she claims!

I know that style can affect someone's perceived age and there's that weird phenomenon where People Who Came Before You always seem older than they were Back Then. But 29? To that I say: hmm. One thing is for certain, though, and that's that Sally is a fucking drip. But that's okay, so is Peter! They are a couple of absolute drips who are part of the reason why Metamorphosis ends up being a near-total slog, so of course they fall in love. They even get a blue-lit, saxophone-filled 1990 sex scene that our more puritanical audiences of today would find "unnecessary" as it "doesn't move the plot forward." 

I find the whole conversation that's happening around cinematic sex scenes interesting, honestly. I can see why actors might say "no more sex scenes, please and thank you." I think intimacy coordinators are a good thing. It's awfully weird to think that sex scenes have historically been quasi-obligatory, especially in certain dramas, and we all just...accepted that. You paid your dues with surprise sex scenes when watching movies with your parents, either going to get a snack or suddenly paying a lot of attention to the family pet or simply sitting in the silent, mortifying awkwardness. It is rare, I think, for anyone to find these scenes "turn-ons" or even interesting--like I don't know who is getting off to these two loaves of crustless white bread having a go at it in Metamorphosis, but I'd like to meet them, theoretically. But I don't know, sex scenes were accepted like a new skin tag, maybe. You're not really a fan of it, it's not worth creating a fuss or going to the doctor over, but keep an eye on it. I'm not sure if that makes sense. 

It's the "not essential to the plot" aspect of the no sex scenes, please argument from audiences that bugs me because a movie filled with only scenes or interactions that are "essential" and "move the plot forward" sounds positively dreadful. (And really, even films where you could (should?) claim that the sex scenes are essential to the plot, such as Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden, are still denigrated so is that even really the argument?) 


At risk of losing his funding and his laboratory, Peter takes drastic measures and decides to dose himself with his serum, which requires an injection in the eye!  

Let me tell you, by this point in the proceedings I had a feeling that Metamorphosis was going to be a stinker, but that injection machine briefly raised my hopes that I would at least get to experience a truly squirm-inducing moment. Surprisingly, however, Eastman stops short of going there, cutting the shot juuuuust as the needle is about to go in. Injectus interruptus! I was left imagining what barf-inducing injectinanigans someone like Lucio Fulci might have brought to the moment. Hmm, maybe there's a more explicit cut of Metamorphosis out there...? I don't care enough to find out, but maybe you do.

After this process, which is supposed to rewrite his genetic sequence or something, Peter sweats and gnashes his teeth sometimes, and has blackouts during which he goes out, beats up, and, it is implied, sexually assaults women. This was a groan-worthy development, but thankfully Eastman is restrained here as well and we don't see much. 

It's noteworthy, perhaps, that one of Peter's victims, a woman named, uh, "Prostitute," is played by frequent D'Amato/Eastman/Bruno Mattei collaborator/exploitation star Laura Gemser of the Black Emanuelle series in one of her final roles. More noteworthy, perhaps, is that she was also the film's costume designer, credited as Laurette Gemser. She moved away from acting, as she couldn't get any roles outside of exploitation pictures, and transitioned towards costume design in the late 80s before retiring from the public eye altogether in the early 90s. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is that she also designed the costumes for Troll 2. Oh my gooooooooood!

Peter finally begins an actual, you know, metamorphosis, but into what? At first, it involves some contact lenses and one scene of him writhing on the floor.

He soon starts turning into a reverse Benjamin Buttons, which is to say that he gets really old and thinks he's dying. Hmm now that I think about it, aren't we all reverse Benjamin Buttons? I've never seen the movie so I could be wrong, but who cares when it feels right!

Peter gets kind of gross but we can't really see it, and Sally is worried. He breaks out of the hospital and kills a few people but we don't really see that either--just some brief shots of the bloody aftermath. Now look, I'm not a gorehound by any means but sometimes gore is what a movie needs. And let me tell you, Metamorphosis needed gore! This is as gross as it gets, and it's not nearly gross enough to liven up the joint:

Eventually Peter makes his way back to his laboratory with the cops in hot pursuit. (Note: temper your expectations about the word "hot." And the word "pursuit," really, as the cops are just sort of at the lab all of a sudden.) Peter busts down a door from the inside, and we get the big reveal that we've been waiting for for 90 excruciating minutes.

A kind of t-rex? It's a pretty fun and decidedly unexpected moment no doubt. It immediately instills one--or me, anyway--with so much anticipation. Imagine a rampage by a man who is now a kind of t-rex and it's obviously a rubber kind of t-rex outfit! Heaven, right? Well, we don't get that because yet again,  Eastman plays it safe. Peter-rex stands there in the doorway, flailing his arms a little and going RARR while the cops shoot him a hundred times. Then we see a puddle of goo on the floor that we are to infer are the remains of Peter. I do not have the words to describe what a let down this is!

The whole damn thing was a let down of astronomical proportions. 

Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But Metamorphosis is a let down nonetheless, no matter how hard the score from PAHAMANIAN tries to add some pizazz. It's not good enough to be good, and it's not bad enough to be good. It's just sort of there, which is really the worst thing any movie can be. It was such a slog and a drag that I will say something I never imagined I would say: A close-enough version of this same story was told more entertainingly in another Chilling Classic...Track of the Moon Beast! At least that movie has Professor Johnny Longbow's quasi-recipe for Professor Johnny Longbow's chicken and corn stew, as well as Frank Larrabee's "California Lady." 

Oh well, next week we'll be on to another Tale from the 50-Pack and when asked about the lousy Metamorphosis, I'll describe it the way some guy in the movie described Peter-rex: "It was a nightmare...from the past."