Gale Force: Syngenor (1990)

Matty reckons a scene-chewing performance by the late David Gale and some OK-ish monster shenanigans are just enough for this semi-sequel to pass muster.

Investigating the brutal death of her scientist uncle (Lewis Arquette), Susan Valentine (Starr Andreeff, who’d previously featured in Roger Corman’s superficially similar The Terror Within (1989)) teams up with a cocky journalist (Mitchell Laurance) to investigate the bizarre goings on at Norton Cyberdyne: a sinister, Weyland-Yutani-esque conglomerate genetically engineering a fleet of monstrous super-soldiers. 

A semi-sequel to drive-in/VHS favourite Scared to Death (1980), SYNGENOR is plagued by the same problem as its predecessor: 

It’s junk with slivers of promise.

Like Scared to Death, Syngenor’s script — by one of ‘90s horror’s most fascinating scribes, Brent V. Friedman [1] — boasts an identical penchant for dawdling. Built from an old screenplay by Michael Carmody, Syngenor isn’t an especially complicated tale but it becomes a bit shaggy dog as the subplots mount ahead of the slack climax. Some of the characters strike a chord. Though Andreeff suffers due to the flatness of her part, and the casting of Melanie ‘daughter of William’ Shatner smacks of gimmickry (doubly so since Syngenor recycles a couple of Star Trek props for its lab scenes), Laurance’s hack gets a few amusing lines; a pair of conniving execs (Riva Spier and X-Ray’s (1981) Charles Lucia) provide a splash of pantomime chicanery; and the late, great David Gale submits a deliciously outrageous performance as Norton’s increasingly unhinged president, Carter Brown. At the time, Gale was actively trying to establish himself as the next great horror icon. Based upon his grandstanding here (think Gordon Gekko by way of Vincent Price) and his equally bombastic turns in The Brain (1988) and The Guyver (1991), it’s something the fifty-four year-old Re-Animator (1985) baddie could have easily achieved were it not for his premature passing on 18th August 1991. 

“I didn’t think Syngenor was that good when I read it, but my character was fantastic!” Gale confessed to Gorezone in a profile published shortly before his death. “Every actor has a ham in him, and you can’t overdo it with a character like Brown.” [2]

Visually, journeyman director George Elanjian Jr. demonstrates a modicum of style and makes a reasonable fist of the monster mayhem. However, the sequences involving the eponymous syngenors are just that: reasonable. There aren’t enough of them, and they’re efficient rather than dynamic. Indeed, the niggle with Syngenor is, for all of Scared to Death’s flaws, debuting director William Malone at least knew how to shoot his monster and delivered a smattering of effectively unusual moments. Considering Malone’s growing chops as a filmmaker circa 1990 (see: Creature (1985)), it’s hard to shake the feeling that the unfocused Syngenor might have transcended its narrative flubs had he called ‘action’ as originally intended. 

Initially mounted at Eduard Sarlui’s Continental Motion Pictures (in conjunction with Edward L. Montoro’s Film Ventures International), the future House on Haunted Hill (1999) helmer was set to tackle ‘Scared to Death II’ in 1984 until Sarlui’s new business partner, Moshe Diamant, agreed to bankroll the aforementioned Creature. Once Malone wrapped his ace Alien (1979) cash-in, ‘Scared to Death II’ fell by the wayside when the burgeoning auteur started work on ‘Dead Star’ and ‘The Mirror’; a pair of ultimately unrealised shockers developed with Swiss surrealist and Alien visual designer, H.R. Giger [3]. Come 1989 ‘Scared to Death II’ had been acquired by producer Jack F. Murphy. Murphy knew Malone and took over the project after becoming obsessed with the syngenor creature. Believing that the Giger-inspired beast — which was designed and created by Malone himself for Scared to Death — held tremendous potential, Murphy twisted the now long-in-development sequel into a standalone/reboot. Syngenor as it is today was born. Murphy offered Malone the film’s reins but he declined, wanting to pursue other interests. The former mask maker did, however, assist FX wiz Doug Beswick in the creation of the syngenor suits.

Syngenor landed on U.S. video via Southgate Entertainment on 3rd October 1990. A further instalment in the Scared to Death saga, ‘Syngenor II’ — starring Brinke Stevens and Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson — was meant to follow in 1991. Sadly, it crumbled early in pre-production.

USA ● 1990 ● Sci-Fi, Horror ● 98mins

Starr Andreeff, David Gale, Mitchell Laurance ● Dir. George Elanjian Jr. Wri. Brent V. Friedman, story by Michael Carmody and Brent V. Friedman

[1] Subsequent credits include: The Resurrected (1991), American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993), Ticks (1993), and the sadly short-lived TV series Dark Skies — which, along with Ticks, can trace its genesis back to Syngenor
[2] David Gale: Return of the Living Head by Daniel Schweiger, Gorezone, No. 17, Spring 1991.
[3] Well, sort of: a version of ‘Dead Star’ eventually came to fruition as the much-maligned Supernova (2000) sans Malone’s involvement.

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