The Darker Side of Terror (1979): Forster²

Featuring a cool early FX gag by John Carl Buechler, Matty savours Gus Trikonis’ arresting small screen creeper.

David Rorvik’s supposedly non-fiction book, In His Image: The Cloning of a Man, caused a major stir upon its release in 1978. Published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. — a well-regarded publisher of medical texts — in it, Rorvik detailed the purportedly true account of an experiment he spearheaded, whereby the respected medical journalist and an elite group of scientists produced the first human clone at the behest of a wealthy businessman. Though eventually ruled a hoax by the courts, to this day Rorvik continues to vouch for In His Image’s veracity — and if you really want to split hairs, evidence neither for nor against his sensational claims has ever surfaced. 

Ranking alongside The Boys From Brazil (1978), Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979), and NBC’s unsuccessful backdoor pilot, The Clone Master (1978), as one of four similarly-minded productions to emerge as interest in Rorvik’s work reached fever pitch, THE DARKER SIDE OF TERROR’s roots can be traced back a little further, to 1971, when producer/writer team Al Ramrus and John Herman Shaner saw a Time Magazine article on genetic engineering. The subject clearly captivated the duo. As they continued to iron out the creases in The Darker Side of Terror’s story, they filtered some of their research into their 1977 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau for American International Pictures too. 

Premiering as a CBS Tuesday Night Movie on 3rd April 1979, The Darker Side of Terror is a compelling TV flick. Navigating Ramrus and Shaner’s blend of mad science and melodrama with a musicality befitting of his background, dancer and former West Side Story (1961) star turned exploitation practitioner Gus Trikonis — fresh from helming nifty New World shocker The Evil (1978) — directs with an assured touch. While the moral and ethical puzzles propagated by grizzled professor Ray Milland’s decision to clone his frustrated protégé (Robert Forster) veer towards overwrought, Trikonis generates a creepy atmosphere and unleashes several striking images and moments. Chief among them is: Forster’s double emerging from an incubation chamber; a quietly disturbing scene in which said clone learns how to laugh; and the recurring use of a milk eye effect whenever the lab-crafted doppelganger succumbs to his murderous impulses. Interestingly, despite being uncredited on the finished film — and, quelle surprise, on its IMDb entry — The Darker Side of Terror represents the Hollywood debut of FX wiz John Carl Buechler. Landing the gig a fortnight after arriving in California, Buechler fashioned one of the Milland’s earlier, botched experiments: a ghoulish-looking test-tube baby that, in retrospect, can be seen as a prototype for the sorely missed make-up maestro’s signature renderings on the likes of Ghoulies (1985) and Carnosaur (1993).            

Performance-wise, Milland chews the scenery as if it were a porterhouse steak, and a pre-scream queen Adrienne Barbeau submits an engaging turn as Forster’s neglected wife; an unwaveringly supportive and passionate woman whose needs are finally met by her husband’s increasingly more human duplicate (the film’s most intriguing development). However, in no uncertain terms The Darker Side of Terror is Forster’s show. Snapped up by Disney for The Black Hole (1980) the second the film wrapped, Forster is magnificent, imbuing each of his dual roles with distinctive mannerisms and contrasting personalities. They’re a pair of wholly believable people, and the illusion is furthered by Trikonis’ seamless use of body doubles and compositing that reach Dead Ringers (1988) levels of cinematic trickery. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cronenberg actually watched this for tips…

Also known as ‘Clone: The Man Who Gave Birth to Himself’ and ‘Molecular Man’.

USA ● 1979 ● Horror, Sci-Fi, TVM ● 91mins

Robert Forster, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Milland ● Dir. Gus Trikonis ● Wri. Al Ramrus and John Herman Shaner

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