October Horrorshow: Split Second

Split Second, the 1992 flick from director Tony Maylam and screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson, has all the look and feel one would expect from low-budget Hollywood sci-fi schlock of the era. Everything is lit with colored gels, the film stock stinks, sets look cobbled together from whatever was piled out back behind the lumberyard, most location shots are dirty alleys, the original score is synthesized crap, and, in star Rutger Hauer, there is a fading Hollywood action flick veteran looking to pay some bills. In more ways than just this abbreviated list, Split Second is kin to the products of the Roger Corman gristmill, only this movie comes from England.

It’s the future! 2008! After a worldwide climate catastrophe has raised sea levels, the great city of London is flooded by the tides every day. Hauer plays Harley Stone, a police detective on the trail of a cannibalistic serial killer. Like a lot of films of this ilk, it’s personal between killer and cop, as the unknown killer counts one of Stone’s partners among its victims.

That trope, that personal connection that turns mysteries into revenge flicks, is tired and overused. It’s also an excuse for unhinged and self-destructive behavior from the main protagonists, because audiences can’t handle heroes if they don’t have flaws. If this flick weren’t a piece of shit, if the filmmakers were actually going for high art, all the worn-out clichés would have been deadly. But, this is a shitty movie, so it helps to pile on the tropes. It moves things along.

Hauer is joined by Alastair Duncan as his latest partner, Dick Durkin, and Kim Cattrall, fresh off the set of Star Trek VI, as Michelle McLaine, the widow of Stone’s slain partner.

Stone is haunted by the death of his partner. He’s stopped taking care of his home and himself. He lives on coffee, chocolate, tobacco, and the disapproval of colleagues and superiors. But all that’s okay, because Stone is an ANTI-HERO. He a lone-wolf cop who wears black and carries a bunch of big guns. As the film opens, Stone is serving a suspension from the force, but a fresh body causes Stone’s loudmouth and exasperated lieutenant to reinstate Stone.

Durkin, meanwhile, is Oxford-educated and approaches law enforcement like it’s an exercise in a textbook. It’s the grizzled cop with the rookie partner trope, reworked a bit.

As for Kim Cattrall, she played the love interest/damsel in distress. She showed a little flesh, needed a little rescuing, and then it was right back to central casting.

Astute readers will have noticed that, above, I referred to the killer as ‘it.’ That’s because as the victims and the clues continue to pile up, it becomes clear that Stone and company aren’t hunting a human. Casts made from bite marks, and other wounds, paint a picture of a creature with teeth about four inches long, with claws to match. In addition, victims are stalked and killed during high tides, when the city is at its most water-logged. Perhaps the killer is some mutant that lives in the sea.

Whatever the killer is, it has intelligence, as it leaves words and symbols at the murder sites, scrawled in blood on walls, floor, ceiling, wherever (it’s a bloody flick). Viewers see this old serial killer trope before there’s a hint that the killer is a monster. It feels as if Thompson decided his killer needed more punch, so about halfway through he made his killer literally inhuman. The execution is a little clumsy. But, in a movie like this, who cares? That narrative ineptness means we viewers get a bloody killer in a film that would otherwise have been very dull. As one can see from the genre tags below, this flick tries to be a little bit of everything. The only thing it does well, though, is be shitty.

The production looks so starved for cash that it bounced back and forth between the same dimly-lit set and the same dimly-lit alley and the same dimly-lit sewer over and over again. There just isn’t a lot going on in the production, so it was up to some plot gymnastics here and there to keep things interesting. The cast wasn’t helping all that much, either.

There is no new ground broken with this film. It looks like any number of shitty movies from the 1980s through the ’90s. It’s that lack of uniqueness that hurts this film’s watchability. It has strong shitty segments to recommend it to the shitty movie fan, yet it’s all shit we’ve seen before. Still, a good burger is a good burger.

Split Second lands on the Watchability Index right around a bunch of decent, yet not that memorable, shitty movies, displacing End of Days at #115. I watched it so you don’t have to.

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