THE DAWNING OF AN EMPIRE – PARASITE (1982)
Give Charles Band credit. He wasn’t afraid to combine two (or more) popular genres to create an entertaining, commercial film. After a brief foray into straight horror with The Alchemist (which wouldn’t be released until 1983), he followed up the possession horror/automobile destruction mash-up of Crash! with an attempt to capitalize on two of the early 80’s most popular films – Mad Max and Alien – while simultaneously hopping on the short-lived 3D bandwagon that brought us Friday the 13th in 3D, Jaws in 3D and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn in 3D. More on that last one later.
Not that Parasite is really a rip-off of either film. Like a lot of low-budget horror it simply takes a few elements from these popular films while mostly doing its own thing. Sure, there’s a desert wasteland and roving bands of marauders, but here it’s just Vasquez Rocks and a few post-nuke punks. There’s a weird, Stan Winston-designed creature bursting out of people’s abdomens, but it looks more like the toothy creature from The Deadly Spawn than a sleek xenomorph, and spends most of the film latched onto characters and sucking them dry like a – that’s right – parasite. Still, one has to respect the almost carny attitude of the early-80s low-budget filmmaker. “You like that? Well, you’ll LOVE this.”.
Here we follow Dr. Paul Dean (Robert Glaudini) as he travels a post-apocalyptic desert in the far-flung future of 1992. He’s been infected with a parasite that he was developing for a mega-corporation, and is on the run from one of the organization’s “merchants” (a perfectly sleazy James Davidson) who want to weaponize the creature. Dean sets up a workshop in a small town, but gets assaulted by some local punks (led by future Ghoulies director Luca Bercovici) who steal – and accidentally release – his parasite sample. He’s nursed back to health by a local lemon farmer (?) played by Demi Moore, in her film debut, and the pair work to stop the creature – and the merchant – before it’s too late.
Glaudini is quite good in a role that somehow makes him appealing despite his natural sweaty gawkiness, and the supporting punks – which include The Runaways’ Cherie Currie and The Nu-Kats’ Freddy Moore – are all properly intimidating. Best of all is Bercovici, who is given some real dimension as lead punk Ricus, and becomes surprisingly sympathetic as the parasite stats decimating his gang. Demi Moore might be the big name in the cast, but aside from lending the doctor a hand and making lemonade, she doesn’t have a lot to do.
Despite its pedigree, the actual parasite creature is a bit of a disappointment. While its design – basically a worm with mouth full of giant, jagged teeth – does the trick, its final form feels really static. At times, you can almost feel the filmmakers straining to make it look like it’s moving. Thankfully, the results of the creature attacks are appropriately revolting, with stomachs exploding, faces caving in and bodies being drained to nothing.
There’s something oddly surreal about watching films in 2D that were originally filmed with 3D in mind, particularly with the extremes available to early 80s filmmakers after the success of 1981’s Comin’ At Ya. In Parasite, it actually manages to add some visual dynamism to the scenes of violence, forcing Band (and cinematographer Mac Ahlberg) to explore some odd angles to capture the titular parasite leaping at the camera. It mostly avoids the truly gimmicky 3D bits (like the infamous House of Wax paddle ball scene), though there’s still some odd lingering on pipes and knives as they jut towards the viewer’s eyeballs.
Uneven but entertaining, Parasite ended up being a large financial success, which prompted Band to pursue the possibility of a sequel to also be released through Embassy Pictures. Unfortunately, they were well on their way to going out of business, which left Band to pursue the possibility of starting his own studio to release his future projects. The pieces that were to lead to Empire International were finally coming together. But before that, Band had some unfinished business with this whole third dimensions thing.