Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick…Bob Keen’s Proteus.
I don’t know where to begin with this movie and I suppose that’s fitting considering neither did the movie itself. We open with what appears to be an after-the-fact bookend segment of the lone survivor telling the story and then immediately cut to a bunch of people loading things onto a yacht while talking about a drug deal that went bad. It would have been nice to actually see that deal, but whatever. Immediately cut to credits and a boat exploding. Now suddenly all of those characters are on a life raft. What am I watching again? Who are these people? Is this what whiplash feels like?
After the shortest opening act ever our party find themselves on an abandoned oil rig. As they look around and try to find some help a shape-shifting monster begins to pick them off one at a time. At this point I quickly realized that this was a poor man’s knockoff of The Thing but without any of the tension or cool special effects. Yawn.
You may have noticed that I haven’t really said anything about the characters yet, aside from the fact that they exist and that’s basically because that’s all the movie tells us about them. This is why that botched opening act is such a detriment to the film. There was no time for us to get to know these people or find out anything about them, so they end up just being bland and forgettable. In fact, the only thing we do know about them is that they’re heroin smugglers, which is a really quick way to make them all unlikable. It’s a shame too, because the acting in this really isn’t all that terrible.
In addition to failing to leverage the talent of its performers, the film also squanders what star power it actually has. Doug Bradley actually makes an appearance in Proteus but he’s nearly unrecognizable and his screen time lasts all of 10 minutes. What a waste.
As for the creature, I found myself greatly disappointed. This is the one spot that could have saved the movie and it totally drops the ball. For most of the first half, it only appears in POV shots similar to those in The Evil Dead but far less impressive and with an awful filter over the lens. When the film finally does show the monster the effects are goofy and laughable. The only memorable part is during the big climactic showdown where the monster turns into what appears to be a giant dog-shark-dinosaur-thing. It’s definitely too little too late, though.
The shoddy quality of the effects is surprising considering director Bob Keen’s background. He’s done makeup on such films as The Empire Strikes Back, Hellraiser, Candyman, and Dog Soldiers and he’s done special effects work on Alien, The Dark Crystal, Return of the Jedi, The Neverending Story, Highlander, and Nightbreed. Hell, he’s won Saturn awards for several of those. Needless to say he has some chops in this department. It’s the kind of resume most effects guys would kill to have. Unfortunately that doesn’t quite translate into Proteus. He’s no Stan Winston and this is no Pumpkinhead.
In spite of being badly done, the effects still look better than the art direction of everything else in the movie. The sets are all solid flat colors and it’s easy to tell they’re made of cheap plywood. I worked at a local haunted house for a couple of years and we had better sets than this film does. Then again it seems like Keen doesn’t really know what to do with the tools he’s given. I can imagine some of this stuff being more effective with better lighting and less choppy camerawork. The direction in this thing is just not good and the film has a very made-for-television quality about it.
At the end of the day we have an incredibly run-of-the-mill and derivative film that pails in comparison to the movies it tries to emulate. The screenplay is a total mess, which is actually kind of impressive considering how simple the plot is. It screws up the first act right from the get go and never recovers. I’d suggest just skipping this one.
Oh and that opening bookend segment? Never returned to.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.