Production Budget: $20 million
Gross: nearly $6 million
Screamers is set in the future on a distant mining planet. There are two warring factions on the planet: the evil corporation that wants mining continued (called the NEB), and the workers who realize the work is too dangerous (the Alliance). The Alliance developed a weapon which helped turn the tide in the conflict called a Screamer. It is a machine that burrows through the ground sensing the enemy’s heart rate and kills using blades. Col. Hendrickson (Peter Weller) is given a message from NEB command demanding peace, which is coupled with several strange events involving the Screamers.
I remember seeing this really young on cable and basically dismissing it after. But after all these years watching it again I have a new appreciation. This is an underrated little creature feature. While the original short story is inspired by Philip K. Dick, I like to think this is a bigger budget version of an Outer Limits episode mixed with a little monster horror. It is actually surprising the movie looks so good despite being on a small budget. Kudos to director Duguay who uses practical effects to turn a desolate patch of wasteland look like an alien planet. You are drawn into the isolation of the characters who really don’t care about fighting anymore but just want to do anything to get off that dead rock. The Screamers are also used really well and it makes me realize how much modern CGI would fuck up any tension or horror this movie has.
I really liked the first half of the movie. You had everything working together to make a good sci fi horror movie. The setting was done well, the characters were likable in their own way, and the monsters were scary enough in a Tremors-ish kind of way. The second half changes things up a bit and that’s where a few flaws come out (if you care about spoilers for a 16 year old movie). In the second half the movie becomes a bit of a Thing rip off where the Screamers evolve to mimic humans and that’s where the plot holes come out. There is something of a pleasant simplicity when you have mindless machines attacking anything with a heartbeat. But the writers give the Screamers some kind of elaborate plan which I don’t really understand, which is never explained, and the motives are never explored. I kept waiting for Weller to ask the main villain “Seriously, what the fuck is your problem?” but it never happened. That leads me to my other problem of dumbing down the characters to fit the plot twists. We are shown early on the Screamers can take human form when Weller goes on his mission. For the next 30-40 minutes I kept muttering to the screen “You should call your base and tell them about this…you should really tell your base about this…I think that is information they really need to know…you have a radio what is wrong with you” Sure enough about 40 minutes later they come back to base and (SHOCKER!!!) they infiltrated the base while he was gone. That is just a small sample of the stupid coming from these people.
None of these things really kill the movie. For all my complaining I still had fun with it. The lapses in writing just turn the movie from being an awesome lost gem to a really fun B grade sci fi thriller. For anyone that likes the creature feature films of the late 80’s and early 90’s, I recommend you check it out. Plus, I’m a sucker for Peter Weller.