SCREAMERS: Sci-Fi Royalty Dan O’Bannon Adapts Philip K. Dick For a Mid-90s Blast [Blu Review]

Peter Weller heads up a fun sci-fi/horror interplanetary tale

The names attached to this Blu-ray release were such that I just couldn’t resist checking it out. Writer Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return Of The Living Dead, Lifeforce) is simply legendary. And here’s a film where he’s adapting an even bigger legend’s work: Philip K. Dick (whose writing has been adapted into such projects as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and much more). And based on the trailer, I could tell that this was an ambitious sci-fi thriller set on another world with an adapting creature threatening the lives of a small crew. This felt like something O’Bannon could nail.

It helps that sci-fi legend in his own right, Peter Weller (Robocop), was heading up the cast here. So, the pedigree is there for Screamers. How does it hold up as a narrative feature? Well, it’s pretty stinking fun! And it feels like that was actually the goal here. Which is important.

Weller plays Joe Henricksson, a commander on a remote outpost in far out space. In a very political and pointed sci-fi premise, Henricksson is involved in a war over a limited resource on a distant planet which could easily represent any number of Earth conflicts such as governments clashing over oil or corporations battling with world governments over the means of production and distribution. I happen to be writing this several weeks after watching the film, and I’m already beginning to forget whether Weller’s character is fighting on the side of a government or a corporation. I believe it is government. But perhaps that undergirds the ideas of the film itself: When war drags on, and when the war front is far away and remote, can’t it get frighteningly easy for causes and sides to blend together? For the purpose of the war in the first place to get a little hazy?

That’s the situation Henricksson finds himself in when a lone enemy combatant wanders into their camp with a message from the other side. The lone soldier is promptly violently murdered by the “screamers”, brutal robots that burrow underground, hone in on anyone who isn’t properly tagged and identified as a “friendly”, and chop them up with razor sharp blades. Of course the robots scream as they perform their duty, and that doesn’t seem to have much of a practical purpose beyond allowing this film to feel equal parts horror and sci-fi-action. But when Henricksson discovers that the note contains an invitation for a truce, he determines he must make the journey to the base of his enemy and make sense of what is going on out in the wider galaxy as his corner of the war seems to be the forgotten corner.

Soon he comes to several frightening realizations. One is that the screamers have begun to evolve, and it’s even worse than he had been suspecting. Secondly, it seems that the attentions of the galaxy have moved on so completely that he and his men are going to be abandoned and explained away as casualties of war because it’s simply cheaper and easier than wrapping up the conflicts that had raged on there. Henricksson and his men are screwed, with the odds stacked against them in an extreme fashion.

Quickly becoming a men on a mission film, Henricksson’s attempts to locate and meet with his political enemies devolve into a fight for their lives against a new and improved screamer which perfectly mimics human beings. The men on a mission template gives way to a paranoid thriller ala The Thing or Battlestar Galactica in which no one can be trusted because anyone could be a screamer. O’Bannon’s screenplay, as adapted from Philip K. Dick and as directed by Christian Duguay (The Art Of War) takes a bit of a kitchen sink approach, throwing in horror, action, and sci-fi tropes to make a fun ride with a political undercurrent. It’s not the best script of his career by any stretch, but Screamers manages to evolve and entertain throughout. It might seem obvious where it’s all heading by the climax, but the path to the inevitable conclusion is never less than entertaining.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Screamers. The surprise comes from just how under the radar and forgotten this film has become. That very same set of names which compelled me to commit to reviewing this film are also quite well beloved by many in the sci-fi and horror communities, so why has this little gem become so forgotten? I don’t have an answer, but I’m thrilled to now count myself a fan (not to mention an owner) of Screamers.

The Package

Screamers looks like the low-to-mid budget 1995 thriller that it is. Which is to say there are a ton of charmingly analog effects mixed in with the occasionally quite dodgy visual cheat or early digital effect. It’s not a breathtaking visual feast, but the Blu-ray is highly enjoyable and loaded up with some original bonus content, so Screamers comes recommended.

  • Northern Frights: Christian Duguay (Director) Interview
  • Orchestrating The Future: Tom Berry (Producer) Interview
  • More Screamer Than Human: Miguel Tejada-Flores (co-writer) Interview
  • From Runway To Space: Jennifer Rubin (actress) Interview
  • Trailer

And I’m Out.

Screamers is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory

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