Video Vortex: The Exquisite Plagiarism Of TERMINATOR 2: SHOCKING DARK

On the magic of TERMINATOR's unofficial sequel, released a year before its official sequel.

Life is full of mysteries that I will never understand. Like automobile engines, sports and the musical genre known as vegan straight edge. But the biggest mystery of all is the existence of Terminator 2: Shocking Dark.

At one time, the act of plagiarism was a legitimate way to earn a living. Especially if you made movies in Turkey, Indonesia or Italy. For nearly three decades beginning in the late 1960s, Asian and European movie producers forged a new wave from the delicate art of copyright infringement. From Lucio Fulci's "interpretation" of George Romero's zombie mythology in Zombie to the appearance of undead rapists during Rambo's fight for freedom in Vahsi Kan, aka Turkish First Blood, these movies were chaotic, fearless and a bazillion times more outrageous the their source material. For instance, no one in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds had a conversation with their own penis while sitting in a jacuzzi. But that happens in Beaks: The Movie.

Every cultural movement needs a focal point. In this case, that honor belongs to Bruno Mattei. More than any other filmmaker, Italian sleaze merchant Mattei built a legacy by re-envisioning other people's ideas. In Hell of the Living Dead, Mattei one-upped Fulci by actually stealing music cues from George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. With Cruel Jaws, Mattei proved that Jaws would have been way better if it contained footage from Jaws 3-D. In Robowar, Mattei grabbed the most successful elements of Predator (the Predator) and Robocop (Robocop) by combining them into one character who spoke like Shemp Howard during a seizure. This still doesn't explain how Bruno Mattei managed to release his own sequel to The Terminator, called Terminator 2: Shocking Dark, a full year before James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgement Day was made. But it does explain that the world is insane.

After Venice is decimated by chemical warfare, citizens are forced to find refuge in tunnels beneath the streets. A man enters a control room in one of the tunnels. He says:

"I'm Samuel Fuller from the Tubular Corporation. And I'm looking for Megaforce."

Megaforce is a team of mercenaries who protect the world from harm. The team spends their time walking around the tunnels, screaming at each other and shooting machine guns. Then the underground fortresses are besieged by aliens. The aliens look like a combination of Marvel Comics's Man-Thing and papier mâché dinosaurs that were made by children, which is to say, they look incredible. These monsters are our reward for paying attention while everyone hangs out and talks.

The first hour of this movie follows a group of warriors and scientists as they battle aliens within a maze-like structure. If that sounds like Aliens, it should. Because that's exactly what it is. Except in Terminator 2: Shocking Dark, the part of Ripley is played by Sarah Conner from James Cameron's Terminator. Soon enough, The Terminator shows up to battle Sarah for the fate of the galaxy. The main difference between Cameron's Terminator and Mattei's Terminator is that Cameron's creation can't be destroyed by the foam from a fire extinguisher.

Terminator 2: Shocking Dark was made by adults, but you'd never know that from watching it. In fact, the movie feels a lot like what happens in Rushmore when tenth-grader Max Fisher and his pals reenact Serpico as a school play. In that scene, the novelty of seeing kids impersonate an R-rated Al Pacino is hilarious on its own. But beyond that, it captures how we process passion and creativity as children. It's like happiness unfolding before our eyes. That's why Terminator 2: Shocking Dark is so endearing. Mattei's choices suggest the same feeling. But in this case, the awe of childhood is replaced by the cynicism of adulthood. Mattei and his friends -- including screenwriter Claudio Fragasso, who would go on to make Troll 2 -- made this movie because they were dreaming of dollar signs. In this case, those dreams came true.

While it was a huge hit overseas, Terminator 2: Shocking Dark was never released in North America on any format for obvious reasons. That's why discovering this movie via an uncut Japanese VHS tape -- in English and with Japanese subtitles (!!) -- is so much fun. It's like we're witnessing an urban legend coming to life before our eyes, something that exists despite its contention with all forms of logic. But because it exists, life on our planet becomes even more satisfying. And inexplicable.

It should come as a surprise to no one that this movie is also known as Alienator.

This was originally published in the July issue of Birth.Movies.Death. magazine. Terminator 2: Shocking Dark plays as part of the Video Vortex series this month at the Alamo Drafthouse.