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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Horror > Thriller > Medical > Parts – The Clonus Horror: Special Edition (aka Clonus)

Parts – The Clonus Horror: Special Edition (aka Clonus)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: B+



Particularly since the 1980s, one of the biggest assaults on free thought and individuality has been the idea of any text or ideas of a group (especially when it comes to power elites) doing something for their own good at the expense of the individual, even to the point to where they are tortured or killed, is written off in reactionary form as “paranoid” or otherwise dramatically discreditable because the individual has said it.  Yet, some things just get worse and worse, out of greed, carelessness, intended & organized efforts or any combination thereof.  After all, do unto others if you can get away with it, right?


In real life, the individual is more assaulted than ever before and in the 1970s, when Civil Rights were at their peak movement, so many of the ugly things happening now were considered impossible because people were more “educated” or “knew better” or would “never let things get that bad” because those who knew better would stand up for what is right.  Unfortunately, as the cinema of individuality and (as Robert Kolker’s book title states) of loneliness was eroded by flashy commercial fare and the biggest rollbacks of any existential thought since the Hollywood witch hunts.  If Film Noir (1941 – 1958) was the first great genre of individualistic thinking and maturity, Science Fiction and many corollary Horror films from the same later period (1965 – 1982) really became it successor.  This is why along with all the recent bad Horror films that have been explicitly and blatantly remade and ruined, there has been a less critically and commercially successful effort to rewrite Science Fiction history and its most effective works of the period.


Even before this new dark period, though, the Science Fiction films of the time were not given the full credit they deserved and even scholars on the genre blew it on certain films.  It is enough that even smart commercial fare with minor problems like Michael Anderson’s Logan’s Run (1976) or Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green (1973, reviewed elsewhere on this site) are made out to be more of a joke than they are (a point of view that changes when one serious watches the films) but an unintended effect of the first Star Wars (1977) was to write off anything that did not have impressive visual effects.  Even a great space opera is not a mature, adult science fiction work, but we now see from all the bad digital and Lucas’ own endless touchups of his Star Wars films that this can become a sinister thing.


In Science Fiction films that we could say have a modernist look like Logan’s Run, where the future looks like what we now know as a shopping mall, a surprising number of smart, classic films with that look were made.  Even if they were from the time period they were shot in, like Demon Seed, little pieces of that look surfaced as an idea of the future.  Though it has one of the smallest budgets of all Science Fiction films of the 1970s, Robert S. Fiveson’s Parts – The Clonus Horror: Special Edition (aka Clonus) from 1979 is one of the best of these intelligent, thinking Science Fiction films and maybe the most shockingly forgotten.  This was not because it was overshadowed by Ridley Scott’s Alien either, as it is certainly a peer of that film and Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive.


A few years ago, Mondo Macabro issued the film on DVD and it was so successful that they have issued this new upgraded edition.  Besides being slowly rediscovered by true movie lovers, a controversy arouse when DreamWorks (towards the end of their independence) released Michael Bay’s The Island (2005) and sharper critics named Clonus (the film’s original title, as we shall refer to it henceforth) as the film The Island was blatantly ripping off.  More on that in a minute.


The film is about a young man named Richard (Timothy Donnelly) who lives in a world where everybody is happy (and white!  The film is not racist, but about a racist elite, though there is some irony that this group all wears Adidas shirts) playing games and living a happy, healthy lifestyle.  This group now looks like they belong in a hair commercial from the 1970s or a beach group from an original Charlie’s Angels episode, but that style identification goes right out the window when we find out how childlike they are.  As the title gives away, they are clones and Richard is about to become self-aware.


In two interesting evil turns, Dick Sargent of the TV classic Bewitched is surprisingly effective as the head of the facility, the evil mad scientist up to no good.  Peter Graves (taking another groundbreaking work on worthy of the early season of Mission: Impossible) is presidential candidate to be Jeffrey Knight, a willing puppet president who (as the opening montage indicates) is involved in the project.  Reminiscent of the obviously cold way robots are treated in the original film versions of Westworld, Futureworld, The Stepford Wives, these clones (like the replicants of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner would be by their creators two years later) are treated like things, property, objects and are as disposable as garbage.  Of course, this is a metaphor for how the defenseless in freer societies are treated, but speaks as well about having a healthy distrust for the establishment and big money when it comes to life and personal preservation.


To prove this point in the best Orwellian tradition (Animal Farm as much as 1984), all the clones are promised that if they work hard and train hard, they will get to the paradise known as America.  Interestingly, the Fiveson/Ron Smith/Bob Sullivan/Myrl A. Schreibman screenplay presents this paradise as a laid-back (sex implied, especially pre-AIDS) heaven-on-earth in a film montage reminiscent of the conditioning films in The Parallax View.  Ironically, when the clones applaud to the happy ending being told what they want to hear with all its false promises, there is a sort of echo to be of 1980s mall movie cinema meant to inoculate and keep the audience childish.


Of course, this film is not intentionally political, but certainly (and thankfully) left of center in an intelligent way and what happens by default when you are ambitiously intelligent in filmmaking.  That is why I believe it has been particularly targeted to be ignored and revised because it is too smart and prolific a work.  Paulette Breen plays a clone from another camp named Lean who Richard falls for and vice versa, but the corporation secretly responsible for the Clonus Project is as vicious as dark forces in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, also reviewed on this site) will do what they have to do to stay in power and play God with other’s lives against their will.


Keenan Wynn is the retired reporter who takes in Richard when he reaches the outside and David Hooks is very good as the Knight’s brother Richard, a professor who questions the morality of cloning entire people just for body parts at the service of the few who can afford it and do this selling secretly.  The acting is good all around and just right for the film.  At the time, only so many people knew what cloning was and the film had both a limited theatrical release, and then barely made it to TV.  This critic remembers seeing it on The CBS Late Movie when they were showing reruns of shows like The Avengers and Return Of The Saint.


Many laughed off that a person could even be cloned at the time, but we all know now the debate is wide open and intertwined with other issues like Abortion, Civil Rights and Stem Cell Research.  Recently, the idea of having only organs instead of entire people cloned has surfaced, but the truth is many who would want to have longer lives might not care what the costs were with the organizational tendency towards inhumanity in general.  Fiveson very cleverly does not try for much illicit appeal to pity, preachiness or pre-calculated formula.  He makes a very intelligent film for a very low budget (remarkable for less than $300K in 1979 dollars on 35mm film) that still looks better than many big budget films today, especially Sci-Fi junk that has been digitized to death.


Also very important is that Fiveson does not pull any punches where the Horror or terror elements are concerned, echoing the then-recent thriller Coma (1978) that also addressed the organ issue.  It is still very chilling and terrifying without cheap tricks and the more you get into it, the better it is.  The performances are very effective and the film has a healthy cynicism as well as healthy approach that says (like Peter Hyams’ Capricorn One) people will not tolerate what is exposed when they know the real horror of it, but that the predators will not give up either.  Though bloated mainstream films have spent the last quarter century denying this, the reality has not changed, even when real life people have been treated like the cloned no-nothings in this film.  Clonus is a film way ahead of its time, even ahead of Blade Runner, becoming more relevant all the time.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.66 X 1 image has vague black bars on the side, but looks very good for its age and was shot in 35mm negative by cinematographer Max Beauford.  Some of the shots have good form, while others are static 1970s-styled shots, but both work very well.  The Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono is credited as Stereo on the package, but only some extras and the audio commentary are so.  Despite that, the sound is good for its age, including a very effective music score by Hod David Schudson.  Extras include a full-length director’s commentary, original theatrical trailer, previews for other Mondo Macabro titles, a stills gallery and an on-camera interview (35:25) with Fiveson.


So how much of a rip-off of this film was Michael Bay’s The Island was of this?  Very, except for all the ideological negations, of course along with many parts of Logan’s Run.  Like many recent Sci-Fi films that try to supplant and negate the ideas being said by the films they rip off (Aeon Flux, reviewed on this site, is one of them) with fancy action sequences and digital effects done to death, The Island negates the point about an America promised by undelivered with the title location being promised instead.  We will review that film at a later date, but Clonus is the film to catch and is a key reissue all serious collections need to add.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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