Screamers (1995 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christian Duguay|
by Philip K. Dick
|Narrated by||Henry Ramer|
|Music by||Normand Corbeil|
|Edited by||Yves Langlois|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
Screamers is a 1995 Canadian-American science fiction horror film starring Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, and Jennifer Rubin, and directed by Christian Duguay. The screenplay, written by Dan O'Bannon with a rewrite by Miguel Tejada-Flores, is based on Philip K. Dick's short story "Second Variety", and addresses themes commonly found in that author's work: societal conflict, confusion of reality and illusion, and machines turning upon their creators. Although critical reaction to the film was generally negative at the time of its release, it has gained a cult following. A sequel Screamers: The Hunting, was released in 2009, to equally mixed reviews.
In the year 2078, the planet Sirius 6B, once a thriving mining hub, has been reduced to a toxic wasteland by a war between the mining company, known as the New Economic Bloc (NEB), and the Alliance, a group of former mining and science personnel. Five years into the war, Alliance scientists created and deployed Autonomous Mobile Swords (AMS) — artificially intelligent self-replicating machines that hunt down and kill NEB soldiers on their own. They are nicknamed "screamers" because of a high-pitched noise they emit as they attack. Screamers track targets by their heartbeats, so Alliance soldiers wear "tabs" which broadcast a signal canceling out the wearer's heartbeat and rendering them "invisible" to the machines.
A fragile stalemate is in effect between the two exhausted, poorly supplied, and undermanned armies. The Alliance recovers an invitation guaranteeing safe passage through NEB territory to discuss a truce from a dead NEB soldier, killed by screamers as he approached the Alliance compound. When Alliance commanding officer Joe Hendricksson (Weller) reports this development to his Earth-based superiors, he is told that such a meeting will not be necessary; peace negotiations are already underway on Earth. Not true, says Private "Ace" Jefferson (Andrew Lauer), newly arrived from Earth. Hendricksson is not surprised, as he suspects that both sides have simply written off Sirius 6B and abandoned their armies.
Hendricksson decides that the only realistic chance of survival for himself and his soldiers is to accept the NEB truce offer. He sets out for a meeting with the NEB commander, accompanied by Jefferson. While traveling through a destroyed city they come upon a war orphan, a young boy named David (Michael Caloz), clutching a teddy bear. Unwilling to abandon a defenseless civilian, they bring the boy along. The following night they are attacked by a reptilian screamer that they have never before encountered. Hendricksson is alarmed that their Alliance tabs did not protect them.
As the group nears the NEB compound, two enemy soldiers, Becker (Dupuis) and Ross (Charles Powell), open fire on David, whose chest explodes in a shower of gears, bolts, and wires. They explain to the astonished Alliance men that David was a new "type 3" screamer impersonating a human. Most of the NEB contingent has been wiped out by another "David" screamer that a patrol unwittingly brought into the base; Becker, Ross, and a black marketeer named Jessica (Rubin) are the only survivors.
The group heads to the NEB command center but finds only an empty building and large pools of blood. Locating the mainframe computer, Hendricksson learns that the NEB truce offer was just as false as the Alliance message from Earth. The group retreats to the NEB bunker, pursued by "Davids". The discovery that the screamers have "evolved" new versions on their own that are indistinguishable from humans, and immune to Alliance tabs, leads to paranoia and distrust. Becker becomes convinced that Ross is a screamer and kills him, only to discover that he was human. The three survivors retreat to the Alliance base, only to find that the "Davids" have gained entrance to that compound as well, with equally devastating results. As dozens of "Davids" pour out of the bunker's entrance, Hendricksson fires a micro-nuclear missile into the bunker. Jefferson rushes to the aid of Becker, who was apparently injured in the blast, but Becker's cries of distress are a ruse; he is a "type 2" screamer, and he kills Jefferson. After Hendricksson destroys Becker, only he and Jessica remain.
Now quite paranoid, Hendricksson worries that Jessica could be a screamer as well. He slashes her hand, and is relieved to see blood dripping from the wound. They locate an emergency escape shuttle, but it can carry only one person. Hendricksson offers the shuttle to Jessica; but a second "Jessica" arrives, confirming that she is a screamer after all, and even more human-like. Hendricksson resigns himself to death; but to his surprise, Jessica shields him, then sacrifices herself in battle with her lookalike. With her last breath, Jessica confesses her love for Hendricksson.
Hendricksson departs for Earth on the escape shuttle with a single souvenir, the teddy bear carried by the original "David". As the screen fades to black, the bear slowly begins to move on its own.
- Peter Weller as Colonel Joseph A. Hendricksson
- Jennifer Rubin as Jessica Hansen
- Andrew Lauer as Ace Jefferson
- Ron White as Chuck Elbarak
- Charles Powell as Ross
- Roy Dupuis as Becker
- Michael Caloz as David
- Liliana Komorowska as Landowska
- Jason Cavalier as Leone
- Leni Parker as Corporal McDonald
- Bruce Boa as Secretary Green
It premiered at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 1995. It was released in the United States on January 26, 1996, by Columbia Pictures.
Screamers was stuck in development hell for over a decade before finally being produced. Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon had completed his adaptation of Dick's short story Second Variety in the early 1980s (along with his adaptation of another of Dick's short stories, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, which became the 1990 film Total Recall). By 1983, O'Bannon's screenplay for Screamers had been optioned by Tom Naud (SFX designer on the 1981 film Outland). However, the production never went ahead as planned and it was not until the 1990s that Screamers went into production, by which time the screenplay had been rewritten by Miguel Tejada-Flores. The film, directed by Christian Duguay, was made in Canada. Locations included a quarry in Quebec, in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, as well as Joliette.
Critical response 
James Berardinelli gave the film a positive review, awarding it a rating of three stars (out of four). Berardinelli said that the film "oozes atmosphere" and "underlines an important truth: you don't need a big budget or big-name stars to make this sort of motion picture succeed." Joe Bob Briggs also reacted positively, calling Screamers "a pretty dang decent [movie]" and saying, "I loved it. ... Three and a half stars."
Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars (out of four), remarking that it was "made with a certain imagination and intelligence," "the dialogue is often effective," and "what makes the film somewhat intriguing is its Blade Runner-like ambiguity: who is, and who isn't, a human being."
Time Out New York Film Guide criticized director Christian Duguay's "flashy, aimless direction", saying that the movie "lacks the intelligence to follow through its grim premise", but added that the film "does offer many ... guilty pleasures" and "the design and effects teams have lent scale and impact to the futuristic locations and sets."
The Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film Review gave Screamers three stars out of four, calling it a "two-thirds excellent and intelligent science-fiction film" that "builds towards a climax that never arrives ... After an impressive build-up, the film blows its third act and falls into cliches." Popcorn Pictures gave the film two and a half stars out of four, writing: "Screamers isn't terrible. The scenes inside the refinery are creepy enough with them stalking and being stalked by the Screamers. But the intro and finale are terrible ways to start and end a film respectively. There was a good film waiting to come out here, it's a shame only half of it did."
Rob Blackwelder of SplicedWire said, "Screamers is inundated with movie clichés, stock characters, stolen premises and scenes that just don't make sense." Beyond Hollywood wrote, "One of the biggest problems with Screamers is the near absence of a likeable character, or at least someone who we actually give a damn about escaping those slice-and-dice robots. ... There's no doubt Screamers could have been a lot better than it is. The whole sequence at the refinery is the best of the movie, managing to elicit both a couple of scare scenes and a lot of creepiness. The rest, unfortunately, doesn't live up to that middle section."
The film earned about $5.7 million in the United States and Canada, on a $20 million budget. It was moderately popular in France, Japan, and the Netherlands. Worldwide box office was approximately $7 million.
|1996||Genie Awards||Best Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design||Perri||Nominated|
|Best Achievement in Music - Original Score||Normand Corbeil||Nominated|
|Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role||Ron White||Nominated|
Differences between Screamers and "Second Variety"
The film is based on the short story "Second Variety", by Philip K. Dick. While the basic ecophagy premise is preserved, several important differences between film and source story make the film less pessimistic:
- In Screamers the war is fought on a distant planet between economic adversaries over a natural resource. In "Second Variety" the war is fought on Earth; the Cold War has degenerated to open, all-out conflict between the United Nations and the Soviet Union.
- Screamers occurs on the planet Sirius 6B, one of many colonies, and the only planet where the screamers were launched. The screamers do not threaten humanity, only the troops stationed on Sirius 6B. "Second Variety" occurs on Earth, in the presumed aftermath of a nuclear war, in what "used to be France", and the very existence of the human race is in doubt. There are increasingly rare, irradiated human survivors hiding on Earth, but the bulk of humanity survives in a military base on the Moon.
- In Second Variety the plot revolves around the identification of a claw robot, the second of three varieties. Tasso (renamed Jessica in the film) convinces Hendricks that the second variety is a Soviet soldier named Klaus; but Tasso herself is the robot, a fact that Hendricks does not discover until it is too late, as his own death is imminent.
- In Screamers, the "Jessica" screamer betrays her own kind and helps Col. Hendricksson to survive and escape. In "Second Variety" the "Tasso" claw wins Hendricks's confidence and convinces him to send her to the Moon aboard the rocket cruiser. Too late — after the ship departs — Hendricks realizes that Tasso is the mysterious "second variety" of claw, and not only will she not be returning with help, but he has unwittingly given the claws access to the Moon base; he has doomed not only himself, but all of humanity.
The sequel is set several years after the events of the original film. Hendricksson died when he deliberately allowed his escape shuttle to burn up in the atmosphere during reentry to Earth. The official determination is that he committed suicide due to post-traumatic stress; but it is strongly implied that he actually did it to prevent the "teddy bear" screamer on board from reaching Earth. Meanwhile, an SOS signal arrives from Sirius 6B. A contingent of seven soldiers, including Hendricksson's daughter Victoria Bronte (Holden), is dispatched to the war torn mining planet to investigate. The film features all of the screamers from the original film, as well as a sleeker, longer, and more serpentine screamer with cutting mandibles for a mouth.
As with Screamers, critical reaction to Screamers: The Hunting was mixed. David Johnson of DVD Verdict wrote that "the visual effects were surprisingly effective" and "[p]ractical effects impress as well", but added, "Unfortunately ... the script defaults to a clichéd finale, and a predictable—though well-executed—final twist ending." He concluded, "I had a pretty decent time with [Screamers: The Hunting] ... [I]f you're hankering for a serving of effective sci-fi B-movie shenanigans, you could do a lot worse." Scott Foy of Dread Central wrote, "They've basically recycled the first film but dumbed it and dulled it down considerably, doing away with the paranoia and sense of desolation that gave the original some spark in favor of logic gaps and tedious predictability. ... The best that can be said ... is that most of the production values and make-up effects are top notch for a direct-to-DVD production. Too bad they didn't put as much work into crafting the screenplay."
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- Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews, 1996
- Screamers review Archived 2009-04-22 at the Wayback Machine. Joe Bob Briggs, joebobbriggs.com
- Review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, January 26, 1996
- Time Out Film Guide Review Archived 2008-12-15 at the Wayback Machine., Time Out, 1996
- Screamers review Archived 2010-05-15 at the Wayback Machine. The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review
- Screamers review Archived 2010-11-26 at the Wayback Machine. Popcorn Pictures
- Review by Rob Blackwelder, SplicedWire, 1996
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- Exclusive: Lance Henriksen Talks Screamers 2, Near Dark Redux & More!, Dread Central, 2009
- Screamers: The Hunting review David Johnson, DVD Verdict, February 20th, 2009
- Screamers: The Hunting review Scott Foy, Dread Central