…and now for something completely different

Well, perhaps not completely different. It’s been a while since I’ve watched any 39¢ movies. To take full advantage of our Amazon Prime membership, we recently purchased a Roku player; about the same time, we added streaming service to our Netflix account. So far, I’ve been a bit disappointed to discover that these services seem to offer very little of the vintage, grade-z schlock cinema I usually write about. What they do have (in abundance) are contemporary, low-budget sci-fi and horror features that received limited (or no) exposure in theaters upon their release – what we used to call “straight-to-video” movies. In the past, I tended to think of that term as a synonym for “absolute garbage,” but like most aspects of media production, distribution, and consumption in the information age, things are changing. Some of these films are quite worthwhile, and I plan to look at some of the best (and perhaps some of the worst) in a new series of mini-reviews. First up for your consideration:

Harbinger Down (American, 2015)

Harbinger: one that presages or foreshadows what is to come.

-Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary

I was skeptical about this one from the beginning. Harbinger Down isn’t a very catchy title, and it seems to drop a major spoiler even before the opening credits are over. Still, the brief synopsis Netflix provides was compelling:

Thawed from ice after three decades, mutated creatures recovered from a piece of Soviet Space wreckage terrorize a group of graduate students on a fishing trawler…

Hmm. Isolated location? College kids? Soviet space wreckage? Mutated creatures? Sounds good to me – and Harbinger Down does have a suitably creepy, 1980’s style vibe reminiscent (and at times, fairly derivative) of classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien. It also seems to borrow from the lesser-known (but quite worthwhile) 1989 film Leviathan. Riddled with plot inconsistences (why is a group of whale-watching grad students equipped with a tabletop “portable molecular analyzer,” and why doesn’t anyone think it would be best to keep human remains frozen until potential contamination risks can be assessed?) and well-worn B-cinema tropes (like tough-as-nails Russian crewmember “Svetlana,” played by Natasha “Nogoodnik” Fatale – err – Milla Bjorn), Harbinger Down is nevertheless a great deal of fun.

Natasha

Hmm… seems legit to me…

Perhaps most interesting to me, Harbinger Down was funded primarily through a Kickstarter campaign, and made on a modest budget of approximately $400,000. The special effects are notable as well; the film relies almost exclusively on practical techniques (animatronics, make-up effects, stop-motion animation, and miniatures) in bringing an impressive array of disgusting alien monstrosities to life. Though Harbinger Down isn’t likely to merit repeat viewings, it’s well worth seeing once.

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