The Supernaturals (1986)

Rating:

USA. 1986.

Crew

Director – Armand Mastroianni, Screenplay/Producers – Michael S. Murphey & Joel Soisson, Photography – Peter Lyons Collister, Music – Robert O. Ragland, Special Effects Supervisor – Gregory C. Landerer, Ghost Effects – Mark Shostrom, Art Direction – Jo-Ann Chorney. Production Company – Republic Entertainment International/Sandy Howard Productions/Southern Woods Productions

Cast

Maxwell Caulfield (Lieutenant Ray Ellis), Nichelle Nichols (Sergeant Leona Hawkins), Talia Balsam (Private Angela Lejeune), Bobby Di Cicco (Private Tim Cort), Margaret Shendal (Melanie), Bradford Bancroft (Private Tom Weir), LeVar Burton (Private Michael Osgood), Scott Jacoby (Private Chris Mendez), Richard Pachorek (Private Ralph Sedgewick), Chad Sheets (Jeremy), Patrick Davis (Old Man)


Plot

A platoon from the 44th army regiment goes into the woods on training manoeuvres. They camp for the night in a strange circle of bare yellow earth. However, as fog closes around the camp during the night, zombies of Civil War soldiers emerge and start killing their numbers.


The Supernaturals comes from Armand Mastroianni. Armand is the American-born cousin of Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni and became a director with the slasher film He Knows You’re Alone (1980). Since then, Mastroianni has kept a regular (if undistinguished) genre hand in with the likes of Distortions (1987), Cameron’s Closet (1988) and tv work like Virus (1995), Invasion (1997), Fatal Error/Reaper (1999), The Celestine Prophecy (2006), Pandemic (2007), Black Widow (2008), Grave Misconduct (2008) and A Dark Plan (2009).

The Supernaturals is a zombie film that is made with a reasonable degree of flair. The premise makes one think of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) crossbred with Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort (1981). Armand Mastroianni succeeds in building atmosphere with some eerie effect – a mystery woman who never says anything, only appears at a distance and has mysteriously vanished when people turn their backs; sinister death traps littered through the woods; a circle of bare yellow earth in the centre of the forest from which a sourceless wind emanates; the, at first, only barely glimpsed zombies emerging from the mist. The characterisations of the soldiers are also well developed – Mastroianni may well have been inspired by Aliens (1986), which came out at about the same time as The Supernaturals (although if anything the characterisations of the soldiers here are superior to the ones in Aliens – there is a very funny scene with the drunken Bobby Di Cicco forcing his way into Talia Balsam’s tent).

Unfortunately, despite a highly effective build-up, the film falters at its climax. There are some effective shocks as the zombies close in around the soldiers in the circle. Alas, here the film should have turned into a sustained night of terror, the attack abruptly ends. It makes the difference between what could have been a very good film and ends up being merely a quite good film. What is also annoying is the lack of explanations the film offers for the proceedings – What are the zombies? Are they the ghosts of the Union prisoners that were forced to cross the minefield at the beginning? What is young Jeremy’s power? How did he raise his mother from the dead? How is it that he has stayed alive for 121 years and aged into a very old man while she still looks the same? The Supernaturals is annoying bereft of even the nominally sketchy explanations that are used to patch proceedings together in these films.

Armand Mastroianni gets good performances from an unusual cast, which includes the likes of Talia Balsam and Bobby Di Cicco who was once touted as a heartthrob star in the early 1980s. And then of course there is Nichelle Nichols in the only role she has played outside of the Star Trek movies since the late 1970s. Although good, Nichelle Nichols doesn’t quite have what it takes to suggest a tough, bawling drill sergeant – she is too short for one – although she is far better when it comes to suggesting the tough, resourceful and in-command leader. As an interesting footnote, Nichelle Nichols is paired up with, in a minor role, LeVar Burton, who the following year was to become a regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94) as the blind navigator Geordi LaForge. Despite both being leading characters in the Star Trek universe, this is the only time Nichols and LeVar Burton have had the opportunity to meet on screen.

A better treatment of the Civil War zombies theme can be found in The Killing Box/Ghost Brigade (1993) and Exit Humanity (2011).



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