“Screamers” – (1995, USA/Canada/Japan, 108 minutes – rated R)
On a mining colony called Sirius 6B in the late 21st century, the survivors of two warring factions may have to join forces to survive a new threat: self-replicating weapons evolving of their own accord since being “fielded” by one side. “Screamers” are scavenging robots produced in underground factories for the alliance, burrowing just below the surface until they launch themselves at their prey, their razor sharp blades whirring at a painfully high pitch sounding like a scream. Scary and gory stuff.
Watch the trailer here:
They then slice their target to pieces and drag the gruesome remains below ground.
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick and adapted by Dan O’Bannon (“Alien”, “return of the living dead”) and Miguel Tejada-Flores (“Screamers: the hunting”), “Screamers” remains very close to Dick’s original story “second variety”.
We begin with a message delivered by an NEB (new Economic Bloc) soldier on a suicide mission to the sole remaining Alliance HQ, headed by Colonel Hendricksson (Peter Weller).
In the short story, the action took place in France between the Soviet bloc and the UN, but this adaptation makes more sense.
Both sides are exhausted by the 6 year war and Hendricksson is just about ready to toss in his hat, so disgusted is he by the devastation and political absurdities on both sides. His second in command brings him the message recovered from the dead NEB soldier, who got hacked to pieces by Screamers in front of the outpost. Alliance members have to wear ‘tags’, bracelets which conceal their vital signs from the Screamers, but there are indications that the tags are becoming less effective as screamers evolve in new versions and types.
Hendricksson decides to hike the few miles separating his HQ from the NEB’s forward base and negotiate a formal cessation of hostilities.
As in much of Philip K. Dick’s writing, the atmosphere is tinged with paranoia and the bunker scenes are properly claustrophobic. We know Hendricksson and the young jarhead who accompanies him are human, but everyone else is suspect.
Along the way he will encounter people from the NEB side as well as humanoid forms of screamers. “Screamers” is one of those sci-fi stories with a definite anti-war bent, certainly not scripted by say, John Milius.
The FX are decent, although with a budget estimated around $20 million, one might expect better than some obvious stop-motion and spotty CGI.
A proper double matinee could include “hardware”, another sci-fi/horror film from 1990, which did pretty well on an estimated $1.5 million, also about a self-regenerating military killer-bot.