Progeny (1998) Review by RevTerry

Unexplained birth is a strange running theme throughout the history of fiction. Christian based fantasy is fond of “the chosen” hybrid spawn trope. You have the big ones -- Damion, Jesus Christ, Rosemary's Baby. Not to mention the countless clones, parodies and tributes they inspired. In the same vane, you have a bunch more semi-original Messiah dudes, supposedly born through some kind magic shenanigans, popping up in so many of myths.  Virgins sort of act like a portal into our world for God's and demons... I guess, seems really messy. Chances are, since it's a religious thing we are talking about here, it probably has some terrible, deep seeded history behind the running gimmick. Even so, the subject makes for fun horror movies and probably inspired the relatively modern idea “alien pregnancy”. On the one hand, even without ever owning a womb (or being capable of sustaining another lifeform), the idea of aliens gestating in my personal fleshpod is hard to think about without getting uncomfortable. Having some creature of unknown origin incubating inside me sounds like some Discovery Channel parasite documentary type shit, and I have trouble putting to words how much it really fucks with me. Actually, just the idea of having a regular human baby-thing co-opting my body freaks me-the-fuck out, so it is a great place to start for some creepy sci-fi or horror (shout to women because their lives are pretty much just horror movies without a consistent soundtrack). On the other hand though, why are aliens leading with interspecies pregnancy? Have they done every other test they could think of, and all that's left now is to leave a random bun in the oven, on an already overcrowded planet, just to see what happens? Or is that the first thing they try when they see a new species, like as a greeting policy or something? I find it hard to believe that there is an advanced, space-faring species that has traveled all this way, when they could have just had the answers they wanted from some porn and one of those face mashup things your aunt shares on facebook. It is troubling to me that we jump to the conclusion--that the first task in contact with an intergalactic semi-intelligent being is to get someone pregnant. Maybe I'm alone on this one, but it sounds kind of narcissistic to assume the main objective of aliens on earth is to blend up some of that sweet-sweet human DNA with their own. But like I said, this makes fun movies, because the concept alone has a lot of fucked up potential for unnerving sci-fi horror-type shit. Like the slippery human science experiments in Progeny (1998).
When we first meet Dr. Craig (Arnold Vosloo) and Sherry Burton (Jillian McWhirter) they are in the midst of a loving embrace in bed, performing a passionate take on what some people call “the missionary position”. The stiff love-making is interrupted by a blue light and a 3-hour loss of time. Shit must not be extremely lively lately, because the two decide they must have just collectively passed out while in the middle of the whole thing, and then woke up conveniently in sync to finish. This mysterious marathon fuck weighs heavy on Dr. Burton increasingly, even weeks after the event. The doctor’s already high-stress career as an emergency room surgeon begins to suffer, when he starts having disturbing visions brought on by his surgical instruments, and those around him begin to notice cracks in his usually cool exterior. The revelation that Sherry is pregnant after years of attempts comes with it some fucked up implications. While a source of excitement for the soon to be mom, the announcement is bittersweet for the doctor, as the miracle baby’s inception date lines up suspiciously close to the night of bizarre happenings. The more-than coincidental timing begins to cause trouble between the usually happy (and eager) couple. The news also brings along more in-depth, vivid visions of that night, involving strange beings and Sherry being removed from the room by an unseen force. Worried he might be playing step daddy to some kind of extraterrestrial trojan horse, Dr.Burton convinces Sherry to visit his therapist (Lindsay Crouse) for some regression therapy. Sooner or later, the leading (televised) authority on extraterrestrial visitations, Dr. Bert Clavell (Brad Dourif), shows up to do his best exorcist impersonation, and Sherry Burton starts to remember just how freaky shit really got, that night on the spaceship.
The story plays out like a mix of Communion (1989) and a reversed (severely lighter) version of the stained classic Rosemary's Baby (1968), brought together by Director's Brian Yuzna’s recognizable touch.  It's a dreamy crawl, for more than half the movie, that toys around with taboo parenting fears, as well as suspicions that the invading insemination may all be in the protagonists head. There is a lot more realistic drama to the film than I originally expected. The tension in the film lives in the strain upon the couple’s relationship (during what is traditionally a joyous time) and the outward appearance of Dr. Burton’s mental health. Like Communion (1989) and other “true story” abduction flicks, it spends the large chunks of screen time between bizarre abduction sequences depicting the effects of those events on an otherwise normal life. Without having one singular derivative source, the story seems to invoke several details from some of the more famous abduction stories. The doctor's research and the “expert” character’s rants give a few nods to known phenomenon research but mostly just by buzzword alone (as far as I know). Think Mulder's rambling from the first few seasons of The X-Files (1994 ish), referencing only enough to make a call out to all of the amateur ufologists in the audience. It uses a similar structure to other abduction films, teasing the event itself in surprise flashbacks and therapy invoked visions. It's not always super effective--sometimes reminding me of the giggle-inducing hypnosis scenes of Christopher Walken in Communion. When it does work however, it hammers in some creepy vibes and troublesome details that can get pretty disturbing if you get into it. Stuart Gordon takes a “story” credit, and you can feel his blunt wit within the premise. It's full of engaging ideas, and the plot itself is strong, but with the help of some of the dialog, it builds up a layer of cheese that sticks around all the way until the dramatic finale. The cornier moments can be just as entertaining (for me) but may dampen the efforts of the tension on the brutal visions in the film a bit. It saves a lot of unsanitary, fucked up fun for the last quarter. Yuzna and Co. double down on the memorable late reveals of Fire in the Sky (1993), with a touch of straight-faced hentai for good measure. Sprinkled throughout are little bits of social commentary that never really come to a head. The notion seems admirable, but they amount to being mostly just passing puns with no purpose. The drama all works as a whole and catches a flow early on, that never threatens any boredom.  As always, Yuzna uses familiar elements and takes them to unique extremes. The script isn't quite as compelling as the concepts that go into it, but Progeny makes an entertaining and fittingly slimy case for serious alien abduction films.
In most aspects, the movie works within the budget well. Yuzna seems to rely on the restrained simple camera to tie the drastically different types of scenes together. The film has a classic horror feel to it's framing, even when it's lined with a modern sci-fi design. Its tactics are more Beyond Re-Animator (2003) than Return of the Living Dead III (1993), as there isn't as much experimentation on Yuzna’s (and the camera’s) part. The effects are a mix of computer and practical styles, luckily putting more stake in rubber than graphics. The aliens, in their “comforting” forms, look great from certain angles and with the right accompanying lighting. They kind of had a classic grey meets the window martian puppets from Sesame Street thing going on. Yuzna brings with him his love of oozing, beautifully disgusting monster design. In this case, by tapping the masterful hands of Screaming Mad George and Bart Mixon for effects (among others). There is an assortment of gross-out moments and creative body horror aspects that stand out despite being doled out in short blasts. Its apex comes in a set of scenes depicting the alien experimentation in it's “true” grotesque glory. It calls back to several influences, but it's all very Yuzna--nasty comic book like terror, organically realized. The noticeable CG in the film isn't doing the work any favors, and at its best it looks like something from a late 90s TV show. One scene in particular, depicting Ms. Sherry Burton’s ascension into (what I think is) a cloud but instead looks like a grey PS2 butthole, took me out of the mood for a quick minute. There's a sort of clash between the great work on the rubber/makeup side and the bad computer shit, mostly during its flip-flopping from practical, colorful lighting to artificial effects added in post. There's a glowing, strobed visitor effect, at some point on the ship, that works perfectly well despite being pretty frugal. That is, before a shitty Windows 95 laser comes out of nowhere, artificially brightens the screen, and makes it look like someone had just been waving those Glo Worm dolls (that kids had in the 90s) around the whole time. Most of the added effects aren't that bad, and they normally do not take too much from the overall enjoyment, but it's still kind of a bummer. It rounds itself out in the second half when CG mostly takes a well deserved back seat to slippery goop and nudity (although I may have just adapted to it.). The soundtrack isn't going to kill anyone, but the film could have been heightened several levels by a decent piece of music. It’s that generic canned shit, the type that technically does the job but never really adds much to what's going on, just kind of exists. I get the impression most of the dough was dumped into cool alien effects and they just made do with what was left on it's soul alone. As far as I'm concerned, that was a great plan in this case, and it paid off in globs.
The dialog can get a little goofy sometimes, it's hard to pinpoint whether it is the writing or the actors that add the corn factor. The lead is played Arnold Vosloo, who I will always remember as “the other Darkman” but lately only seems to come up in conversations when I have to “remind” people that Billy Zane was not the mummy in The Mummy (1999). The guy makes a great bad guy (or Zartan even in shitty films) but in this case, it took a little getting used to. As the doctor aspect became more involved, I started feeling him more, but I swear he changed accents like three times. Jillian McWhirter plays the species-uniting mother-to-be Sherry Burton.  McWhirter pops up in a lot of great trash and horror (including Yuzna’s The Dentist 2 1998), and I consider myself a fan. She is a little out of her element, as the whole film is played with no intentional camp, but seems to handle things well enough. To give credit where credit is due, she holds up, even though her most involved scenes amount to being naked and poked with rubber tentacle things. Fan favorite Brad Dourif plays renowned UFO expert Dr. Bert Clavell with his usual gusto. Dourif is always a manic highlight, and this film is par for the course although he feels a little underutilized. You will probably recognize a few other faces, but I couldn't review this film without mentioning Wilford Brimley, who is kind of just being Wilford Brimley--but if he was a gentle baby doctor instead of Wilford Brimley.
Progeny is an awesomely uncomfortable extraterrestrial horror flick that tries its hardest to supply as much suspense as it does slimy shock. It's a serious affair that seems closer to a dramatic reenactment of a real-life account than something like Aliens (1986), only embellished with slick grotesque body horror. There's a lot for me to grab on to in there. If you allow yourself to take the trip, it packs some disturbing implications and imagery in entertaining and unique ways. I could see it pairing well with Fire in the Sky, the extremely watchable Roswell “incident” 90s TV movie with Kyle MacLachlan (its called Roswell, made in 1994, I had to look it up) and of course the 80s Christopher Walken vehicle, based on Whitley Strieber's dream diary entries, Communion. Whether or not it makes any sense to me, the whole “implanted” sleeper cell child thing freaks me out on a deep, unexplainable level. Maybe the feeling is common or inherent, which would explain why the trope keeps coming up in the fantasy of the world. All I know is I'm glad I wasn't born with a womb, I'm too wimpy for that shit. I don't think I would do well with the constant threat of being used as a vessel for some kind of bullshit population scheme alien, demon or otherwise.
1h 38min | 1998
 Director: Brian Yuzna
Writers: Aubrey Solomon and Stuart Gordon

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Review by:
RevTerry


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