Repligator (1997) -*˝
It’s funny to me that we’ve reached the point now where the direct-to-video junk of the 1990’s is starting to get celebratory re-release. I suppose it was inevitable, though, since an equivalent phenomenon has already happened twice before. In the 50’s, it was the big studios’ genre programmers from the 30’s and the war years that got rehabilitated, their praises sung by everybody from Forry Ackerman to François Truffaut. Then in the 80’s, another wave of B-movie retro-fandom extended the same treatment to the indie trash of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s— what Fred Olen Ray once called “the new Poverty Row.” Now it’s the turn of Ray’s own Poverty Row, a third one poorer still than the second, and certainly not new any longer— which, really, is the whole point. Sooner or later, time renders everything at least potentially respectable. Even crap like Repligator.
Repligator is the work of a specialist in video store shelf-filler whom I hadn’t heard of previously, Texan Bret McCormick. From what I can see here, he’s interesting less on the merits of his movies than for the anachronism he represents. In an era of increasing pop-culture homogenization, McCormick was a throwback to the regional filmmaking scene of the 60’s and 70’s. He even unashamedly embraced his Lone Star State compatriot Larry Buchanan as a forbear, if perhaps not necessarily a role model. Apparently it was specifically Southwestern video stores where you would most likely have found his films begging for the attention of renters who’d already exhausted the possibilities of the familiar and the obvious. And certainly it was a local talent pool that supplied his casts and crews. In Repligator, even one of the slumming “stars” providing name recognition is a Texas boy— albeit one hailing originally from Iceland.
Colonel Sanders (Carl Merritt)— yeah, this is going to be one of those movies— arrives at a top-secret Army research lab in a state of high dudgeon. Has Dr. Kildare (Gunnar Hansen, from Swarm of the Snakehead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), the facility’s top civilian scientist, seen the newspaper this morning? “Transsexuals Infiltrate US Army!” What does Kildare have to say about that, huh?!?! The scientist says he’ll be happy to explain if Sanders will just settle down— although he doesn’t think the colonel will like what he hears. What Sanders has to remember is that his mysteriously vanished superiors, General Mills (Alan York, of Creep Tales) and Colonel Sargent (Rocky Patterson, from Cyber-Stalker and Nail Gun Massacre), were impatient men, and that the combination of different projects in the works at the lab offered enormous latitude for things to go wrong as a result of meddling from the brass. It’s just a good thing that Mills and Sargent didn’t find a way to drag Kildare’s X-ray glasses or the Sexual Hologram Interface Terminal project overseen by Dr. Goodbody (Brinke Stevens, of Slumber Party Massacre and Haunting Fear) into the debacle, too.
Mills and Sargent were mostly interested in the Replicator program. Dr. Stan Oliver (screenwriter Keith Kjornes, who also acted in Bio-Tech Warrior) and Dr. Laurel Hardy (T. J. Myers, from Space Marines and Aliens on Crack) intended the system to work like the matter transporter on “Star Trek.” First a laser would disintegrate the subject, encoding its molecular structure into a computer memory bank; then the encoded data would be transmitted to the desired destination; and finally some much more exotic machine would assemble an exact duplicate of the subject atom-by-atom using energy-to-matter conversion. The Replicator worked just fine on inanimate objects and laboratory animals, but the first test on a human subject, made ahead of schedule at the general’s insistence, revealed a rather significant bug in the system. Any person, of either sex, would emerge from the Replicator’s assembly terminal as a sex-crazed bimbo!
Oliver and Hardy could probably have fixed that if Mills and Sargent had let them. But instead, the officers fell under the influence of an unscrupulous rival scientist, Dr. William C. Fields (Randy Clower, from Time Tracers and Bio-Tech Warrior). Fields had been working on a method of electronic brainwashing, but his project got no respect around the lab from either soldiers or scientists, not least because it didn’t work worth a damn. However, with the Replicator suddenly looking like an expensive boondoggle, Fields persuaded Sargent to put him in charge of salvaging the situation. The way Fields saw it, Oliver and Hardy had inadvertently discovered the secret to making his brainwashing stick. If Fields were to add coding for behavior and mental state to a subject file stored in the Replicator’s memory, then that coding should become part of the subject after reconstitution. That wouldn’t solve the sex-change problem, of course, but so what? Surely the Pentagon could accept a machine that took in dogfaces and spat out cheesecake babes, provided it spat out cheesecake babes programmed as assassins, super-spies, or Green Berets, right? But it happened that there was another complication as yet unknown to Fields and his military paymasters. People sent through the Replicator didn’t just come out cute, horny, and female. If a Replicator girl ever had an orgasm— which was obviously one of their major drives— she would transform on the spot into a humanoid alligator. So Sanders and his superiors really ought to count themselves lucky that only the sex-change aspect of the story got out into the press. The rest is even more sordid and embarrassing, and it isn’t over yet.
It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to observe that Gunnar Hansen’s scenes function more like host segments than like integral parts of the story, or that Brinke Stevens’s scene, despite being shown twice (first as a pre-credits teaser in the style of “The Outer Limits,” then again at a seemingly arbitrary point in the first act), has nothing to do with anything. That’s because all that material was shot months after principal photography wrapped, when it became obvious that Repligator was coming out too short to be releasable even as a direct-to-video feature. The Hansen segments are the more successful additions, because they at least have been made to tie in with the main story. (Besides, it always makes me smile to see Hansen collecting a paycheck, considering how gangsters made off with all the money he ought to have made from his signature role.) Repligator would have been better off without Stevens, though, since her scene is interminable and unfunny even the first time around, and serves no purpose whatsoever beyond to remind us (as if anyone needed reminding) that Brinke has tits.
As for the main body of Repligator, the best thing I can say in its favor is that everyone involved in making it looks to have had a ball. Their evident enjoyment can’t overcome the feeble jokes, silly premise, flimsy story structure, or thudding dialogue, however, nor does it provide much counterweight against jerky performances that mistake ACTING! for comic delivery. The latter approach can work, but rarely does in practice— and it certainly doesn’t work here. Somewhat more successful are the gator-girl costumes created by McCormick’s teenaged son, Josh, even if the prototype was just a quick re-dress of the Dino-Man suit he made earlier for Time Tracers. It’s sound policy for a monster movie with so few selling points to make sure that the monsters themselves count among them.