In many ways, low budget sci-fi in the early 90’s wasn’t that much different from low budget horror in the early 80’s insofar that that it was usually impressively hit and miss but it was loaded with large amounts of endearing character that usually went some way towards balancing out some ropey effects, plotting or the fact that most of them were shockingly derivative. Among these low-jack epics were such titles as Richard Stanley’s Hardware, Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine and Albert Pyun’s Nemesis, but one movie always seemed to avoid my curious, reaching claws – and that film was Split Second.
Essentially a clumsy melding of Predator, Alien and Blade Runner, Split Second pitted an infamously quality-phobic Rutger Hauer against a rubbery, taloned, monstrous serial killer on the soggy streets of a waterlogged, dystopian London.
The year is 2008 and due to global warming, London has partially succumbed to the rising tides, leaving it partially flooded (although the establishing shots look pretty normal to me) with pollution turning the skies into an eternal night. In these dreary surroundings we find Harley Stone, a dangerously paranoid police detective who has gone off the rails after his partner was butchered by a serial killer three years prior. Described to be operating solely on anxiety, coffee and chocolate, Stone strides through streets under two inches of water, chews endless cigars, wears shades even though the sun’s in and basically treats everyone around him like dried shit.
However, all of his negative personality traits start to pay off when a string of heartless corpses suggests that Stone’s nemesis may have returned and his impressive sugar/caffeine addiction may be the key to taking this psycho down – no, seriously. However, the killer desires to turn up the heat and starts leaving messages scrawled in blood at the crime scenes and even has one of the torn-out hearts delived to Stone’s precinct in a refrigerated container which does wonders for the rogue detective’s mental state. Partnered with Dick Durkin, a geeky serial killer expert, Stone also has to contend with the return of Michelle, the wife of his dead partner with whom he since had an affair.
However, as their investigation takes them into the flooded London sewers, it soon becomes apparent that the killer is actually inhuman in origin and even absorbs the DNA of it victims by eating the organs it plucks from the bodies from its victims.
Taking advantage of the psychic link Stone has apparently formed with the killer, he and Durkin attempt to bring an end to these grisly murders once and for all – but the beast, who looks like Venom with a motorcycle helmet stuck on his head, has taken out some insurance by kidnapping Michelle.
While watching Split Second, I had a prevailing theory that if I had somehow saw it when I was twelve, I’d probably think it was one of the coolest movies ever made, thus proving that I was something of an idiot in my pre-teen. You see, thanks to the fact that the entire script plays like a parody of the type of ruthlessly combative tales you’d find in the pages of 2000 AD, there’s a very good chance that Split Second may well be the most random, low budget, 90’s cyberpunk movie that’s ever been made – and believe me, that’s truly saying something.
Utterly ludicrous and hilariously overblown, Split Second, with its utterly bizarre Predator 2 meets Se7en plot, frequently lurches into so bad it’s good territory, you’re not entirely sure if the whole enterprise isn’t supposed to be some sort of spoof, but no one on set realised it until it was too late. The main source of unintentional laughs can be found with Rutger Hauer’s impressively tic-laden performance as Dectective Harley Stone – a burnt out detective so stereotypical Hauer seems to be deliberately playing him as some sort of grotesque parody. Checking off the basics such as a long coat, an unfeasibly prolific smoking habit and a cartoonish distain for anything even remotely resembling authority, Stone also lives in an apartment so dilapidated, pigeons openly flutter about the place and he keeps turning up to work despite being repeatedly told he’s been suspended. However, the most amusing aspect of Hauer’s performance is that Stone, since giving up drinking, has taken to assaulting his nervous system with enough sugar and caffeine to push a sloth to brake the Olympic record for the 100 meter sprint. As a result, it give the legendary Dutch, Guinness sipping thespian free reign to be as unhinged as he can be for the entire film. Hey, if nothing else, the moment when he gets his straight arrow partner hooked on caffeine and the two both stride around an armoury repeating the phrase “big fucking guns” is undeniably a silly hoot.
It’s to the movie’s credit that it actually tries to keep up, pumping the slight, 90 minute running time with so much stupid, random fuckery, you literally have no time to be bored. The confounding details are legion and would actually take multiple viewings to get your head fully around the arbitrary weirdness that’s seeped into every frame that starts with an out-of-the-blue cameo from Ian Dury which immediately suggests that the only way to stop the killer is to hit it with a rhythm stick. From here, the casual oddness becomes ever more fascinating – why does Nights In White Satin by The Moody Blues feature predominantly in both the soundtrack and score; why does the movie suddenly become a jokey, buddy-cop movie halfway through; who thought Kim Cattrall’s ratty wig looked good enough to film and is that Pete Postlethwaite?
Even more amusingly confounding is all the scrambled lore that comes with the monstrous killer, whose behavior, look and execution all seem to have been carried out by people who never actually spent a single second communicating with one another. The creature is suggested to be a demon from hell, yet blatantly looks alien in origin; it’s obsessed with both astrology and astronomy; is able to blend into a crowd despite being a ten feet tall, harpoon-fingered monster and, most bafflingly of all, is able to send Stone items in the mail while simultaneously being a drooling monster – sure, the Predators have their own technology, but even I could have trouble imagining that they could navigate the ins and outs of the British Postal service.
The fact that the movie weathered numerous rewrites that caused the original director, Tony Maylam to step back, leading to Ian Sharp stepping in, pretty much explains away the erratically deranged tone – but while Split Second could hardly be described as a “good” movie, the fact that it’s so ludicrously un-self aware means that fans of loopy trash will no doubt have a ball with it.
If nothing else, it’s still probably the greatest sugar-addicted-Rutger-Hauer-hunting-a-demon-serial-killer-in-which-he-calls-a-guard-dog-a-dick-head movie you’re ever likely to see.