Movies That Hate You: Electra (1996, Shannon Tweed)

Reviewer’s Note:  This is not the Jennifer Garner disaster of the same name.

Fast Track Synopsis:

Marcus Roach, a brilliant entrepreneur, lost the use of his legs in an accident at a factory.  Since then, he has been attempting to find a way to regenerate his limbs.  He partners with a scientist who has developed a formula that can regenerate limbs, with the added bonus of granting that person super-powers.  The problem is that all of the human test subjects die shortly after ingesting the formula.  Marcus, having grown impatient with the results, uses his two henchmen, Gina and Karen, to interrogate the scientist, and he tells of one subject who did survive the process.  He also tells Marcus that the formula can be passed through people through sexual contact.

Marcus turns his attention to Billy Duncan, the lone survivor of the experiment.  Billy lives with his stepmother Lorna in a small house in the country.  Billy also has anemia, so he has to ingest the formula to stay healthy.  Lorna, however, is attached to Billy to the point where she sees Mary Anne, Billy’s not-quite girlfriend, as a threat to her family.  Marcus’ soldiers attack Billy, but Billy ingested the formula upon their arrival and makes quick work of most of them.  But the attacks escalate, and Roach’s scientist breaks in to the house and begins to analyze the formula.  He realizes too late that the formula he analyzed happened to be nitroglycerin and died when the substance ignited.

Roach’s subordinates capture Lorna, and Marcus brainwashes her.  She then captures Billy and Gina and Karen capture Mary Anne.  Billy is tortured by Marcus.  When Billy relents and promises to ‘pass on’ the formula, Marcus has Gina and Karen seduce him as they attempt to gain superpowers.  Billy is able to resist, so Marcus brings out Lorna, who is dressed like Gina and Karen.  Just before Lorna can begin to seduce Billy, Mary Anne ingests a superpower pill that Billy had given her before her capture.  Gina and Karen attempt to subdue Mary Anne, but her strength and abilities are far above even their own, and she kills them in short order.

Back in the chamber, Lorna convinces Billy that she really isn’t brainwashed, and that they needed to play along.  Unfortunately, Billy could no longer resist his deep-seated feelings for Lorna, and she used them to get the formula.  Now super-powered, she goes to Marcus Roach to begin the second phase of his plan: To pass the formula to him to regenerate his legs and give himself powers.  Mary Anne frees Billy and he confronts Lorna and Marcus.  Lorna soon demonstrates that her powers are greater than Billy’s, and Billy is saved by Mary Anne.

Billy and Marcus fight, with Marcus equipping a battle suit inside his lair, giving him access to weapons that help to even the odds in the fight.  Billy eventually defeats Marcus.  Mary Anne and Lorna fight, and it would appear that Mary Anne would win the battle, until she sees her mother in the bonds she placed Lorna in.  When she frees her mother, Lorna reveals it to be a trick and subsequently cuts Mary Anne’s femoral artery, apparently killing her.  Billy shows up in time to find Mary Anne in a pool of her own blood.  Billy fights Lorna and Billy is no match for her.  Billy’s anemia returns and he tries to ingest a pill, but Lorna snatches the pill and takes it herself.  The pill was a trap; Billy had taken out a nitroglycerin pill instead of his medicine.  Lorna explodes.

Mary Anne, thanks to the formula, completely recovers from the neck wound.  She and Billy would go back to her cabin and they would finally consummate their love, no longer needing to worry about the consequences.  Lorna, however, had begun regenerating and swore that she would kill Billy.

Review and Analysis:

This movie is the end result of giving someone a camera, a budget, and loading the car, while at the same time leaving the film editor and the scriptwriter at home.  This was also a movie that never made clear what genre it wanted to actually be in.  If you watch the opening, it seemed as if this were a movie that was destined for Cinemax’s After Dark Series (often referred to as Skinemax or Cinesex), but the content of the film had nothing to do with opening, other than to indicate to the very that there may be naked women in the film.

At the same time, this move was part action, part fantasy, part horror, and part softcore porn.  The last part is what makes on Cinemax’s After Dark as stated above, but the action/fantasy/horror mix all in the same film show just how disjointed the movie really is.  When working on a multiple genre film, you need to have a believable transition between them all, otherwise you end up with lots of clunking as the movie shifts from one genre to the next.

The CGI is Bad.  Or is it?

You spend less money building a shell house, paying a fire team, and obtaining the permit to shoot than to pay for this CGI shot in 1996. Youtube videos today outstrip this movie a scant 15 years later.

This was probably the most expensive digital effect in the entire movie.  But the movie itself is not much more than a softcore porn production.  However, looking at many of the shows and movies in the intervening years demonstrates that while CGI has made tremendous strides in complexity and imagination, the attention to detail for the sake of realism is still not present.  This is true even for higher-budgeted films.

Going for Quick and Easy Identification:

Two guesses as to who is the Nerdy Scientist and the Slick-Haired Flunky of the Villain?

Why do these guys remind me of some of the actors who appeared on another C-movie cheap bomb called Space Mutiny?  That aside, if you happened to jump to any point of the movie, you would be able to identify what role the actor is attempting to play simply by looking at them in the first few frames of their appearance.  That is how easily the character types can be identified.

Let's see: Skintight Black Leather, Fishnet Stockings, Cleavage Revealing Outfit... Yep, they work for the villain.

One of the funny things about the genre happens to be the fact that these henchwomen of the villain were nearly as strong as the power-enhanced hero, even as they do not have super-powers themselves.  But, then again, the combat here between these women and all of their male opponents were contextually sexual in nature, thus, watching the hero get his lunch handed to him by a bad girl is more fetish fuel than good story in this case.

Mommy Dearest:

Certain Male Directors and Showrunners would call a role like this "Female Empowerment." And his fanbase will insist he is right, even when it isn't.

Former Playboy Model Shannon Tweed plays Lorna Duncan, the stepmother of the “hero” Billy.  When she gains superpowers from Billy’s “fluids,” Marcus Roach calls her “Electra,” and it would appear that it was because among her other powers, she does this:

Wonder Woman has nothing to worry about. Palpatine, on the other hand...

Meanwhile, it is very obvious that Lorna had more than maternal feelings for her step-son, Billy, and the feeling was mutual.  She was even jealous of Mary Anne wanting to enter into a relationship with Billy.

Speaking of Bad Omens:

The "Hero." The script gives him four women that were to have sex with him, for different reasons.

The protagonist of this film is Billy Duncan.  The bad omen is that he shares the exact same name as the protagonist in the mega-dog of a movie called “Laserblast.” Whether this was intentional or not, one does wonder what kind of chance it may have had regardless.

Truth in Advertising:

While there are always issues with B-movies and softcore settings like this, there was never an attempt to bamboozle the audience with anything but the naked and scantily clad bodies of the four women (and one guy) by calling this high art.  Most of the small screen is guilty of this, science fiction in particular, where casting changes are made with the idea of pandering to the male 13-27 demographic in mind.

Sliders did this when they added Kari Wuhrer to the show.  The circle was completed when they pushed out Sabrina Lloyd.  The A-Team series made a similar call when they pushed Melinda Culea out in favor of Marla Heasley.  Star Trek: Voyager did this as well, when they added Jeri Ryan to the cast.  Published rumor was the Garrett Wang was originally supposed to be the one who was ousted, but he had received an accolade from People Magazine at the time, so the producers settled on Jennifer Lien.  The same production staff created the character of T’Pol for Star Trek: Enterprise with this in mind, and casted Jolene Blaylock (what they never counted on, however, was that Jolene was not only a knowledgeable Star Trek fan, but she was willing to voice her opinion about what was wrong with the show, much to the delayed enmity of the fans who adored her for her looks).  The same for Tricia Helfer as Six in Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. Glen Larson did the same with Anne Lockhart in his original version.  The list goes on.

But the point is that in the case of Electra (this movie), there is no claim of female empowerment here.  There are still issues regarding acceptable nudity, as it seems clear as to who decided to agree to go naked for the film, as well as the final goal of the movie itself.  But it does not engage in double-speak to do so.

Professor XXX:

The "Evil" Paraplegic Villain watching a common fantasy in porn unfold before his eyes.

Marcus Roach was supposed to be a typical Dr. No-class villain, except that he has a more personal reason as to why wanted the super serum that Billy Duncan had.  Perhaps it is refreshing (or troublesome) that his interest really perked up with Dr. Bartholomew’s explanation that the super serum could be transmitted through sexual contact.  The same can be said of his lead henchwomen.  His operational network is large enough to plant surveillance cameras nearly everywhere.  The machines he has access to can allow him to probe the deepest recesses of the human mind and display their fantasies on the screen.  He can turn his hideout into a nearly impassable fortress.

But, in the end, Roach could be classified as a voyeur.  Also, he lacked imagination as an industrialist, and as a villain.  His logo, for example:

Seriously, one can of RAID would resolve this movie.

Wasn’t well though out, even for softcore porn.  Nearly every reference to Roach would never work out.

My Super-Ex Plot Origin:

Mary Anne. Yes, she wants to have sex with the hero. And yes, she has a super-powered catfight with her soon-to-be Step-Mother-in-Law to do it. At least porn allows you to be less creepy about it.

Ivan Reitman and Don Payne may or may not have seen this movie.  It does seem, however, that the relationship dynamics in this film play out much like they did in My Super-Ex Girlfriend; with the Ex (Jenny Johnson/G-Girl, played by Uma Thurman) wanting the protagonist (Matt Saunders, by Luke Wilson) before attempting to beat the stuffing him, only to be opposed by the “new” girl (Hannah Lewis, by Anna Faris), in which they have a super-powered catfight where the hero’s life is at stake.  The Ex had been extremely protective of her would-be lover, and resents any threat to that, especially from the new girl.

In the case of Electra, Lorna (as the “Ex”) fights with the “new” girl Mary Anne in almost the same fashion.  It does not help that Shannon Tweed and Uma Thurman have similar builds, and share the same imposing contrasts over Katie Griffin (Mary Anne) and Anna Faris (Hannah Lewis), respectively.

If we continue on this trail, Marcus Roach can lead a direct trail to Professor Bedlam, right down to the surveillance capabilities they demonstrate.  And yes, Billy Duncan is just as hapless when it comes to women as Matt Saunders is, although Matt never gets super-powers.

But sometimes, coincidence is just coincidence.  Maybe the production crew of this movie understood evil/antagonism must stand at a higher strength and power than good/justice/protagonism, in order to maintain its underdog status.  You find the same kinds of dynamics in Top Gun, where Iceman and Slider are “better” than the heroes Maverick and Goose.

In Conclusion:

Sometimes a movie as scattershot as Electra can provide useful object lessons.  The special effects are low-budget, and sound of the sound effects were obviously taken from the Star Trek Sound Effects disc.  The hero from Laserblast (not) is seduced by more women than found in a typical harem anime, and the villain is lecherous man in a motorized wheelchair.  But the movie is truth-in-advertising, in which the goal is to:

  • Ogle at women in leather, fishnet, denim, and nothing at all; and,
  • Watch the protagonist get beat to a pulp by everyone, but especially the same women.

Make no mistake, this is a movie you watch only under the threat of being run over by a train.  Otherwise, you may want to take psychotropic drugs when you watch this; it will have the same effect on you.

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One Response to Movies That Hate You: Electra (1996, Shannon Tweed)

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