For the price that they made the movie, there are several things that this has going for it. The sets, which I’m sure were used for a dozen other films from the Corman Factory, are not bad. The make-up effects are also passable, they are at least as good as some of those 70s films that I love , like “At the Earth’s Core“. They are a little cheesy, but you know that’s the case going in. Frankly, I’m not sure why this did not win the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, since nearly every woman in the film is draped in the most beautiful of all God’s coverings, her own skin. This is an grindhouse, exploitation film aimed squarely at the market made up of horny adolescent boys.
So with all that going for it, why isn’t it better? The short answer is that the director can’t stage an action scene, the actors are allowed to froth at the mouth and they aren’t really cast as froth at the mouth types, and the story, which is a direct ripoff of “Yojimbo” is told in an extremely lazy fashion. But don’t get me wrong, as terrible as the movie is, I still enjoyed it.
[Warning: The following page does contain nude images. Just in case that’s not what brought you here.]
When you have no budget, a cast of unknowns, and a weird idea, how do you turn it into a movie? Writer/Director John Sayles gives us some guidelines for doing just that with this way off center look at cross cultural science fiction.
It is hard to imagine the creativity that is required to work within the limitations that this movie seems to have had. In 1984, this was indie movie twice removed. The info I found says that Sayles payed for the film partially with funds from the MacArthur Genius grant he received. He was most known for scriptwriting for Roger Corman films and being an ace script doctor. Oh, and he made the influential “Return of the Secaucus 7”. I’ve only seen four of his movies and this was the first one I saw in a theater.
Time Travel stories are fun for a lot of obvious reasons. Going to the future allows our imaginations to run wild and going to the past allows us to think of all the choice we had a a younger age. As the characters in a Time travel story face their predicament, we imagine ourselves confronted by some of the same obstacles and we wonder, “what would we do?” “The Philadelphia Experiment” is a Time travel story that exists within our history so it does not have new fangled do dads for us to marvel at (like the instant nail polish in “Total Recall”). This is a fish out of water story with a scientific crisis to make it more complicated.
In the early 1980s, New World Pictures was the home of Roger Corman and his philosophy of do it cheap, but be creative. This film claims to have John Carpenter as the Executive Producer and in later publicity material, his association was exploited as a selling point, but this is not a Carpenter film. It does however feel like a Corman inspired project, even though his name is nowhere to be seen. The premise takes an urban legend of a physics experiment gone bad and turns it into a Science Fiction action film with fuzzy science, unnecessary action, but some creative plot points that make it intriguing.