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Friday, October 28, 2016

HubrisWeen 4, Day 23: Warning Sign (1985)

HubrisWeen is a 26-day blogging marathon where a seasonally-appropriate movie gets reviewed every day from October 6 to the 31st in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above this message to go to the central site and see what Checkpoint Telstar and the other participants are covering today.

Written by Hal Barwood & Matthew Robbins
Directed by Hal Barwood

Sam Waterston:  Cal Morse
Kathleen Quinlan:  Joanie Morse
Yaphet Kotto:  Major Connolly
Jeffrey DeMunn:  Dr. Dan Fairchild
Richard Dysart:  Dr. Nielsen

With G. W. Bailey, Rick Rossovich, and Meshach Taylor, making it a film that's composed of 70% "Hey, that guy" by volume.

I didn't think the world was going to end in the Eighties; I knew it was. Either the leader of the Soviet Union or the senile old man in control of the American nuclear stockpiles were going to get pissed off enough to push the big red button, or there would be a computer error that triggered the missiles independent of human activity. And then an hour and a half later, human civilization would be erased from the planet in a series of bright white flashes and the world would be left to the rats, who might vaguely miss us but would get along just fine in the aftermath without being able to steal entire pizza slices and carry them away down subway stairs. When I found out about Stanislav Petrov, it turned out that I was right to be terrified of nuclear war in grade and middle school. Someone less level-headed in charge of a monitor station when I was eight might have ensured that I never made it to nine (and that any of my readers younger than 33 might never have existed at all).

But even though I was justifiably anxious about a crop of mushroom clouds showing up at any moment during my adolescence, there was a whole bunch of other shit my country had brewing that I didn't have any idea about. Chemical weapons and disease bombs were also valuable components in the arsenal of democracy, developed because other countries had them (because other countries, including mine, had them). But there's something about chemical and biological warfare that's worse than nuclear bombs--a nuke is still something that can be aimed. The effects of a nuclear blast roughly similar to a shotgun blast that annihilates an entire city and poisons everyone within miles, but it's still something that was aimed at a specific target. Diseases and poison gas go wherever the wind blows it. In the case of chemical weapons, eventually they'll be dispersed and harmless after time and distance and chemical degradation. But if someone catches a weaponized flu and spreads it to someone else? Well, there's an eleven hundred page Stephen King novel about what kind of world that leaves the six people out of every thousand that are immune to the plague. Also a really boss tablet game, which is one of those queasily entertaining things that turns the apocalypse into something you want to strive for rather than avoid.

And sooner or later someone was going to decide to go with one of the other sides of the N-B-C armament triangle when making a horror movie in the depths of the Reagan years. Sure, you had nuclear paranoia in movies like WarGames and even Dreamscape, but people vomiting blood and dying wasn't as cinematic as gigantic mushroom clouds blotting out the sky. So if you were going to make a movie about germ warfare, setting it someplace where the wind can't dilute the disease weapon's effectiveness is a good idea. And putting someone in it who isn't a scientist making ninety grand a year to figure out how to kill as many people as possible would be nice too, because Warren Ellis said bomb designers could be heroes in 1962 in his 20th century pop culture obsessed comic Planetary, but by 1985 plenty of people thought of them as future mass murderers by proxy more than valiant defenders of the American way.

So. Set your movie in an enclosed place (which will also help with the budget, because you'll have a couple of major sets for everyone to be in and you won't be at the mercy of the weather or available sunlight for location work) and make sure that at least one protagonist isn't trying to develop a way to make cancer contagious so that Russia can be depopulated from a safe distance and you'll have a better chance of making a movie someone wants to see. But it's still 1985 and a movie set in a germ warfare lab is going to be a horror film, not a drama (or, Jesus Christ, a romantic comedy). So strap in thanks to Amazon streaming (the DVD was in print for about six hours and is too expensive to grab just for one day's HubrisWeen writing) and let's get within shouting distance of the end of the world.

The film opens with the surest guarantee that things are going to go to shit imaginable--a look out at the gently sloping green hills of the fictitous but real sounding Rudd County, Utah, where cattle graze and the skies are wide and gorgeous. Of course everything will fall apart during the narrative--film is expensive and you only show nice stuff happening at the start of a movie like this as a contrast to the horrors at the end of the first act and onward. Setting the film in ranching and grazing country is probably at least a slight nod to the 1968 event awesomely known as the Skull Valley Sheep Kill. When this film was made, an actual admission from the U.S. military that they'd nerve gassed six thousand sheep in Utah was still fourteen years in the future, but I'm sure plenty of ranchers and shepherds figured it out whether or not there was a PR flack in a uniform telling them what went down. A plane flies over fields of corn, dusting the crops before an ominous thunk on the score sounds when the camera cuts to the BioTek Agronomics corporate headquarters.

Whatever that organization presents to the outside world as its goals and methods, inside there's a late-middle-aged white guy looking at a Petri dish under a microscope while wearing full-body biohazard gear with its own air supply in a lab. He does some science for a while that involves a centrifuge and vials of something or other, and a loose tape label hooks a vial of something undoubtedly lethal to one of his sleeves without him noticing. While the scientist performs more ill-definted duties, the vial falls off his isolation suit and lands on the ground, but does not break (it slides across the ground with a scraping sound that sets the viewer's teeth on edge when someone accidentally kicks it, too). Whatever the BioTek people were trying to do, apparently some part of it just got wrapped up and one of their number wants to take a Polaroid to commemorate the occasion. A group of half a dozen scientists all pop their visors up so their faces will be visible in the snapshot, and inevitably the photographer squashes the vial underfoot (still unobserved by every character in the film, which is horrifyingly plausible). It's 5 PM, end of shift, and everyone scrubs down to leave while the security officer at a control console checks everyone out.

The security officer's a woman name Joanie, who calls her husband Cal, the sheriff around these parts, to get a ride home from work at the end of the day; she's played by Kathleen Quinlan and the sheriff is a shockingly young and brown-haired Sam Waterston. While they're talking about whose turn it is to make dinner, one of the computer monitors at the station starts reading *BIOHAZARD* *BIOHAZARD* BIOHAZARD*, which is probably nothing to get too bent out of shape over. Incidentally, other than Joanie and Cal, virtually none of the various scientists have called each other by their names, which mans that they're being presented as nearly identical drones. The identical white protective suits help distinguish them as being indistinguishable as well. Joanie might be wearing a uniform herself, but it's one that doesn't cover her face and hands while she works.

Anyway, Joanie disconnects the call (and check out Cal's super advanced for 1985 brick-sized mobile phone when he hangs up the receiver before tearing ass over to the BioTek building). The computer monitors start to show multiple biohazard symbols on a wire-frame map of the labs and Joanie carries out the ominously named PROTOCOL ONE with regards to the accidental release of whatever it was R. G. Armstrong's character stepped on. Klaxons blare, airtight steel doors slide shut and I'm guessing all the building doors lock themselves. As a warning so the scientists don't get crushed like bugs by the automatic doors, yellow and black plastic streamers fall down from the top of each door frame, which looks goofy as hell--like somebody won a prize, and instead of the klaxons we should be hearing something like this:

Dana, a perky blonde scientist, makes it past the descending security door and gets trapped on one side of it--and it looks like she can walk out of the building through the main doors if she wants to. Her squeeze Bobby is on the other side, though, and perhaps she won't want to abandon him in the BioTek building. Dana talks to the sheriff outside, complaining that Bob (oh, and everyone else in the building) is locked inside. Schmidt, one of the scientists, fixes a malfunctioning piece of equipment in the bowels of the building that he thinks is the problem, then calls Joanie to tell her it's safe to open all the doors and let everyone out because it's "a non-event event". Joanie, however, wants to stick to the procedures as they are in the manuals--and that Schmidt trained her on personally. Schmidt says he'll take full responsibility for Joanie circumventing the usual protocols and her phone rings about a second and a half before she can start undoing all the things she's done; it's Dr. Nielsen, the head of the facility, telling her to seal the entire building because there's been an accident and nobody can be permitted to enter or leave the BioTek headquarters.

Also, this is the point where we learn that Nielsen was the guy who wound up with the plague vial stuck to his sleeve in the very beginning of the movie; being the head dude in charge doesn't mean you're going to notice everything that goes wrong, even when you're at the center of the disaster. Nielsen tells Joanie to open the safe at her security station and follow the instructions that she finds there. It's a measure of how serious things are that she gets a major on the line less than half a second after going through the first step on her computer; according to him, there's a few things that have to be done in order to keep everyone safe. First up, get in touch with the civil authorities and have the three people who had left the building before everything locked down detained.

While Joanie's taking care of things from the security station, the lab animals have all gone into a homicidal frenzy and one scientist goes from cage to cage with a pistol to put them down; all the lab animals' remains are incinerated to prevent the spread of the pathogen any further (which works every time someone tries it, of course). Dr. Nielsen's got an untested antitoxin that's everyone's going to shoot up in order to slow or halt the infection, and we learn that the virus or germ or whatever it is causes the sweat of an infected carrier to fluoresce under ultraviolet light. After Nielsen injects a recalcitrant doctor with the serum he says it's his turn next; one may safely assume everyone in the labs is getting a dose of potential cure until they run out of the stuff.

Meanwhile, Joanie and her husband are still in communication; Cal and the knot of people waiting outside the lab apparently think it's an equipment malfunction or false alarm that's got everyone trapped in the room while Joanie knows much, much better. She tells her husband to go look for a former employee of the company named Dan Fairchild; Cal says the guy's a drunk and got fired from BioTek, so what good can he do? Before the conversation can progress a local yahoo with a pistol breaks his way into the vestibule and tries to shoot through the foot-thick security door in order to get inside. Sheriff Morse has to intervene now, pretty much effortlessly disarming the guy (who says his son is stuck inside the building, so I can see why he's concerned--but he's still an idiot). Just as another local asks what the sheriff's going to do about the situation a helicopter flies up, its searchlights blinding white against the darkness outside the building. 

Well, that major from Joanie's phone call shows up and since Yaphet Kotto has a hugely distinctive voice it's not much of a surprise to the viewer that the authority figure on the scene is played by him. But the townspeople (as white as a Sarah Palin rally) look at him with disgust and distrust from about the first second he stepped out of the chopper. Dana gets her body shrinkwrapped in a big inflatable body suit and hauled off for an exam. Then Major Connolly starts to tell everyone gathered outside the building how sorry he is that they're all out there in the dark waiting for word on their relatives and spouses stuck inside the building. While he's talking, though, a fleet of semis and RVs are being guided to the BioTek site by one of the Major's flunkies.

The cover site is that "a batch of experimental yeast" was spilled at BioTek, which is a perfectly normal agricultural research station. Then a bunch of soldiers hop out of their transports, toting M-16s, and move towards the people gathered outside the building. Antennae are deployed from the semi trucks and various pieces of equipment are hooked up the generator trucks. One of Cal's deputies brings back the two other people that left BioTek early and they wind up inside the inflatable plastic shells "for their own protection" just like Dana did. Major Connolly confides in Cal that the yeast story is one of the things that gets put into action when PROTOCOL ONE is initiated; given that Connolly also recommended that Cal say a prayer for his wife and everyone else stuck in the BioTek facility, it can be safely assumed that the shit is rocketing towards the fan at this very moment.

Cal gets a call from his wife and Connolly tries to get her to patch Dr. Nielsen through to him via the sheriff's department truck radio, but the facility head's been incommunicado for hours. Before he can spill any beans about what exactly got spilled from that vial at five, Connolly gets an update from a flunky and literally runs off to look at what's been found. Majors don't run unless it's serious business, right? At the command semi, a bunch of orange-jumpsuited technicians have a bank of monitors set up and they're patched in to the closed circuit monitoring system inside BioTek. So far people are grumbling and working their way through the food in the cafeteria, which is probably to be expected.

But when they get a look at the biohazard lab instead of the cafeteria, nobody's moving. They're huddled together on the floor, sleeping (or at least that's the official government story). When Cal asks what the hell is going on, Major Connolly sees that there's an intruder in his command semi and starts to lose his cool (which is great, because Yaphet Kotto blowing his top is one of the golden highlights of world cinema). Cal, as the civil authority for the county, wants to know what's going on in what he thinks of as a local business--the one where his wife works, and is currently trapped. Connolly doesn't give him any specifics about anything, but says that he's trying to protect everyone on the site (including himself, which is refreshingly honest).

Schmidt finds a phone and calls outside, talking to Major Connolly like they've been familiar with each other for a long time. He still thinks it's a pump malfunction that he cleared up hours before, but Connolly shuts him down by saying it's a real-deal PROTOCOL ONE situation (Schmidt sinks to the ground and asks how many people have died as soon as he realizes what's going on). And while Connolly is trying to determine if everyone exposed to the pathogen has already died, Joanie's on the radio to her husband looking at the bodies in the P-4 lab and trying to tell how many have succumbed to either the germ or that untested cure shot that they took earlier. Joanie is just starting to panic at her station and Sheriff Cal drives off to track down that Dr. Fairchild dude that was mentioned earlier. Before they break the connection off, Cal does a little information control with his wife, keeping her from panicking by telling her that it's just an agricultural research station and that what happened in the lab, even if it did kill some people, is just the equivalent of an on-the-job fatality.

So off Cal drives, looking for someone that might be able to tell him more about what's going on than either his wife (who is on the scene but ignorant of what's happening) or Major Connolly (who knows what's going on but doesn't want to tell him) is willing or able to do. Dr. Fairchild is asleep--or perhaps "passed out" would be more accurate--when Cal shows up, breaks into the house and wakes the man up; understandably confused, he says he doesn't need a ride home because he's already there. Then, once the fog clears a little bit, he asks "Somebody spill something?" and ridicules the idea that yeast is behind whatever happened that brought the sheriff to his house. He accurately predicts that Ed Connolly will be at the BioTek building and refuses to go back to the site (and, watching him wandering around in his boxer shorts, I am stunned by the fact that Jeffrey DeMunn used to be in quite good shape. And, although balding, he's still got dark brown hair in 1985 as well).

While whipping up a stack of zucchini pancakes for a got-woken-up-and-now-it's-time-to-nosh snack, Dr. Fairchild confirms that BioTek is a Department of Defense facility and not an agricultural research company, as everyone in the county was told. The sheriff figures out that the "Blue Harvest" program isn't about making food crops metabolize salt water, but rather that it has to be some kind of germ warfare intiative. Dr. Fairchild doesn't deny that, but he does say that international treaties forbid the development of disease weapons. Cal tries to get Fairchild to go to the BioTek building with him and the man refuses; he does say that he made a cure for whatever Blue Harvest is, and that Major Connolly should inoculate everyone for their own safety. Then the sheriff drops the bomb on Fairchild--his wife is trapped in that building along with seven dozen other people who may or may not have been exposed to the germ.

It's the next morning when Sheriff Morse and Dr. Fairchild set off for the BioTek building; meanwhile, Schmidt has an ultraviolet scanner and is checking to see if anyone he's been trapped with has fluorescent spit or sweat. And soldiers from the containment group are using a jackhammer to chip into the outside wall to break in; it's probably easier to bust through concrete than those security doors. Major Connolly, talking to one of the body-suited men who will be checking things out in the lab, lets it slip in passing that four out of five people exposed to the pathogen will die. While a couple of nameless flunkies get ready to go inside the building, the sheriff and Dr. Fairchild confront the major about what's going on with BioTek.

Major Connolly points out that Hudd County had 38% unemployment when the germ warfare station came to town--they never did tell anyone working there outside of the really, really dangerous levels what was going on but everyone was happy to have a source of jobs show up and build something. Connolly also says that "deterrence in kind" is the reason for the illegal biowarfare lab they're standing next to--if the Soviets (who have their own germ warfare facilities, because we have ours) infected the United States, not having a germ warfare program to respond with would mean nuclear war. It makes sense, honestly--the ghastly kind of pitch-black humorous sense that the Cold War traded in. You needed the weaponized germs to protect against the weaponized germs that the USSR had to protect themselves from you. And if either side wanted to make a first strike, they had to know that the retaliatory strike would wipe them off the fucking map. Which is why they needed better germ bombs, so that if they were ever attacked they could counterattack brutally. The problem with that system, as a group of people in Utah are now learning, is that when mistakes are made it's one's own country that suffers from them.

Meanwhile, back at BioTek, Schmidt gets in touch with Joanie and tries to get her to open the doors to let everyone still alive out. She won't do it, though, not without someone from the chain of command (and who is not in the building and exposed to the bug) telling her that it's copacetic. It's probably not a good sign that people with Schmidt are toting fire axes, but Joanie rips the page with the unlock codes out of her manual and burns it before the technicians chop through the door and grab her. After being shocked with a lamp cord (which even Schmidt thinks is way, way over the top) Joanie gives up the sequence to get out of the building. But when the torturer puts it in, the computer notifies him that the code has expired and there isn't a new one. Apparently PROTOCOL ONE takes a whole lot of possibilities into account, including the code books getting compromised.

In the security station, Bob starts spasming and collapses; the UV light shows that he's good and infected, which causes panic in everyone stuck in that room. When a dishwasher from the cafeteria brings news of the outside rescue attempt Schmidt tells everyone they can't leave because of the risk of infecting people from the outside (he's only tried to subvert the protocols when he thought nobody had the bug, and I like that he tries to keep things secure when everyone else just wants to leave). Everyone bullrushes past him, of course, and eventually Schmidt flees as well. When the hazard-suited soldiers cut open an interior door they almost get bums-rushed by the fleeing BioTek workers, and one of them gets shot in an attempt to get past everyone. It's the guy who used lamp-cord wires to torture the day's exit code from Joanie, though, so "son of a bitch had it coming" fully applies here.

It turns out that the rescue party doesn't know where they are; the only person who knows the layout of the base up on the surface (and in radio contact with them) is Dr. Fairchild. He guides them through an access tunnel towards the lab that's supposed to have the cure that Fairchild developed. While that's going on, Schmidt and the other infected technicians are rapidly going from bad to worse; Bob has succumbed to the virus, although I seem to remember all the lab animals going berserk when they caught the bug. Schmidt tries to apologize to Joanie for everything he and his group did to her--he realizes that the Reaper just grabbed a checklist with all the BioTek employees' names on it and his car keys.

Then that "bad to worse" kicks up another notch. The lab where Dr. Nielsen and everyone else got infected, took the cure and then died? They're not in there any more. And the glass door has been smashed. The working hypothesis is that someone broke into the lab and moved the bodies until the pustule-covered hand flops into the camera's view. Right before Nielsen's voice is heard complaining about how bright the lights are in the lab and how much they hurt his eyes, and a fire axe smashes into the circuit breakers. So, uh, horribly infectious plague zombies in the dark. That's a good sign. It's also about goddamned time, because it's forty-five minutes into a hundred minute long film before the hell finishes breaking loose.

Nielsen makes his way into the service tunnel and signals to the soldiers; up in the command center everyone but Dr. Fairchild thinks that's great news, but the former BioTek worker quietly instructs the soldiers in the safest way to flee from the scientist in their field of vision. Everyone shuffles away, leaving the poor son of a bitch with the video link to the surface (and no gun) closest to Nielsen. As they try to leave, the suited soldiers encounter a mob of about six or eight infected scientists, one of whom is toting a fire axe. All of them have massive pustules and sores on their faces and hands, and the UV light seems to cause one physical pain when they scan him.

The video of the scientist soldiers getting overwhelmed might well have influenced James Cameron when making Aliens the next year, but he did it a hell of a lot better than this movie did. Right after Connolly remarks that Fairchild led his men into an ambush we go back to Joanie and Schmidt in the sickroom. Schmidt says if they can get to the P-4 weapons lab there might be a dose of antitoxin they can use to fight off the effects of the germ (although right now Joanie appears to either be naturally immune or just an asymptomatic carrier). It's when she starts unlocking the door to get out of the room they're in that Bob's corpse spasms its way back to life and he Evil Dead stands up to advance on her. Mindlessly aggressive as he is, Bob's no match for Joanie wielding a piece of metal equipment and they shuffle off to the lab.

Up on the surface, Major Connolly realizes that things have gone so apocalyptically bad that he has to confirm "some cases of low-level human infection", though he doesn't say what that infection is. USA Today has a front-page story about the quarantine, but it's the cover story about experimental yeast rather than the zombie virus that's actually in the air. Fairchild says that nobody's getting out of the BioTek building alive (perhaps forgetting that Cal's wife is down there), and that the cover story's going to hold. Major Connolly does tell everyone to offer their thoughts and prayers to the trapped people, and we all know how much good those things do.

That yahoo who tried to shoot his way into the building riles up the crowd a bit but Connolly gets away with his bullshit story; Fairchild says the plan is for the building to be sealed and everyone to die of the disease; then, presumably, a team of guys in hazmat suits will scrub every square inch of the facility down with bleach, and the "agricultural research station" will reopen under a new name some time later.

Joanie finds a room where everyone's doing all right, but the elderly white-haired scientist won't open the locked door to let her in because she might bring contamination with her. That turns out to be the break room / cafeteria, and if people just sit tight and play the arcade games in there they'll die peacefully when the air runs out. As she and Schmidt walk off (with Joanie doing pretty much all the work) they encounter Dr. Nielsen, who says that he was sick for a short while but now he's better. But when Joanie asks him why his clothes are spattered with blood he flips out and sics another plague zombie with an axe on the pair of refugees. Turns out that undead or not, rage zombie or not, a face full of fire extinguisher fluid will slow a man down and Joanie drags Schmidt away, down an elevator (which she blocks open) and into the P-4 lab to look for that antitoxin that was supposed to be there.

In the command trailer, Major Connolly tells the sheriff that everyone in the facility is doomed; Cal says he'll go in alone and find the antitoxin to cure everyone. And that's when Connolly drops another bomb:  the antitoxin is ineffective. If it were me setting things up there, I'd have probably had a fatal dose of barbituates in every syringe of "cure"; I mean, it's already a bioweapons lab so the morality of lying to people and having them peacefully drift off to sleep after being infected with something horrible and fatal isn't anything I'd be worried about. Plus, in this case, it means there wouldn't be infected rage-fueled psychotics wandering around with axes.

The "you're a law enforcement official and I need your cooperation here" speech goes so well that the sheriff tries to ram through the security gates with his department truck; it does not work. He just gets a concussion against the steering wheel for his troubles. That's not the best time in the world for Joanie to get in touch with him on the walkie-talkie, but it's when she does. Joanie isn't sick, and lets Connolly and her husband know. Which leads to the sheriff commandeering a cop car and tracking down Dr. Fairchild as he tries to hitchhike back to his place--another tiny morsel of exposition is parceled out here, in that the Blue Harvest weapon was meant to kill people, but turn them into raging psychotics until they died (which would lead to chaos and confusion in Moscow or East Berlin as hundreds of thousands of infected people started killing anyone and everyone around them). Even if Joanie wasn't infected, she'd have to avoid everyone else in the building for twelve hours until the germ killed them.

Dr. Fairchild gets in touch with Joanie over the cop car radio, and determines that she really isn't infected (the UV scanner shows Schmidt lit up like a Christmas tree, though, and he's out cold next to her in the P-4 lab). Fairchild tells her what the antitoxin bottles in the fridge are going to look like and tells her to stay there (which is going to be a tall order once the rage zombies figure out a way down there). Time to go back to BioTek (it's hours later when they arrive, Night Two of the disaster). Tensions are very high in the parking lot, and the sheriff's arrival nearly sparks a mini riot when he joins the soldiers instead of the townspeople. Fairchild sabotages the generator truck with a cup full of sugar with a little coffee and the men sneak into the field lab where the three BioTek employees are being held for observation in their bubble suits. The pair suits up in a pair of commandeered white suits and sneak in through the greenhouse air shaft to get into the lab (the movie takes pains to show the audience that it's an intake shaft rather than one that will spray germs out into the air, because otherwise our heroes would be germ-spreading assholes). Fielding and the sheriff slide down the air shaft with seconds to go as Connolly and his men see what's been going on at the breach site; they weld the shaft shut so nobody can sneak in again that way--which is a textbook example of shutting the barn door after the horses are out, because nobody would be able to climb up the shaft to get out that way.

While the pair of men sneak into the lab, Dr. Fairchild explains how the weaponized  germ came to be--there was a virus that supercharged the rage centers of the brain, but it wasn't easy to catch. Dr. Nielsen spent several years working on a way to splice the viral DNA that had the effect that was wanted into a germ that was easier to catch, and eventually got what he was looking for. When Fairchild opens the door to get into the main facility Bob's there with an axe, ready to charge. But since this is 1985 and rage zombies weren't sprinting pain-ignoring pack animals yet, a single shot from the sheriff puts him down for good.

In the P-4 lab, Joanie looks for a syringe so she can administer the antitoxin to Schmidt, whose face is now covered with pus-filled blisters. He tells Joanie to leave before he turns, and when she tries to do that she finds that the crazies are climbing down the elevator shaft to get to her; when she gets back to the lab to try and cure Schmidt he's not where he was. It's real devil and the deep blue sea territory, but Schmidt at least points himself in the direction of the attacking plague victims and makes it possible for Joanie to make a break for it. She slips and falls while running down a hallway, because it's a horror movie and she's a woman. The infected almost grab Dr. Fairchild and hack him to pieces but the sheriff takes out the one with the axe (and I think that's three out of a possible six bullets used up now) and the non-zombie characters get away at least for the moment. The people in the break room see all hell breaking loose in the hallway and realize they're screwed if anyone busts the shatterproof glass in the door, but then the film goes back to following Joanie, the sheriff and Dr. Fairchild.

Speaking of Dr. Fairchild, he figures out how the germ got out of the P-4 quarantine; it hitched a ride on Dr. Schmidt's contact lenses, which weren't subjected to the same sterilization procedures as everything else he was wearing. And then he spots the two-foot-long tear in his own hazard suit and decides he's rocket-fucked so he might as well take his helmet off and be able to actually see or hear things around him. Time to see if the antitoxin works, I guess. Time for more science as Fairchild takes a blood sample from Joanie, wondering why Blue Harvest hasn't given her so much as a tickle in her throat when everyone else went psychotic, blistered and homicidal. Fairchild starts working against the clock, realizing that he's infected when he gets a look at himself in a mirror while the UV scanner is shining on him. Under his own orders, Fairchild gets tied to a chair and giving orders on how to do science to Cal, who is handicapped by being untrained and also wearing his still-intact biohazard suit.

Cal finds a slide where the germ in that blood sample is dead and feeds the material into a gas chromatograph to see what's so different about that one; while he's dictating procedures to Cal about what to do next to try and make a cure he has a flash of insight and realizes that the Blue Harvest disease can't take hold in Joanie's system because she's pregnant. The progesterone in her blood is killing the disease; it could be possible to give the infected a megadose of those hormones and wipe out the bug. Before they can do anything about that, a pair of infected scientists try to get into the P-4 lab and fall prey to a booby trap that sets them on fire; the next set of infected manage to tear Cal's protective suit. And at the same time Dr. Fairchild hauls himself out of the chair he was tied to. He types up a recipe for something that might just work to cure the bug and passes out on the floor of hte lab; the untrained Cal and Joanie whip up a test batch of potential cure and shoot Dr. Fairchild up with it.

Well, when things are going well in the lowest level of the BioTek facility, it's time for the rug to get pulled out up topside. Angry locals storm the command trailer and threaten Major Connolly in order to get the keys to get inside and rescue their loved ones. Which means that at long last the major has to tell them that anyone who goes into the building is as dead as disco. That earns him a beating from a pissed-off farmer, and honestly I'd have to say he's got it coming. The locals disarm the soldiers and start using a welding torch to cut through the foot-thick steel security door and free their relatives--which means everyone in Utah's going to be insane and homicidal in about 96 hours.

Back in the lab, Cal hands his gun to Joanie and tells her to put him down if he starts to lose his mind; they're watching Dr. Fairchild to see if the cure takes hold with him. Because with his protective suit useless, Cal's got a couple hours before he starts growing face blisters and trying to kill his wife. But Dr. Fairchild wakes up and a UV scan shows that he's not infectious or infected any more. Time to mix up a huge batch of cure and get it into the bloodstreams of everyone who's still alive in the Biotek building. There's a gas gun that will help with that, which is good news because the crazies have figured out how to get in through the sealed security door. They charge into the lab and the trio of survivors have to work together to operate the injector (which works magically fast to knock out the infected). Not all the disease victims are in the P-4 lab, though; Dr. Nielsen and a dozen or so plague zombies are trying to smash their way into the break room.

Cal and company make it to the break room and inject several of the attackers there, but Dr. Nielsen runs away before they can dose him (as befits his end-boss status). He swipes Cal's temporarily forgotten gun and holds the sheriff and Dr. Fairchild hostage for a monologue about what a great scientist he turned out to be, and then takes the easy way out rather than be subjected to the cure. Joanie feeds a jug of cure into the ventilation system at the facility and everyone in the break room gets a nice deep breath full of antitoxin (and whatever Blue Harvest is still alive in the BioTek building presumably dies, but the cure isn't a disinfectant, so maybe it didn't?). Joanie then goes to her security desk and opens the outside doors as Dr. Fairchild gives the sheriff his booster shot.

The surviving BioTek people stagger out into the morning light past the guy with the welding torch, who is probably irritated that he was't needed after all. All the command-center trucks pull away without so much as a half-hearted apology (Major Connolly does shake Dr. Fairchild's hand before he takes off, so there's that). Cal nails a CONDEMNED sign to the front of the building. Fairchild invites the Morses over to his place for a vegetarian breakfast, and the world is saved (although Fairchild says it's just a matter of time before another facility in another little mapspeck town gets set up, and who knows how lucky everyone will be the next time?).

Well, maybe it's the natural fatigue that sets in as movie 23 of 26 gets watched and reviewed, but I can't find a hell of a lot to say about this one that would be all that complimentary. The cast all do a great job with what they're given, but it's five to ten minute stretches of talk and buildup between set pieces, and the Good Stuff is few and far between till the last third of the movie. The sets in BioTek are pretty bland to look at, and all the lab coat wearing psychos start to look identical after a while.

The only thing I can really find remarkable about it is that the military-industrial complex is the cause of the problems and a Lone Science Guy Who Left The Project is the one who fixes anything. That's not a pair of plot developments I would have expected in the second half of the Reagan years. Like C.H.U.D., this is a horror film with a left-wing sensibility and there's some significant curiosity value attached to it for that reason. But I can also easily see why it took forever to come out on DVD and didn't stay in print all that long in that format. A single exposure to this one will cover me for a lifetime, I think.

"Rest assured that this laboratory and the virulent diseases inside it are meant for purely peaceful uses. Unlike the ones our enemies have, which are for threatening the security and stability of the world."


  1. People who didn't live through the '80s really do not understand just how certain we all were at the time that civilization was going to tend in nuclear conflagration in our lifetimes. I am inordinately fond of pointing out that without understanding this fact, nothing else that happened in the '80s makes a lick of sense. Especially mullets.

  2. Well, if movies are anything to go by, blue hair dye would be one of the few commodities that remained after Armageddon.